Books - Reviews

“To Kill a Mockingbird” – Harper Lee

by Farzeen Mughal

Book Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
Writer: Harper Lee
Genre: Coming of Age, Bildungsroman
Rating: 5/5
Warning: This review contains spoilers.

The book “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. The story is set in a fictional southern town of Maycomb county during the 1930s, a period known for racial prejudice against Black Americans. The story is told in the first-person narration through an eight years old girl named Jeans Louise Finch Aka Scout who lives with her lawyer father named Atticus and brother Jem who is four years older than her. The book is divided into two parts. The first part revolves around Scout, Jem, and Dill’s (their friend) childhood and their desire to know about their mysterious neighbor Arthur Radley aka Boo Radley while the second part focuses more on these children’s awareness of the issues of racism, Tom Robinson’s (a Black American) trial, and how it affects Jem, Scout, and Dill. The story deals with a lot of themes that mainly include the theme of racism and corruption of the justice system, but it also touches lightly upon the theme of gender bias faced mostly by women during that era. The book belongs to the genre of bildungsroman, a genre of which I was unaware until a few days back when a friend of mine mentioned it and I dug a little deeper into it to understand it better. This genre explores the life of the protagonist from their early years of innocence to his/her psychological and moral growth as can be seen through the characters of Scout, Jem, and Dill.

The theme of racism can be seen through the characters of Mrs. Dubose, Mr. Ewell, and the jury system that wrongly convicts Tom Robinson, a black American wrongly accused of rape of a white girl. However, the story also shows that racism is a social construct and not something that comes naturally. This can be seen through the characters of Scout, Jem, and Dill, who are children but deeply shocked at the unfair treatment of Whites towards Blacks. These children have a conscience that most of the town’s people are devoid of. The children find this whole idea of convicting an innocent man disgusting and disturbing while the rest of the town except a few people like Atticus, Mrs. Maudie, and Heck Tate, grew up with the notion that Blacks are lesser beings and do not deserve equal rights and opportunities as white because of their skin color, and they hold on to that belief. Hence, the attitude of children towards such mistreatment shows that a social construct like racism can be put to an end with the right sort of guidance and education. The future generation is a hope that they will one-day end racism.

The corruption of justice can also be seen through the jury system that decides to convict Tom even before his trial and even after the trial despite no solid proof against him. The jury held him guilty of a crime he did not commit because he was black.

Moreover, the book also touches upon the theme of gender biases faced mostly by Scout. The 1930s was not only a time when racial prejudice existed but also a time when patriarchy prevailed. This gender bias mostly comes from Aunt Alexandra when she disapproves of Scout wearing overalls and breeches. She wants her to change her tomboy ways and adopt the ways of a lady, which Scout did not want to adopt as she finds these ladies quite pretentious and hypocritical, and also because she feels comfortable in her skin.

I found the title of the book quite symbolic. In the novel, the mockingbird serves as a symbol of innocence. Therefore, the title “To Kill a Mockingbird” is suggestive of killing innocence. The characters of Tom and Boo Radley in the story can be seen as mockingbirds as they symbolize innocence as Miss Maudie puts it, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Both Tom and Boo minded their own business and had compassion for other beings. Tom used to help Mayella with her chores out of his compassion for her which later led to his loss of freedom and ended up in his death. Similarly, Boo Radley too did not hurt anybody and always kept to himself. He used to put gifts for Jem and Scout in the tree hole and even saved them from Mr. Ewells’ attack in the end. In my opinion, he likes staying in his own world and did not want to interact with a world where people have no conscience and little sympathy for their own fellow beings. Thus, he seems more like a mockingbird, a person who gave a lot to the world but did not take anything.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. After a long time, I found myself involved in a story. The tone of the book shifts from humorous to somber in a very pleasant way. I found the part where the kids reenacted the incidents from Boo Radley’s life really funny. Also, I love the bond between Scout and Jem. The story was beautifully told and I enjoyed every word of it. Hence, for me, this book deserves a five-star.