No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, July 03, 2015

2015/12: To Kill a Mockingbird -- Harper Lee

Atticus Finch won’t win, he can’t win, but he’s the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that. And I thought to myself, well, we’re making a step – it’s just a baby-step, but it’s a step.’ [loc.4230]

Read in advance of seeing the Barbican Theatre production [my review here]: I'm one of the few people I know who wasn't forced to read this at school, and I am glad of it because I suspect a lot of the subtleties would have passed me by in my early teens.

Scout Finch is an intriguing narrator, who sees more than she is aware of seeing: her account of events in the little Southern town of Maycomb in 1935 -- when her father defends a Negro against a white woman's accusation of rape -- is gripping because unsensationalised. Scout is (at least initially) more interested in the mysterious recluse Boo Radley, and in her Aunt Alexandra's visions of Scout's deportment (dresses! playing at tea parties!). It's clear that her father is her hero, but she only gradually begins to understand the strength and nature of that heroism.

I found To Kill a Mockingbird quite educational: I had no notion of the Ladies' Law (basically, a man could be jailed for swearing or using offensive language in front of a woman) and little understanding of the culture and morality of the South in the Depression, before WW2. "‘Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,’ Atticus said." [loc.1483]

There are some aspects of the novel that I suspect were less contentious when it was first published. Mayella's clearly been repeatedly abused by her father, and Lee offers little hope for her or other 'white trash' -- illiterate, impoverished, deprived. And I'm still not convinced that Atticus' muddying of the truth about Bob Ewell's murder is consonant with his ideals of justice.

I read the sample chapter of Go Set a Watchman, and a couple of reviews: I don't feel that I need to read the whole of that novel to understand this one, nor do I wish to read Lee's earlier take on the characters.

No comments:

Post a Comment