This is my third time reading this outstanding modern classic. My first trip through was in my teens, and I was most taken with young narrator Scout’s first person account of her small town depression era life as a lawyer’s child in Alabama, as she weathers not only the spite of the members of the white community, but also the outright dangers, as her father takes on the defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman. I enjoyed seeing how Scout and her brother were raised by an entire community of people, both black and white.
Later, I read the book as a young adult, and I saw more clearly the social issues which the book highlighted. There was the obvious racial issue, of what would happen when a black man in the 1930’s found himself in a compromising situation with a white woman, and it was his word against hers, but many other issues struck me as well. I noticed issues such as feminism beginning to take hold in characters such as Miss. Maudie in her independence and in Scout herself.
This read, being much older and a parent myself, the overriding theme for me was that of parenthood, and so I enjoyed following Atticus, who is the lawyer featured in the story and the father of the story’s narrator, and Calpurnia, who is the family’s black housekeeper and nanny to the children. These two, through some truly harrowing experiences, show great wisdom. Atticus often expresses doubt in his own decisions as a parent, but I for one think that he is spot on.
When I read Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, I said that I felt that Jean Valjean was one of the most honorable men in all of literature. I think that Atticus Finch is another. In a time in America’s history when a white man could scarcely be found to speak behind a closed door in a black man’s defense, Atticus Finch dared to stand in a court of law and speak for a black man against a white man, revealing that man to be a liar and a fool. When his community spit on him and his children and came at them with clenched fists, he and his children kept their heads up and their hands loose, and in so doing took the higher ground and set an example that startled and shamed and got the message across.
I won’t tell you, of course, the outcome of the court case. For that you must read the book. You will most likely pick up this book for the social issues, but it is the characters that you will never forget. This is not the book to reach for if you are wanting stunning prose or an original plot. It is about character’s that you will dwell on and issues that will swill in your brain long after the book’s cover is closed.