Lately I have become fascinated with the person of Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I have read her book three times in the last two years. This is not because the book is famous. This is not because the author became famous in 1960, the year I was born, when her one and only book was published. I didn’t read it just because the book club at the library read it the year of its 50th Anniversary in 2010. (I am not in that book club.)
I just remember seeing the book called “Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee” by Charles J. Shields on the shelf in the biography section at the library a couple of years ago. I picked it up and thumbed through it. I always read the flaps of hardback books before I even look through them, especially if I don’t know what they are about. Mockingbird? I honestly had no idea. The book flap’s first couple of sentences read this way:
“A lively portrait of the elusive woman who created
the American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD IS THE MOST WIDELY
read American novel ever.”
My first thought…really? I had never read this “most widely read American novel.” Where had I been all my life? What is more amazing is I don’t even remember ever hearing about this book or this author in all the years I was growing up in Decatur, Georgia. It was never required reading in any of my English classes, not even in college. My mother who was an avid reader of fiction never mentioned it to me. I have no idea if she ever read it herself. Then I thought, If that book is so great, why haven’t I ever read it? Then just as quickly…If I read this book now and love it, I am going to feel cheated. Oh well. Someday….maybe during the summer. I proceeded to put down the biography about Harper Lee and didn’t give the novel of “To Kill a Mockingbird” another thought until about two years ago.
It was about then that I was reading more fiction that dealt with issues about various matters: lifelong love, teen suicide, kidnapping, school bombings, raciscm, and death. There also aren’t very many books I have purposed to re-read just because I get lost in the story, love the characters, and envy the writing. In fact there are only two (okay, well, now three.)
The first book I have read at least five times is Nicholas Sparks’ novel The Notebook. I also own the movie. I have read and watched both multiple times. The theme of the intense love story and the way the couple stays together until they die is so incredible to me. Who doesn’t dream of that kind of love? I always have.
The second book I have read at least three times so far is The Help. I had never heard of it until I saw the movie in the theater. I loved the movie so much, I immediately bought the book. Of course the book was ten times better in my opinion, because of the many layers of the main characters, but the movie was done superbly! I own it as well as the book. What I love about it is not just the issue of racism, but the way the author makes her characters deal with it.
The book To Kill a Mockingbird is not just about racism, however. It is about family, right vs. wrong, honor, dignity, bigotry, hatred, and love. It is about how a little girl views the world around her, a little girl who is an inquisitive, feisty tomboy. Fortunately, she has a wonderful father who is patient enough to explain things to her on a level she can understand. Many parents don’t take time to just sit and answer a small child’s questions like Atticus Finch does with Scout. I always wished my own father had been like that; perhaps that is why I love Scout so much. She found her sense of security in her father. I found my sense of insecurity in mine.
I love how Harper Lee wrote the novel. She used two voices. She opens the book in the voice of Jean Louise Finch, the adult. She is looking back on her childhood as she narrates:
“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.” (1)
However, when she begins to describe the day she and her brother meet Dill, the little girl Scout’s voice describes the event:
“Early one morning as we were beginning our day’s play in the back yard, Jem and I heard something next door in Miss Rachel Haverford’s collard patch. We went to the wire fence to see if there was a puppy–Miss Rachel’s rat terrier was expecting–instead we found someone sitting looking at us. Sitting down, he wasn’t much higher than the collards. We stared at him until he spoke:
‘Hey yourself,’ said Jem pleasantly.” (2)
So begins Jem and Scout’s new friendship with the next door neighbor, Dill, who only comes to visit his aunt in the summers. Though Harper Lee went back and forth between the main character’s adult and child voices, it was never confusing for me to follow. Her style has an easy flow. The manner in which her characters speak are in her own Southern voice since she is from Monroeville, Alabama. It is true to form. I know this
first-hand. I remember the summers when I was a child in the South. Every day seemed to last forever, because there was a great deal of play that needed to happen, and the adults seemed just fine with us kids out from underfoot as much as possible. We stayed outside, because there was no air conditioning in the houses, so it didn’t matter where we were: it was HOT. We went wading in the creek, swimming at the local pool, played ball and tag, and read books. Summer was a slow, easy time. Rainy days didn’t cool things off much, but they made mud puddles for us to jump in. Harper Lee conveys this image vividly when she says,
“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired
old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather
the streets turned to a red slop; grass grew
on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.” (3)
This is probably one of the most quoted sections of the novel, but it speaks to me, because I see my street in Georgia in my mind when I read it.
I believe To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest works of fiction that has been written. Harper Lee showed her gift of writing with vivid word images, description, and character-building in this book. It doesn’t matter to me that she didn’t write another novel. She felt her work was done when she finished it. In my opinion, it definitely did not need a sequel.
On Mockingbird Mondays I will be attempting to write interesting character sketches (meaning how the characters effected me personally), provide some biographical information about Harper Lee, and touch on some of the issues raised in the novel. I am looking forward to this project, and I hope you will be, too.
Welcome to Mockingbird Mondays!! Y’all come back now, ya hear?
Have a wonderful day, and give someone you love a big hug!
1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, First Perennial Classic edition publilshed 2002, page 3.
2. ibid., page 7
3. ibid., page 5
Posted on January 19, 2015, in Writing and tagged Atticus, Harper Lee, Mockingbird Mondays, Part #1, Part #2, part #3, part #4, Part #5, Part #8, Part 6, Part 7, reading, Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird, writing. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.