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Although I first read To Kill a Mockingbird for my English GCSE about four years ago, I decided to re-read it recently. There’s a reason for this: I was shocked to find out that my boyfriend had never read the novel before, and therefore I bought him a copy. However, I soon gave into temptation and read it myself before handing it over.
The story, told through the eyes of Scout Finch, describes the trial of a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been accused of the rape of a white woman, Mayella Ewell. The opening chapters describe life up to the trial, alongside the development of principal characters and relationships. Later, with the trial comes changes in maturity, morality and individual and collective identity. The novel is intrinsically bound to questions of race, gender, social status and moral justice. Harper Lee clashes polar opposites together, and we’re left to investigate the results. There’s the clash of black and white in the court case, whilst Dolphus Raymond’s family represents a mixing of the two. Aunt Alexandra’s tea parties represent the richer, more sophisticated life of Maycomb (despite a troubled economy), whilst the Ewell’s home is a straightforward illustration of poverty.
I adore so much about the novel: the writing style, the moral slant, the plot. But I most enjoy the characterisation. In fact, the novel probably contains my favourite literary characters. Scout is inquisitive and unaffected by prejudice, but she is occasionally disturbed by the unfair, grown-up world around her. Atticus, on the other hand, is well-versed in the injustices of the U.S. South in the 1930s. He is accepting yet eager for change; to do what he feels simply has to be done for his society. He is the type of person that I’d aspire to be like as a parent, and even now I find a lot that I can learn from him. He treats Jem and Scout with respect and as intellectual equals, yet he also considers his wider family in his decisions (no matter how inspirational I find Atticus, I couldn’t happily let someone like Aunt Alexandra stay with me). Regardless of what others say about him, he manages to retain dignity and self-esteem. I really need to pay attention to this trait of his, and realise that what others say or think really does not matter in the slightest.
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I love how frequently the Finch family turn to literature – in fact, it makes even my constant reading seem normal. Before bedtime Jem and Scout wind down with a book, whilst Atticus’s routine and his time spent with his children depends upon his newspaper reading. I wonder how different the family routine would be if Scout and Jem’s mother were still alive. Calpurnia would certainly not have such a central role, and the children may not be so capable to think and act for themselves.
I’m so glad that the novel is often included in school syllabuses. It’s the perfect book to accompany the transition between childhood and adulthood, or even adolescence and adulthood. Depending on age, a reader will directly relate best to Scout, Jem, or even Dill. Or, having grown up, a reader can see aspects of their childhood in all three characters. I can compare my own youthful imagination to Dill’s, my responsibility as eldest sibling to Jem, and my childish desire for knowledge to Scout.
To Kill a Mockingbird is such a lovely book – definitely one of my favourites – and I can anticipate stealing the copy back from my boyfriend at some time or other.