Shoma Patnaik's Reviews > To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
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Jul 29, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: classic, favourites, humour, 2011, historical, rural, drama, society, america, mystery
Read from July 29 to 31, 2011

This is the kind of book you want to start again right after you've turned over the last page. Few books have made me feel that way, since the books of my childhood anyway. And for me, this is where the magic of the book lies: it makes you a child again.

To Kill a Mockingbird reminded me why I love reading. There is so much real humour in it, the writing so gentle and yet so straightforward and the musical Southern language everywhere. When Scout says, "Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." I could relate immediately because that is exactly the way I feel about painting. Words and scenes stay with you long after the book is done: Scout's first day at school, Atticus and Tim Johnson, the children's artless disarming of the mob, Boo Radley's first and final appearance.

Scout, Jem and Dill reminded me that I had a few golden summers myself, growing up. And their fear and fascination for Boo Radley was more familiar than I expected. When I was little, I would go visit my grandmother in the summer and there was a Boo Radley-like lady who lived next door. No one in the world had scared me before and no one has ever since. When I was no longer six years old, I realised that what my siblings and I were terrified of was only an old lady with more tragedy than witchcraft in her poor life.

Harper Lee's characters are her greatest strength. Atticus Finch is a gem of a character. He is a good man, he simply cannot exist in this world but he is believable. And then you have Mr. Dolphus Raymond who shows a curiously reversed sort of courage, choosing to fight hypocrisy with cynicism.

I LOVE Little Chuck Little and his chivalrous handling of Miss Caroline. I wish he had a bigger part in the story. It's the little things about being a child that Ms. Lee captures so well, such as Jem telling Scout about the "Dewey Decimal System" in force at school and the way she readily believes her big brother. At the same time, Ms. Lee doesn't patronize the children - or the reader - by making them bland and infantile. She recognizes the fact that children can be as cruel or as kind as adults. Sometimes they make the same bad judgements. Sometimes they recognize what is wrong and why before the adults do, like Dill did at the courthouse. Sometimes they feel helpless in the face of wrong and like adults, they use anger to mask it, like Jem did.

It's not just the obviously likable characters that are drawn with depth. Even people like Mrs. Dubose or Mayella are more than simple antagonists. They remind you that there are few true villains in this world: you can't be perfectly bad any more than you can be perfectly good. There are narrow-minded and bigoted people in this world; their actions cannot be justified but they may have redeeming qualities. It is easy to forget this fact. Mrs. Dubose is downright vile at times but she shows courage in the face of weakness and I can respect that. Mayella shows none, but one cannot help but feel sorry for her. The red geraniums seem a trivial fact but for me, they were a powerful depiction of Mayella's state. Is it very much better than that which comes to the innocent man she accuses?

I like the basic decency that runs through the book but honestly, as a crusader for equality, I wish Ms. Lee would have made more of an effort. The black characters are mostly uni-dimensional victims. Even Calpurnia doesn't break the "contented slave" mould. The bulk of the argument - at least on part of the grownups in the book - for treating everyone equally is because it's kind or virtuous, not because it is logical. Even Atticus - unimpeachable in almost every other regard - says that it's more of a sin to cheat a black man because of his "ignorance". I think that when you treat someone equally, it means you don't differentiate against him, whether positively or negatively. So yes, while I believe the book has its heart in the right place, there may be better treatises on equality and discrimination.

To Kill a Mockingbird itself is so sincere, however, that it is easy to set aside one's doubts. In any case, I think the chief lesson in this book is not only standing up for what you feel is right but more importantly, doing it when your friends and family don't agree with you. That itself requires a great deal of courage, moral or otherwise.
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Quotes Shoma Liked

Harper Lee
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird


Reading Progress

11/30/2016 marked as: read

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