To Kill a MockingbirdBook |
This American classic deserves its legendary status.
Though it's set in mid-1930s Alabama, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was originally published during the summer of 1960—in the thick of the Civil Rights struggle in America. Mirroring some of the characters and issues involved in the infamous Scottsboro Trials of ‘31, Mockingbird's dramatic core is the hearing of a young black man, Tom Robinson, who is falsely accused of raping a white woman in a small, set-in-its-bigoted-ways Southern town, and the efforts of attorney Atticus Finch to defend Robinson. Framing the book, in prose that lovingly captures the precocity and innocence of its pre-teen narrator, is the story of Scout Finch, daughter of Atticus. She's watched over by her older brother, Jem, who is growing away from her toward puberty, and—though they don't realize it—the neighborhood legend Boo Radley. In the reclusive character of Boo, Lee has created a potent symbol for the town's generations-old ingrained fear of the Other. For all the strengths of the book, well-spoken bigotry remains bigotry nonetheless, and there is the occasional tossed-off sentence that can make a contemporary reader wince at the unchecked assumptions pulsing within it. This, however, is less a flaw of the book or its writer and more a reflection of the stubbornly pervasive nature of racism itself, which Lee bravely and movingly attacks. Reissued as states across America geared up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mockingbird, Lee's book—frustratingly, her only one—presents an opportunity to see how much attitudes toward race have changed since 1960 or even 1930—and how much those attitudes still need to change.