I must be one of the oldest people in America to read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. Alas, this book was never included in the Honors English curriculum while I was in high school and I never had it assigned in any other english class in college. By the time I had was able to read for fun again, I was 22, at least 5 years older than the average high school reader. Now at 23 (when I read this) I have finally read this book and can be in on all the references. In the last year especially, I hear constant praise for this classic, not just as a book many read for school but as a favorite read. I read this in February as well, for a try at something appropriate for Black History Month. Since this book deals with racism it was quite appropriate.
If you are like me and haven’t read this book yet, here’s what to expect. The story is told by Scout, a young girl living with her older brother, single father and African American housemaid. Scout introduces you to the people of Maycomb County through her growing up and playing with her brother, including town recluse, Boo Radley, who is rather active in the story, despite only being seen by Scout once. Scout goes through the excitement of starting school for the first time and struggles with the idea of dressing like a girl vs. wearing pants because she likes them better than dresses, typical girl stuff. Then, her father, the county attorney, is set to represent an African American man in the county who is charged with raping a young woman from a family that’s established as cheaters from the beginning. The town changes a bit around Scout’s family over this trial, some support Atticus for doing what he has to do, and some don’t care if he was given the defendant or declared his love for all African Americans, he was turning his back on his race and that was shameful. Meanwhile, Scout struggles to decide how she will perceive her father because of this based on the opinions of townsfolk.
I honestly had a tough time with the racism/sexism in the book. Of course I have to remember that this was written in the 1930s and women’s rights were just as much a struggle as it was from non-whites. However, in a book struggling with basic rights for African Americans, women’s rights were just thrown out. Even the assumption of the reader that Mayella is obviously lying about the rape, because in this day and age victim-blaming is all too common in rape culture. Of course it is made quite obvious throughout the trial that Mayella isn’t so much lying, as supporting the lie that her father has begun with this trial, probably for fear of abuse, both physical and sexual. Overall, I’m really glad I read it and I feel like so much great stuff happens after the trial. Ewell’s character reveals itself to be extremely complex in motives for everything he does and it makes the reaction of the town less of angry racists (although they’re still pretty racist) to a group just trying to appease an old crazy man, and when he finds he’s not appeased and is no longer the center of attention, he acts out like a child, threatening and attempting to hurt those who he blames for convincing the town that he didn’t deserve to win the trial.
Ok, yes, so good, 2 months later and I can barely contain myself. If you haven’t read it, DO IT. I gave it five stars. Excellent.