Ask me who my favourite literary father is and the answer is easy: Atticus Finch. How could it not be? He is wise, fair, respected and respectful, interested in his children’s lives despite also having a busy work life. He’s an amazing shot with a gun, but refuses to use one because he sees the advantage it gives him over others. He also trusts his children to make their own mistakes and to learn things for themselves, even when others may consider it inappropriate.
Focusing on the town of Maycomb in 1930s Alabama, as seen through the eyes of 8 year old Scout, Harper Lee’s novel explores the reaction to the trial of a black man for the rape of a white girl. Despite having read the book many, many times, I still find it hard to pick a favourite moment: the children’s childish games to make Boo Radley come out; the drama of the fire at Miss Maudie’s house; the moment when Atticus shoots the mad dog, Tim Johnson; when Scout disperses an angry mob outside the jail with her innocent attempts at conversation; Atticus’s speech to the jury in Tom Robinson’s trial; or Scout’s final realisation at the conclusion of the novel that to pursue Boo’s role in the death of Bob Ewell would “be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?”.
It is, however, impossible to read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ without recognising that even at a distance of 55 years and thousands of miles, there are lessons to be learned that are still hugely relevant in our own society. I’m sure we can all think of people with the hypocrisy of Miss Gates, who recognises the evil of Hitler’s prejudice against the Jews, but fails to see the prejudice that she (and the society she lives in) holds. Equally, I can think of many examples of people who, like the Ewell’s, feel so shut – out and disengaged with the society they live in that, rather than seek to educate themselves, they hit out at those they feel they should have power over, often minority groups.
Sadly it seems that since 1960 a lot of society still seems unable to accept Scout’s view of things, that “there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
Powerful, moving and still just as relevant as ever: Lee’s novel really is a masterpiece.