Meghan's Reviews > To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
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Jun 23, 09

Read in January, 1993

If I could give this no stars, I would. This is possibly one of my least favorite books in the world, one that I would happily take off of shelves and stow in dark corners where no one would ever have to read it again.

I think that To Kill A Mockingbird has such a prominent place in (American) culture because it is a naive, idealistic piece of writing in which naivete and idealism are ultimately rewarded. It's a saccharine, rose-tinted eulogy for the nineteen thirties from an orator who comes not to bury, but to praise. Written in the late fifties, TKAM is free of the social changes and conventions that people at the time were (and are, to some extent) still grating at. The primary dividing line in TKAM is not one of race, but is rather one of good people versus bad people -- something that, of course, Atticus and the children can discern effortlessly.

The characters are one dimensional. Calpurnia is the Negro who knows her place and loves the children; Atticus is a good father, wise and patient; Tom Robinson is the innocent wronged; Boo is the kind eccentric; Jem is the little boy who grows up; Scout is the precocious, knowledgable child. They have no identity outside of these roles. The children have no guile, no shrewdness--there is none of the delightfully subversive slyness that real children have, the sneakiness that will ultimately allow them to grow up. Jem and Scout will be children forever, existing in a world of black and white in which lacking knowledge allows people to see the truth in all of its simple, nuanceless glory.

I think that's why people find it soothing: TKAM privileges, celebrates, even, the child's point of view. Other YA classics--Huckleberry Finn; Catcher in the Rye; A Wrinkle in Time; The Day No Pigs Would Die; Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret; Bridge to Terabithia--feature protagonists who are, if not actively fighting to become adults, at least fighting to find themselves as people. There is an active struggle throughout each of those books to make sense of the world, to define the world as something larger than oneself, as something that the protagonist can somehow be a part of. To Kill A Mockingbird has no struggle to become part of the world--in it, the children *are* the world, and everything else is just only relevant in as much as it affects them. There's no struggle to make sense of things, because to them, it already makes sense; there's no struggle to be a part of something, because they're already a part of everything. There's no sense of maturation--their world changes, but it leaves them, in many ways, unchanged, and because of that, it fails as a story for me. The whole point of a coming of age story--which is what TKAM is generally billed as--is that the characters come of age, or at least mature in some fashion, and it just doesn't happen.

All thematic issues aside, I think that the writing is very, er, uneven, shall we say? Overwhelmingly episodic, not terribly consistent, and largely as dimensionless as the characters.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 349) (349 new)


message 1: by Emily (new)

Emily Having not yet read TKAM, I still find this a great review. I was wondering why it took me so long to get through the first five pages of the darn book, and perhaps it's the lack of any meaningful characterization. Also, I love Huck Finn.


message 2: by Nick (new)

Nick And here is yet another reason why I love you. Excellent review.

I enjoyed TKAM, but I think what stuck with me most was the setting--certainly not the characters. Also, I was fourteen. I'd be interested to see what I thought if I reread it now. I can absolutely see the points illustrated in your review.


message 3: by Jalek (new)

Jalek This was a required book in high school. People who didn't seem to be readers enjoyed reading it, so I thought that was a good thing.

The ending did nothing for me though and I came away nonplussed. The lack of depth I hadn't considered as a reason, but like many school-assigned books and most "literature" of that era, I saw the attempted cultural statement in it and probably didn't expect much.


Faith i like the story TKAM.. but im not contented and i cnt explain why ... it seems that theres something missing, ...


Alyssa Thomas WELL, I LIKED IT.


Helen Clearly well-thought out and fair points, in my opinion. I enjoyed the book overall; the writing style has a certain charm that many other writers just never seem to capture for me. This was a re-read for me (after the requisite high school run-through).

I don't, however, agree that there is no maturation or change in the children's world. It's true that in some ways there is a lack of depth. We see Jem begin to have, or attempt to have, a better understanding of the world as he knows it, but his struggles are often internal and unclear as seen through the eyes of his little sister. Perhaps if the book had been longer...I do think it's a shame that Harper Lee never published another book. It would have been nice to have something to compare with TKAM.


message 7: by NAOMIOLY (new) - added it

NAOMIOLY I like it:)


Lira Oh my GOD, YES!!! This book is awful! And I can't believe how many people consider it one of their all time faves. I hated it when I had to read it in AP English and was looked down on for not "appreciating great american literature." I vomit on the soap sculptures of the siblings.



Barbara If you read this book as a high schooler and hated it... grow up and read it again. There are reasons it is so loved that may not be apparent to the less mature reader. If you think it lacked depth, you just don't get it.


Sandy D. I love the book, but have to say you did a great review, which made me think a lot. Thank you.


Charles Bell Thanks for the review. Appreciate your viewpoint. It is still my favorite. I pick it up and read it every 2 or 3 years.


message 12: by Neadtoread (new)

Neadtoread Maybe you have to be of a certain age (I am 70) and born and reared in the South (I did/do) to appreciate the dignity and courage of Atticus Finch! This is what strikes me most about the story.


message 13: by Sella (new) - rated it 1 star

Sella Malin THANK YOU, Meghan! I've been looking for a review like this FOREVER!! EVERYONE I know that's read this book says it was amazing, along with almost EVERY review on here. I thought I'd never find someone who hated it like I did. Thank God for this review!! I agree with EVERYTHING you said.

Please check out my review, you'll like it: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26...


message 14: by Brandon (new) - added it

Brandon is this book even worth reading.. i mean with all the positive comments you mentioned should i even pick the book up?


Richard This is perhaps one of the finest works of American fiction. This review of it is absolute drivel. Atticus and his children are not blessed with the ability to discern the difference between good and evil people, but they DO recognize when a human being is being mistreated because of the color of his skin. Perhaps Meghan lacks this kind of empathy or is uncomfortable with the idea that others possess it. Suffice it to say that not many readers agree with her. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but thank God we don't have to be exposed to this woman's sensibilities on a regular basis. If you don't read "To Kill a Mockingbird" it is your loss.


Richnaktd Richnak Atticus Finch was always a hero to me. I wanted a father like him and wanted to be like Scout. I agree with Richard. Please do not take Meghan's word for it. Read the book.


message 17: by Kim (new) - rated it 2 stars

Kim Meghan probably has written the most truthful review of this book ever. I agree with her completely.


message 18: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan "I would happily take off of shelves and stow in dark corners where no one would ever have to read it again."

Perhaps you could try stowing it in the dark, empty space inside you where your heart was supposed to be. ;-)


message 19: by Michael (new)

Michael "It's a saccharine, rose-tinted eulogy". I suppose, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" might seem rose tinted sacchrine as well if it weren't trying to teach a lesson in morality.


Emily Polhamus While this is a very well written review, it is completely misguided. You're taking something that is simplistic and naive on purpose to provide a child's point of view on something that is so horrific it is hard to look at from an adult's and making it seem foolish. You are simply wrong. This book is about exactly the things you seem to praise in the other ones you discussed, "...protagonists who are, if not actively fighting to become adults, at least fighting to find themselves as people. There is an active struggle throughout each of those books to make sense of the world, to define the world as something larger than oneself, as something that the protagonist can somehow be a part of." This is exactly what Scout and Jem are trying to do. Try again Meghan. And for those who haven't read it for yourself, try it.


Charlie "Jem and Scout will be children forever"

I find this one of the enduring fascinations of this book. What kind of adults did Jem and Scout become?

This fascination is a testament to the brilliance of the writing. The children are so evocatively brought to life that you want to meet them and to know them.


Haley SO...is it good or bad???


Richard Haley, it is a very, very good book. Especially in this era of continued bigotry and intolerance, this novel again reminds us that racism is LEARNED behavior. "You have to be carefully taught." This great novel handles this subject without ever getting "preachy", giving us unforgettable characters and wonderfully evocative
writing.


Meghan Haley, I think that the comments here make it clear that you've asked a very subjective question. Read it and see what you think--it's arguably worth reading even if you (or I) think that it's a "bad" book, simply because of its obvious cultural value and the near-fanatic love that some people have for it.


Haley Thank you so much Meghan and Richard!


message 26: by Charlie (last edited Aug 16, 2009 07:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Charlie Good effort at bringing down a holy cow but I'm not really convinced by any of your arguments. The problem is I can't see from reading your review how you justify your zero star rating. It looks to me like you picked a rating arbitrarily and then tried to piece together an argument to justify it. The length and eloquence of your review suggests to me that you found more value in this book than you're willing to admit.

Is there anything inherently wrong with a book being "episodic"? Some of my favourite books are episodic. The skill of the anecdotal writer is to piece together interesting episodes in such a way as to create a coherent and gripping narrative. I think Harper Lee achieves this but if you can identify any episodes that you think don't add anything to the character development or the storyline then I'd be interested to know which ones.

Why do you need so many dimensions? "Atticus is a good father, wise and patient". What more dimensions do you need? Do you need him to have some hobbies before you'll accept him as a character?

What is "dimensionless" writing? Which dimension are you missing?

I'd never heard of it billed as a coming of age story so the fact that, as you correctly point out, no one really comes of age has never bothered me. If someone incorrectly bills this as a coming of age story then it's not Harper Lee's fault that there's no coming of age storyline.

What exactly are these "social changes and conventions" that you're "still grating at"?

Zero stars is a big call and it needs better justification than you've given it.


Meghan I (hopefully obviously) have no problem with people disagreeing with me on this, but I'm not going to leave annoying back-and-forth--I've deleted comments that added nothing to the discussion.

(Richard, if you see this, I accidentally deleted one of yours about the book itself, for which I apologize--I didn't realize that the delete button was at the bottom, not the top, of the post. Please feel free to repost the deleted comment if you still have a copy of it.)

Charlie, I don't feel much a need to justify my ratings--I'm using Goodreads to keep track of random things that I've read, and posted this in response to a discussion I'd had with a friend. It's not meant to be a sweeping analysis of the book--I mentioned a few things that I find exceptionally grating, but neither want nor care to write a full analysis.


Richard That's OK...it was redundant anyway.


Lauren Lowry Richard wrote: "This is perhaps one of the finest works of American fiction. This review of it is absolute drivel. Atticus and his children are not blessed with the ability to discern the difference between good..."

I couldn't agree more, Richard. I knew that when there were 29 comments on this book, most of them would be defending the persistence of this novel in American schools. The fact that I teach it to adolescents when they are on the brink of making many drastic changes, life-decisions, and, in many cases, assumptions about their peers, society, and the basis of human nature is no coincidence. I'm sorry those of you that didn't read it until presumptions and prejudices about life AND literature were so deeply ingrained in you that it's importance is lost on you--but I have seen young people's eyes open in my classroom to ideals they never even considered after having read this book. (I am an open-minded liberal who once taught in a small, conservative, 90% Anglo Oklahoma town.)

It seems to me that Meghan may be too jaded to think that Lee's work can have any sort of social, political, educational, or literary impact. But I'll say this--I'm one of the most cynical people I know, but I don't read banned books in order to rebel. I read (and TEACH) them because they affect change.


Lauren Lowry And because I'm an English teacher, I MUST correct my typo 'it's.' It should be its, of course. ...Darn iPhone predictive text...


Stephanie Scott I am new to this, so forgive me my kindnesses... I think "rating" a book is far different from being a literary "critic". One would require a vast amount of knowledge about literature and some credentials to support such knowledge.

I love that we can have this "back and forth", Meghan, and think that deleting part of the string of comments is cyber censorship, as it is simply you determining what does and does not "add to the discussion". It is "your" discussion, so I suppose that is your prerogative.

I personally needed to read all of this to make an informed decision on whether you initially posted
what "(hopefully obviously)" is a scathing, hardly credible critique that might bring about "annoying" comments that you happen to not appreciate about as much as you don't seem to appreciate the book in question.

I hate Charles Dickens' work. I think it's drivel. I wholeheartedly believe The Catcher in the Rye is a piece of shit. Let the comments begin there. The difference, however, is I don't claim to believe I am so far intellectually superior as to determine what should be put into dark corners and never read again. I feel as comfortable using that casual, caustic tone because I am not railing against the masses--blazing my own librarian path. There is a place for both, and since neither spoke to me, I can only presume that I am not one of those to whom the author was speaking. Thank God there is an audience, and for at least a few friends of mine, thank god for the fictional Holden Caulfield.

Please remember a few things, but post whatever you like, as I'm sure I'll either be deleted or not read, and I'm quite fine with either. (I'm simply responding.) But remember this: to be a critic, and a good one you must be timely, and you must have credibility. In 1993 when you published your first novel, Meghan, I think your words would've held more meaning.

Until then, I do believe that as lovers of the written word, we might think before ripping the typewritten flesh of something we've not been brave enough to lay bare.

It was 1959. The woman told a story, with an androgynous name. Anyone else bothered by that aspect? Thrilled by it? Grateful for the effort?

Just wondering...

"I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.

– Harper Lee, quoted in Newquist—1964[6:]"




message 32: by Lara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lara Richard wrote: "This is perhaps one of the finest works of American fiction. This review of it is absolute drivel. Atticus and his children are not blessed with the ability to discern the difference between good..."

Amen, Richard!



Raleighhunter HA HA, I quit reading the initial review here when I saw how long it was but the short version is more than enough for me. She is right. 100% right.

I read most of the comments because I figured the original reviewer would get toasted. Every time I mention I hated the book or felt it was a waste of paper, I got blasted. The book makes people feel warm about themselves as Americans and eventually I noticed I wasn't insulting the book or Lee, I was somehow insulting the reader. So I now I usually just say I didn't like it & smile when they try to convince me.

The problem with critiquing To Kill a Mockingbird is the reader forms an emotional attachment to the book and can't separate the critique of the book from a critique on them. As I read the comments to this critique, the only ones who don't follow this are the "Well, I liked it" responses. The other responses seem to be personally insulted.

The only great literary value of the book is the character Lee created in the dad. Lee created the quintessential American or what most Americans want to be or think we are. Other than that, it is poor writing. Lee isn't descriptive nor tells a fascinating story. Lee just created the ideal American.

The book did nothing for social reform. It got people to admit there was a problem but didn't spur any sweeping action across the country.

You don't need to be a college grad or middle age to understand the book. In fact HS is the perfect age to read the book. You are still impressionable at that age.

I'm sure I'm in for some fun response now. LOL



Kieran Rooney I disagree. This book is certainly not the most complex piece of writing but i don't believe it was ever supposed to be.

There's no point saying too much as I'll just seem like I am getting angry. This is especially true given I do have an emotion attachment to the book as the comment above mentions.

I must say thought that i think the characters are far from one dimensional. No single character is portrayed as good or evil, even those who effectively sentence an innocent man to his death are given their own perspective and voice. Personally if you finished this book feeling like it was a complacement indoctrination into the outlines of right and wrong then I don't think you read it right.

If we admit it is a simple book then surley we can admit that the chief simple theme of the book alone makes it worthy of more than zero stars. To kill a Mockingbird is a sin, therefore why do we sometimes punish innocent people who 'never did no harm to nobody'?. That's a fantastic starting point and the book just builds on from there.



message 35: by Jean (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jean Thank God we don't have to be exposed to this woman's sensibilities on a regular basis.


couldn't have said it better myself


Morgan Leigh you are so stupid- im younger than you and i get the point the book is making!


Raleighhunter Morgan pretty much proves my point about emotional ties. I read these comments and laugh. I read the 5 star reviews and didn't see anyone attacking the reviewer. LOL With all due respect, you guys are so predictable.

Meghan isn't insulting you or your personal friend Atticus. She simply told you why she didn't like the book and people took it emotionally instead of rationally. This is why an honest evaluation of the book is impossible.

The book as a literary work has one redeeming value, the character of Atticus Finch. Other than that, it is trite pulp with a predictable story and standard characters to be found in any books on the South in the era.

If people don't buy into Atticus Finch being the quintessential American white guy, they are not going to like the book. It is that simple. When the book is debated, it is debating the character Atticus.


Kieran Rooney Surely the large amount of people with an emotional attachment says something positive about the book? Just putting it out for discussion.


AKsana ick! i hate this book:s


message 40: by Debra (last edited May 28, 2010 03:44PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Debra I am a fan of TKAM. I disagree with Raleighhunter. I have trouble with Atticus's character (as is evident in my review of this title), but it doesn't diminish the moments in the book that affected me the most, which I don't think are reflected in Meghan's critique. For me a fundamental point of the book is that a child's perspective is naive and simple, and ultimately "good" compared to the rationalizations and complexities that jade an adult's perspective. One of the most memorable parts of the book for me is when "the town drunk" offers Scout a sip of what everyone assumes is whiskey from his bagged bottle, and it turns out to be coke. He explains to Scout that it's easier for people to assume he's a drunk than a sober man who chose a black mate. This quasi-deception seems confusing to Scout, a child, but necessary for adults. That scene seems a microcosm for the story and its setting.


message 41: by Debra (last edited Dec 07, 2009 11:02AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Debra Lira wrote: "Oh my GOD, YES!!! This book is awful! And I can't believe how many people consider it one of their all time faves. I hated it when I had to read it in AP English and was looked down on for not "app..."

I disagree with your comment, but at the same time love it!


message 42: by Starry7star (new)

Starry7star What do you mean by uneven writing! It was written in a child's perpective.


Layla I agree with Starry7star; what would you expect a child to say or think? Lee obviously wanted the book in a child's perspective and did a great job with doing that. Like every child, they learn from what they observe, and as they get older, they understand things more clearly.
You said "They have no identity outside of these roles. The children have no guile, no shrewdness--there is none of the delightfully subversive slyness that real children have, the sneakiness that will ultimately allow them to grow up."
Have you even read the book? The kids were trying to sneak around to see Boo thinking that they could get a glimpse of the man that they heard about in rumors; that sounds cheeky to me.
And you're going to have to search deeper than that to find the true symbolism of each character; they're definitely not one dimensional, look for the allegory of this story and hopefully you'll realize the true power of this book.


message 44: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John "It's a saccharine, rose-tinted eulogy for the nineteen thirties"

It's about a trial for RAPE.
Have you ever actually read the book ?

"The children have no guile, no shrewdness--there is none of the delightfully subversive slyness that real children have, the sneakiness that will ultimately allow them to grow up"

They sneak into the courtroom. They talk to people their father tells them not to.
Again, have you ever actually read the BOOK ?

"To Kill A Mockingbird has no struggle to become part of the world--in it, the children *are* the world, and everything else is just only relevant in as much as it affects them"

The story is principally about adults ; it is only narrated by a child.

Try actually reading the book.


message 45: by Mathieu (new)

Mathieu Wow...

I'm new on Goodreads and I must say I was SO surprised to see TKAM considered as one of the best books ever. Not because the book is bad (I have not read it yet) but because this book is totally unknown in my country while it seems to be a major piece of american literary history. From a european perspective I would have expected to see Kerouac, Faulkner, deLillo, or God knows who at the top of the list. I'll definetely give this book a read.

Otherwise, considering stories about kids struggling and growing up, it seems nobody mentionned Carson McCullers "Heart is a lonely hunter" (huum, not sur of the original title... sorry)


message 46: by eddy (new) - rated it 5 stars

eddy I consider "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee to be a masterpiece of American Literature. While Meghan has every right to her opinion, I feel that sadly, she has missed one of the most valued, and simplest of messages in the novel. That an individual can stand for his or her convictions and make a difference.
I hope that Meghan visits To Kill A Mockingbird again, and with a few more years behind her, will pick up on the more subtle messages of this novel.


Hannah Naughton Perhaps To Kill a Mockingbird is naive and idealistic, or maybe innocent is a better word. And perhaps it shouldn't be listed among the greats of literature. For that reason critical reviews certainly serve a valuable purpose, and I appreciated reading this one. But I come back to dismissing all of the criticism, and loving this book. Who cares about its flaws. The truth is this book is special simply because it conjures so much love and affection from so many people from so many different backgrounds for so many reasons. I think this criticism is a reaction to that widespread affection. It's a rare occurrence for a book to be so beloved, because reaching the hearts of so many is an exceedingly difficult thing for a writer to do.


message 48: by eddy (new) - rated it 5 stars

eddy "The truth is this book is special simply because it conjures so much love and affection from so many people from so many different backgrounds for so many reasons."

-who needs to say more? Thank you, Hannah.


message 49: by Vero (new) - added it

Vero I think the best part of the book is how the author led us to see the world from the honest, frank children point of view in which there wasn't supposed to be lies and prejudice in between, and in which assumption people make can be wrong. We are also reminded that people should treat every individual equally regardless of their color and origin


Clara Barbara wrote: "If you read this book as a high schooler and hated it... grow up and read it again. There are reasons it is so loved that may not be apparent to the less mature reader. If you think it lacked de..."

THANK YOU! finally someone understands... This is absolutely ridiculous, how could you hate a book that's #1 on the top 100 best books ever list? I am in highschool and I'm beginning to think you need to have southern roots to understand this book...


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