Harper Lee wrote one novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, and it won the Pulitzer prize in 1961. Its themes still resonate with readers and her novel has become a part of our culture. That, I believe, is success.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee almost perfectly captures the main challenge of growing up: realizing human nature, both good and bad.
(I say “almost” perfect because I am sure there are faults in the novel, but I love this novel so much that I don’t want to search for them.)
To Kill a Mockingbird follows Scout Finch from age 6 to age 9 in the midst of the Great Depression in rural Alabama. Scout is a tomboy in overalls but is expected to be a little lady. She sees many opposites in the people around her: not as poor versus very poor, boy versus girl, old town residents versus newcomers, drunk versus sober, kind versus mean, and, underscoring it all, black versus white.
And yet, in her eight-year-old wisdom, Scout observes:
Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks. (chapter 23)
When Scout and her older brother are given air rifles for Christmas, they are told they can shoot at anything but mockingbirds:
Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. (chapter 10)
Scout learns by experience that people often disregard such obvious advice in terms of how they treat each other. To Kill a Mockingbird is honest yet beautiful examination of how we all look at each other. Why do people judge and hurt those who “don’t do one thing” to harm the world around us? Why do people bring heartache on the helpless? Why are people prejudiced?
Through Scout’s young eyes, I was reminded of how important it is for me to avoid judging others “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” She also helped me see what it means to be a neighbor.
Why I Reread This
I decided to reread Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel for two reasons. I recently read a review by SmallWorld Reads at the July Bookworms carnival. Before that, however, I read a best-selling author compare his writing to Harper Lee’s and critique the fact that she had only written one book. I had been shocked that he compared his writing to hers and I felt the need to reread To Kill a Mockingbird to see if my shock was justified: Is Harper Lee’s writing and story that good? Yes, I believe it is. Lee’s writing is realistic and powerful, and the themes are pertinent and timeless to everyone in every time.
As it has been said before, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee has really said everything that needs to be said. I say, if she didn’t write any other novel, that is her business. Writing “only” one book doesn’t make that book any less powerful or her skill any less impressive.
I plan on rereading it again. And then again. It’s that good.
I heard it suggested that a classic is something that has become a part of our culture. Hence, something like Don Quixote is a classic (even if you haven’t read it) because, for example, vocabulary (quixotic) entered our language as a result of the characters and story.
I think To Kill a Mockingbird has become or is well on its way to being a part of our culture. I think it’s a classic. What do you think?
Also, raise your hand if you read it in high school! I thought everyone did, and I think it is a great novel for young adults. But my husband says he didn’t read it in high school because he was in the “advanced” English course. I think that’s sad! There are plenty of “advanced” things in To Kill a Mockingbird such classes could have covered! Don’t you think so?
If you have reviewed To Kill a Mockingbird, leave a link in the comments and I’ll add your link to this post.