Well, this is another classic novel that I hadn't yet read….hadn't seen the movie…didn't really know much of anything about it at all. I basically knew that this was a book set in Alabama in the 1930s and it involved a legal case with some sort of racial tension. In honor of its 50th anniversary (click through for a cool site dedicated to the anniversary celebration), I decided it was high time I pick it up and get to it.
Right from the start I was drawn in by the youthful, vibrant voice of Scout, the 8 year old narrator. I absolutely loved the way she described the town, the county, the people and everything in her life. She has such an innocent and honest way of drawing the reader in. Her simple storytelling narrative is humorous and disarming (which comes in handy as the theme gets heavier). She did a wonderful job of painting an accurate description (at least as far as I'm concerned) of 1930s Alabama. I really felt like I was there…like I knew and understood (at least through the eyes of a child) the people of Maycomb.
As I read, I kept waiting for "the shoe to drop." I knew that there was a trial somewhere in this book and that it had some climactic underpinnings in the plot. As the story continued, I kept telling myself not to worry about the trial…that it would come eventually and that I should just enjoy the wonderful writing. Harper Lee made it easy to forget the other problems that were coming up (the trial) and keep us engaged in the intrigue and curiosity of Scout, Jem and Dill. I loved the various "side stories" along the way. They gave great insight into the characters in the town as well as the character of the society/community.
Slowly (but very interestingly) we finally arrive at the trial. The tension is huge naturally and Scout is worried. Because of her young age, some of the details she focuses on and her reactions are a little different than might be expected. It was cool to see Jem's reaction through her eyes (as he gripped the railing so tightly his knuckles turned white). I absolutely loved her confused and innocent reaction to the outcome of the trial.
What I found even more interesting is that when the trial ended, there were still a considerable number of pages left in the book. I thought perhaps it would follow an appeals process or something but was glad that the rest of the story was much more engaging than just more courtroom drama.
I loved (and at the same time was disgusted) by the hypocritical action and behavior of the townsfolk after the trial as compared to their behavior before hand. Most telling was the conversation at the afternoon meeting of the ladies that Scout was compelled to join with her aunt. The way they almost acknowledged Tom's innocence and Atticus's benevolence and saying that Tom would have been fine if he'd been patient.
Then the conversation about Hitler and the Jews was an excellent counterpoint to the racial tension. I loved the way that Scout could sense that there was a disconnect in the behavior/talk/action of the townsfolk as they discussed Hitler after behaving the way they did towards Blacks. She could sense something was wrong and could almost quantify the nature of the disconnect, but she had a hard time acknowledging that there could be such a broad disconnect in the minds of people.
As we reach the end of the book, another climactic event sets events into turmoil. I "predicted" one potential "sad" ending for the book and was actually relieved to see the book turn out the way it did. There was still a degree of ambiguity as to exactly what happened, but I agree with Heck that there are times when things should be left alone. Regardless of what actually/definitively happened, the end result is good for the community. I'm a little concerned to know what happens to the Ewells and to Boo, but those sort of "loose ends" are to be expected in a novel with such an extensive depth.
There are so many wonderful themes in this book. The racial tension and description of southern life and souther racism are at the forefront. But Lee also explores themes of class and family structure, moral courage and the nature of innocence. The idea of innocence was especially interesting to me and felt especially poignant with the book coming from the voice of a young child going through such adult ordeals. Scout's innocence about the world slowly fades as she watches the destruction of Tom's innocence as well as having her conceptions of Boo Radley transform from one of horror/monster to innocent and heroic.
I am very glad I finally got around to reading this book. I feel like it is a great commentary on culture, society and prejudice. I loved the narrative voice, the humor and fun way such a heavy bunch of themes were presented. I really enjoyed the discussions between Scout, Atticus, Jem and the others. The characters were deep and very well developed and provided great depth to the story. There are so many small threads running through the story that I'm sure there is a lot to digest beyond the first read (aspects such as the fire, the teaching methods in the school, the various gifts in the tree, the other inhabitants on Scout's street, etc). This is a rich and wonderful novel that I will gladly read again.
5 out of 5 stars
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