Author: Harper Lee
The book is told through the eyes of the 6 year old white girl Scout Finch as she lives in the America’s Deep South. Despite Scout’s own adventures, the heart of the story is her viewing of the lives of her older brother Jem, and father Atticus.
At the beginning of the book Scout’s life is seen as pleasant: her well-educated widowed lawyer father Atticus gives her plenty of attention, and Jem loves and protects her. The biggest issues in her life are the fear and excitement of going to school for the first time, bullies, and the fear of the strange house down the road in which the secretive Boo Radley lives.
Things begin to change, however, when Atticus chooses to defend an uneducated black man named Tom Robinson who is accused of raping a white girl. The people in the town begin to act depending on their racial motives, with many cursing Atticus. Jem, who had previously believed his father to be untouchable, loses his faith in justice, whilst Scout tries to understand how people can be so cruel to her father.
When Tom Robinson tries to escape from prison, the town reaches conflict point.
Of all the characters in the book, Atticus Finch is the most famous. He is an example of a brave educated man trying to do the right thing, but who finds that the environment around him makes that almost impossible.
The failings in the justice system are also very important in the book, as Jem – to whom Atticus has taught the importance of reasoned arguments – sees reason lose to emotions and fear.
Another theme in the book is growing up through experience: in her early life, much of Scout’s education has come from Jem and Atticus. However, as Tom Robinson’s trial changes attitudes, Scout begins to learn more about the world.
The writing style in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is also a major point: Scout’s narrative is done in a Southern US voice, with lots of colloquial and accented words. The style of narrative – and Lee’s ability to make an exciting but educating story told by a 6 year old – have been widely praised.
The courtroom was still, and again I wondered where the babies were. Judge Taylor’s cigar was a brown speck in the center of his mouth; Mr. Gilmer was writing on one of the yellow pads on his table, trying to outdo the court reporter, whose hand was jerking rapidly. “Shoot,” I muttered, “we missed it.”
Atticus was halfway through his speech to the jury. He had evidently pulled some papers from his briefcase that rested beside his chair, because they were on his table. Tom Robinson was toying with them.
“…absence of any corroborative evidence, this man was indicted on a capital charge and is now on trial for his life…”
I punched Jem. “How long’s he been at it?”
“He’s just gone over the evidence,” Jem whispered, “and we’re gonna win, Scout. I don’t see how we can’t. He’s been at it ‘bout five minutes. He made it as plain and easy as—well, as I’da explained it to you.
You could’ve understood it, even.”
“Did Mr. Gilmer—?”
“Sh-h. Nothing new, just the usual. Hush now.”
We looked down again. Atticus was speaking easily, with the kind of detachment he used when he dictated a letter. He walked slowly up and down in front of the jury, and the jury seemed to be attentive: their heads were up, and they followed Atticus’s route with what seemed to be appreciation. I guess it was because Atticus wasn’t a thunderer.
Atticus paused, then he did something he didn’t ordinarily do. He unhitched his watch and chain and placed them on the table, saying, “With the court’s permission—”
Judge Taylor nodded, and then Atticus did something I never saw him do before or since, in public or in private: he unbuttoned his vest, unbuttoned his collar, loosened his tie, and took off his coat. He never loosened a scrap of his clothing until he undressed at bedtime, and to Jem and me, this was the equivalent of him standing before us stark naked. We exchanged horrified glances.
To Kill a Mockingbird was an immediate success. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, and has become synonymous with the American Civil Rights and racism issues of the 1960s.