Let's Learn @ the Library

April's Theme: Literary Classic--To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird has found itself on numerous book shelves, nightstands, and required reading lists for decades, and continues to be one of the most well-known pieces of literature. I still remember, as I’m sure many of you do, the first time I experienced Harper Lee’s classic work. As a naïve high school freshman, I was required to read To Kill a Mockingbird during my English course. I was unsure as to whether I would enjoy it like so many page-turners currently on my shelf, or if it would become a chore like other required novels had been. Being an ardent reader I decided to start right away, and to my delight I was not able to put it down till I had finished it. I was drawn in by the sweeping, yet achingly real detail of life during the Great Depression, as well as the dramatic and emotional story of one individual’s fight against injustice. 

 Steeped in the deep south, during a time of great prejudice and violence, Lee’s words seek to bridge the divide between one man’s struggle for justice and the overarching resentment, and often fear, of a changing time. The story plays out in a small town that has already surpassed its tolerance level for any such transformation, and passion has overwhelmed rationality. As Lee poignantly argues, “people generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” The lessons learned from this work, if one is willing to both see and hear them, are still relevant today: namely race, injustice, and inequality. 

Set in 1930s Alabama, 6-year-old Scout recounts her experience in Maycomb County during some of the darkest times in American history. Her father, Atticus Finch, a well-respected attorney chooses to defend Tom Robinson, a poor black man accused of raping one of the county’s well-known daughters, Mayella Ewell. Throughout this time, the quiet community feeling is quickly shattered by racial prejudice and hostility. Through the innocence of Scout, a child, the reader is forced to face what many try to sweep under the rug, some of America’s greatest injustices. As the story unfolds, we encounter both anger and anguish wherein we see first-hand the challenges and triumphs of both the town and the Finch family. We feel the pain of the wrongful accusations waged against Robinson, the anger toward the trials of Scout and Jem in standing up for family and what is right, and the compassion for Atticus who single-handedly fights one of the scariest injustices of all, injustice before the law. Through this experience, Lee reaches deep inside our souls and influences our very lives in the way only a powerful narrative can. As she has woven us into the very fabric of Maycomb society, she forces us to confront our shortcomings, while also longing for us to emulate what the hero already possesses, a highly ethical character that will fight for humanity even at the risk of being ostracized by family, culture, or tradition.

In a world that seems quick to judge, there are many takeaways from To Kill a Mockingbird. I can still recount the passage, one of many, that changed my life… “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.” In seeking to define the importance of equality, it is crucial that we do in fact heed the call to see things from others’ perspectives and truly try to make the world a better place for all. Lee forces us to realize that we have the ability to be the change we seek in the world, much like Atticus Finch.
In the end, through a young girl’s telling narration, the reader has the opportunity to examine the ever-raging battle between justice and injustice that wages inside us all. The sometimes haunting words captured on Lee’s pages have defined the impact this book has had on my life, and the lives of countless others. Her words ring as true today as they did in 1960. If you have not read To Kill a Mockingbird, the Library has a copy waiting for you…and I promise, you will not be disappointed. 

At the Library this month

Join us for a community-wide book discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird on Thursday May 11 at 7:00 pm. This book will provide for lively discussion whether you are experiencing Harper Lee's beloved novel for the first time or re-reading the classic.

Library Resources

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Article written by Jessica Awtrey, former Library Board member