This was the first time I have read this Pulitzer prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. I had thought because I had seen the movie To Kill a Mockingbird as a child, the book covered much the same ground. I was so wrong about that. As is almost always the case, the book is much better than the movie, even though it was a great movie. The novel has much more depth and humor than the movie.
The book is set in a small Alabama town in the middle and late 1930s. This was after the stock market crash and before the beginning of World War II. Racism was rampant at that time. Atticus Finch, the lawyer father of the child narrator Scout, is asked to defend a Black man accused of raping a white woman. He takes the case but this causes many personal problems for him. The father of the alleged victim spits in his face and threatens him and his children.
Despite the challenges of the case, Finch does an excellent job proving that the Black man did not rape the young woman. Even so, the all-white male jury convicts him anyway! Such was life in the 1930s in the South. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of prejudice against Black people in the South and the Northern United States even today.
Lee does a great job capturing the small mindedness of these Southern people in her novel, writing as an adult looking back on the events she experienced as young child. Her experience as a first grader is funny. For example, her teacher reprimands her for already knowing how to read. The teacher advises Scout, saying “Now you tell your father not to teach you any more. It’s best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I’ll take over from her and try to undo the damage.” This is the kind of humor that wasn’t captured in the film but is sprinkled throughout the book.
Many sad events occur in the novel too. The main one being that Tom Robinson, an innocent black man, has his life destroyed because of a white woman’s false accusation. Despite Finch’s best efforts in the case, justice is not done because the white jury doesn’t want to believe a Black man is telling the truth. The poor treatment of all Blacks by the community is upsetting too. The N word is used a lot. This makes me wonder if people reading this book today might be put off by it. In fact, according to Wikipedia, To Kill a Mockingbird has been subject to campaigns for removal from public classrooms and is often challenged for its use of racial epithets.
The book was published in 1960, before the civil rights movement got going. But I grew up in the 1960s and even then we knew the N word is not to be used by educated people to describe Black folks. However, I do know my grandmother used that word to describe Blacks back in the 1940s. So I guess the use of that word was just a reflection of the times. It’s still sad and disrespectful to see it used anywhere as far as I am concerned.
Until I read the novel and researched Harper Lee’s background, I didn’t know she was great friends with Truman Capote and that the character Dill was based on him. Through that connection, Lee found an agent recommended by Capote. In the past, having an agent has often been a key prerequisite to getting published. But even after publisher J.B. Lippincott bought the book, Lee had to work on it for another 2 and half years before the novel was ready to be released. So writing and publishing a novel involved a lot of hard work on her part. We authors all know this, don’t we? The editorial team at Lippincott had warned Lee that she would probably sell only several thousand copies. To date, the novel has sold 40 million copies worldwide!
4 thoughts on “To Kill a Mockingbird Book Review”
I’ll add it to my infinite reading list. Great summarization and background. Hubby.
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Hi Nancy – To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorites. Harper Lee spent a lot of time working on it and I read that she wasn’t interested in publishing another book. Lots of controversy around Go Set a Watchman which I don’t believe she ever intended to be a published book. It reads more like character developments for To Kill a Mockingbird (my opinion). Anyway, I loved learning that she was childhood friends with Truman Capote, another writer I really like. Lee helped him research In Cold Blood, which is an amazing nonfiction novel (also my opinon!).
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Glad you learned about the Capote connection by reading my review. I need to read In Cold Blood at some point too!
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This is such an amazing book. I was fortunate to have read the book before seeing the movie. Thanks for the great review.
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