Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Importance of To Kill A Mockingbird

To Kill A Mockingbird has been one of my most favorite books since the first day it came into my life, but it is one that I have picked up and read again several times since that moment.

The more I read it, the more I love it. My relationship with the story has changed and deepened as I have gotten older. This time around, I shared this book with my children. We finished it and watched the movie yesterday.

Incidentally, I must tell you all about this particular version of the book. It's old, really old. It is probably one of the first paperback versions printed in the 1960's. This book is one that I picked up at the used book store, which is a place someone like me could get lost for hours. The story tells a story, but so does the book itself. The binding is shot, some of the pages were falling apart in my hands, but left on some of the corners were imprints of the fingers of those who touched this copy before us.

At some point, The Oldest asked me if I was going to write about it. I asked him if he thought that I should. His response?

Yes, Mom. Everyone should read this book. Kids should read this book. If more people read this and really paid attention to it, the world would be a much different place. 

And the Grinch's heart grew three times that day.

Seriously, you guys. I'm so proud of this kid sometimes. He gets it.

In writing this, I wanted to also take the time to tell you all a little bit about Harper Lee, the author of this story. She was born and raised in Alabama, the daughter of newspaper editor who practiced law and served on the state legislature. Her friend down the street, cited as the inspiration for Dill, Truman Capote. Though she claims the entire story isn't autobiographical, there are certainly pieces of it that are. This was her only published novel, but it won her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The movie adaptation earned Gregory Peck an Oscar.

When asked why she didn't write more, her answer was this, "Two reasons: one, I wouldn't go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again."

If you haven't read this book, I would encourage you do so as soon as humanly possible. It carries so many lessons about humanity, about kindness, about fairness. It forces you to think about what life is like for others, it demands the reader to learn empathy for the sick, for the old, for those in different races and economic places. It tells us that path of a rich person simply isn't the same as a poor one. It even requires us to learn empathy for those filled with hatred. It teaches us to withhold judgment. It urges us to learn more about others. It tells us that our assumptions about people are usually wrong.

It pushes us to be better people.

Atticus is arguably one of the most important fictional characters in the history of literature. He is kind, he is gentle, he is intelligent, he is patient. He controls himself at all times. He defends what is right without sacrificing his integrity. He sees a flawed system and does all he can to challenge its very foundations.

Then he demands that his children do the same.

We all should.

There are some who try and say that the story is an outdated one, that it is from a time in our distant past with which we have no actual connection anymore. I challenge those assertions on their face. Racism is alive and well in our society. Our justice system in particular reeks of inequality. Perhaps you don't see it every day in your life, but I can assure you that it is there.

There are some who won't allow their children to read the book because of the language it contains. Some of the ugliest words in our language are contained within its pages, I agree there, but they are words with historical significance. Words that tell us far more about the people who use them than they believe they are telling us about who they describe. Words that aren't extinct. Words that, sadly, are still used today.

There are some who won't allow their children to read the book because much of it centers on a rape trial. They would rather live in a world where their children didn't know of such things. Wouldn't we all rather live in a world where the reality of rape didn't exist? Just because we would rather it be that way doesn't make it so. Rape happens. Sexual abuse happens. It happens to women and girls, men and boys. Just willing it away won't work. As parents, we have a moral imperative not just to protect our children and shield them from what we are able, but to prepare them for the way the world works when the shields fail.

There is great danger in refusing to expose ourselves and our children to stories like this one. In that dangerous place lies complacence, rests the illusion that "the way we've always done things" is good enough, that we need to do no more. In pretending that stories like this one didn't exist then and don't still exist now, we are insulating ourselves from reality, a reality that people who cannot insulate themselves have no option but to live.

This story was relevant then. It is relevant now.

My son was absolutely correct...imagine what the world might be like if everyone read this book, really read this book, and lived the lessons it teaches.


  1. Excellent discussion and analysis of To Kill A Mockingbird.

  2. Your son sounds like good people to me...


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