“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
Truly the gift of literacy is one of the most valuable in a person’s life. I never really grasped the enormity of this gift until I have finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird. Published in 1960, this American classic is dubbed as one of the most memorable novel to have won millions of hearts across the globe, excluding mine. Although I do admire the issues centralized in this book –i.e. deep southern racism, childhood innocence, and courage- it just never hooked me, and it took me ages to finish it. I found some chapters tedious and extremely hard to get through (especially at the beginning), however, there are some chapters that I devoured, one such as Tim Robinson’s trial. I like the book, and I loved how it has moved a lot of people, unfortunately the innocent narration of Jem and Scout were just too idealistic for me.
There is always this pressure that looms over you every time you read a classic-i.e. Oliver’s Twist, Henry V, and Pride and Prejudice- that is loved by a lot of people. Questions like “what if I do not get it?” or worse “what if I hate it?” keep pestering my mind, and in the end, you find yourself torn between conforming to social expectations or staying truthful to your literary integrity. Nevertheless, one man’s writing is another man’s treasure regardless of how unpromising the novel is. Alas, I was whisked away into the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama in the midst of the Great Depression through the eyes of innocent, then 6 year old Jean Louise Finch.
Upon finishing the book, I realized just how ignorant I was. I am completely aware of the issue of racism in the deep south, the social structure of the people back in the early 1900’s, the prejudice that was happening back then but it never occurred to me how the situation must have been for people actually living in that time. Reading To Kill A Mockingbird grants you the precious and sometimes rare opportunity of seeing things from a child’s perspective. I found the whole idea tacky at first but it dawned on me how appropriate Lee’s approach was by writing from Scout’s perspective. For one, it made it easier to explain a serious and dark issue in portraying it in a lighter tone; effective especially in introducing the issue of racism to children. Not only that, I learned how prejudice (especially in Tom Robinson’s trial case) had affected Scout’s development in growing up. I can only imagine the children growing up in that era, witnessing all the moral injustice that was happening around them and succumbing to social conventions lest they face serious consequences if they were found associating with the Negroes. We have certainly come a long way in breaking free from the racial segregation but it saddens me when I realize just how recent all of this happened.
However, the book cleverly balances out the stark issue of racism by insinuating sparks of hope in characters like Atticus Finch. He is the epitome of a good person, always urging his children to see things from other people’s perspective so that they can better understand their situation. One lesson that I particularly hold dear to- from one of the many episodes between Atticus and his children- is when he stresses out that everyone is entitled to one’s own opinion and they deserve to be respected even if their views counter with our personal standpoints. Not only that, Atticus also encourages his children to try and stand in other people’s shoes so that they can better understand them. This level of tolerance and patience shown by Atticus Finch is admirable, even idealistic if you may, but nevertheless still stands as a level of tolerance that we must aspire to cultivate in our own lives.
Last but not least, To Kill A Mockingbird is understandably a novel that withstands the test of time and solidifies its place as one of the most loved work in American literature. I thank Harper Lee for giving me the gift of aspiration and for teaching me the value of embracing people regardless of our differences.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
-To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee.
As always, thank you for reading!