Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
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We feel that ‘reviewing’ a Classic would never do. But a selection of opinions, some complimentary, some critical; these might help to give a sort of composite picture of a book, from which readers might come to their own conclusions. Here, from six of our reviewers, are six different viewpoints on Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird.
Mukta Raut feels: If I have an overriding thought these days, it’s “Does it make a difference?” Whether it’s a plea against superstition or a shout for gender equality or an agenda to oppose corruption, does it make a difference? When reality seems ambiguous, literature shines on. For me, in many ways, that torch is Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Atticus Finch’s soliloquy in the courtroom where he tells the judge that all people are not equal in the world, which is exactly why they must be treated equal in the court of law, is profound. (He is defending a black man against the charge of raping a white girl.) Despite a persuasive argument, Finch loses. His daughter then asks her grandmother whether anything will change in Alabama. Her grandmother replies that things have already started changing. Sure, the black man was convicted but he was represented by a white lawyer. That would certainly not have been possible in earlier days. This little thing, too, marks a shift in attitude. To me, that is what ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is. It’s a whisper to the haunting question, “Does it make a difference?” The whisper is “Yes”.
Basil George says: The most fascinating thing for me about this book is its exquisite portrayal of the minds of children. Lee neither belittles them nor exaggerates their maturity. The description of the Finch kids' daily lives, the games they play, the simple fears they have – all take us back to our own childhood, and a vain urge to reclaim that lost simplicity may excite and, at the same time, sadden our hearts.
But much more than this innocence and purity, it is the portrayal of the perceptiveness of children that makes this book very dear to me. We may think that children do not observe things or lack the ability to discern what is right and wrong, but can we be any more mistaken? Scout Finch observes and tries to understand the tumultuous happenings of her racially discriminated society with a keen sense of maturity, without losing even a speck of innocence or cuteness. "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", she says. How true and how cute, coming from a ten year old! She is baffled that her dad, Atticus Finch, is defending a black man when he himself says that the case cannot be won! She simply accepts her lack of understanding, with all earnestness and innocence, by wondering: "Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don't pretend to understand". Harper Lee immortalized childhood innocence in Scout without being patronizing. With her cadent and brilliant narration, she helps us climb into a kid's skin and walk around in it, a beautiful trip down memory lane.
Yashnashree says: To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favourite reads. I read the book first when I was in school. Though, I did understand the story and lessons imparted by it then, I had to revisit the book as an adult. The simplicity in the writing style of Harper Lee is what makes this book such a gripping read. The author has taken the voice of a little girl (Scout) to present her ideals. The kid charms the reader with the sheer innocence of her idea of the world around her, which is plagued by racism and discrimination. The story is about drawing inspiration from around us and about distinguishing right from the wrong. The child has hard time understanding the complexities of the people around her, as it is full of hypocrites and that is when her father serves as a true inspiration to her, who stands up for his convictions even when the majority is against him. The book preaches, but it does so in a very covert and subtle manner. To Kill a Mockingbird is an example of fine writing with a skill to impart simple lessons without sounding patronising.
Avishek Basu Mallick avers: I had the good fortune of reading Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird both as a child and as an adult. It is surprising how my perceptions have changed over the years. Thirteen years ago, I construed Jem's response to Tom Robinson's death as the death of innocence and hence the actual "killing of the Mockingbird"; now I see it as a sad but true coming-of-age eventuality.The profanity and almost casual discussions of rape and sexual advances shocked a twelve-year old boy brought up in a conservative middle-class family; now it seems almost mild for a generation brought up on four-letter expletives.
Yet the novel is too unambiguous for me to consider it a classic. There is too much of the morally uptight Atticus Finch and too little of the enigmatic Boo Radley. It would be interesting, however, to find out how the "tired old town" of Maycomb has evolved over the years in a world still very much obsessed with pogroms and ethnic cleansing.
Mugdha Wagle asks: When I first read this book, I completely identified with Scout, the young narrator, and accepted her opinions of Maycomb and its residents. Lately, however, I’ve begun to question my liking for the book.
What, I’ve wondered, might a black person feel about To Kill a Mockingbird?
What if we were to read a story about an Indian man accused of raping a British woman in pre-independence times? What if, like the unfortunate Tom Robinson, the Indian man were obviously innocent, but was still convicted by a British jury and finally shot dead by British prison guards? Would we still feel 'uplifted' by the vague possibility of change somewhere in the future?
To Kill a Mockingbird is a great book, no doubt. Would I recommend it to a tweenager? Definitely. But it tells only half the story. Recently, another favorite of Southern fiction, Gone with the Wind, was retold from a black person’s viewpoint. How would Tom Robinson’s daughter have narrated the events that tore her family apart?
Neha Yadav feels: Harper Lee wrote her only book on a year long vacation when her agent presented her with one year worth of wages as a Christmas/Now-you-can-write-the-book-you-want present. This book went on to win the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, Library Journal’s 1999 ‘Best Novel of the Century Poll’, get featured on subsequent must-read lists, and most importantly, teach an entire generation about the hateful nature of racism. I read the book at the hopelessly adolescent age of fourteen which, I can vouch in retrospect, is perhaps the ideal age to read it. At a time when I was grappling with extreme mood swings and prickly-intense receptivity to peer pressure, I found in the universally beloved Atticus Finch a wonderful guide. Atticus’ gentle mantra of tolerance, compassion, hope and fighting for the right cause shone like a light from an unexpected lighthouse, antiquated perhaps but with a rock-solid foundation, while I tread the stormily cynical seas of young adulthood. Scout’s delightfully authentic voice as the precocious narrator endeared the book even further to me. The book has always reminded me of the old Emerson quote- “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Massively inspirational yet never preachy, serious but never dull, important yet entertaining, To Kill a Mockingbird is the stuff that classics are made of.
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