To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

A Review by Scott finished May 14, 2009

This review will contain spoilers!

In many sentences:

Somehow, I have never read To Kill a Mockingbird until now. Yet, so many of the characters (Atticus Finch and Boo Radley in particular) were familiar by name. This just goes to show how much this book has become a part of our culture. With that said, I'm not going to expound upon how good it was. Of course it was good, why else would it be so famous? Why else would I be the last person on Earth to have read it? Instead, I'm going to do some light analysis on what it brought to mind as I read it.

First of all, something that I always wondered before reading this book (because I literally knew nothing about the plot) was why it was called To Kill a Mockingbird. I even used to think it might be instructions on how to kill a mockingbird, but I didn't understand how it could be so long. Regardless, I think there are a few ways we can understand the title. To start, Atticus and Miss Maudie provide us some framework when they explain that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird:

"'You're father's right,' she said. '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" (90).

So, clearly there are a few things in this book that we should understand as sinful as killing a mockingbird. The first, is the conviction (and ultimately the death) of Tom Robinson. Tom was a man who had never done anything but help those around him. He even went so far as to pity Mayella's sad life, to his own detriment. Mr. Underwood (the owner of the local newspaper) agrees: "He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children" (241). Tom, like a songbird, provided only good things to Maycomb county, thus making his death a sin

The second place we see the title being relevant is in respect to Boo's intervention at the end of the book. Rather than subjecting Boo to the publicity that would result from his protecting the children, and killing Bob Ewell, the sheriff decides to make it appear to be an accident. "Mr. Finch, taking the one man who's done you and this town a great service an' draggin' him with his shy ways into the limelight-to me, that's a sin. It's a sin and I'm not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man it'd be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch" (276). And, just in case she hasn't made her point clear, Lee drives it home as Scout reassures her father: "Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" (276).

While the book was definitely good overall, there were two points I absolutely loved. The first was towards the beginning, when Jem and Scout were finding items in the Oak tree. This was just so exciting, and full of youthful discovery that I couldn't help but get caught up in it. I only wish it had lasted longer, and remained the focus of the story. The second part, was when Scout realizes it was Boo who had rescued her and Jem from Bob. After all the stories they had made up about him, when she sees him in Jem's room, it's like she saw him every day and she just smiles at him and says "Hey, Boo". Lee's timing here was flawless.

The last thing I want to say about To Kill a Mockingbird is that, as I read it, it struck me that nearly all the books we read in school about children coming of age were set in the South. At first I thought, why is every book we read in school set in the South? I realized, however, that when it comes to American literature that we read in school, and that is considered "classic" literature there are two major defining themes that we like to focus on. The first, is the revolution from England and the second is slavery and civil rights (of course there are others, but I think my point is still valid). So, we find that books centered on the revolution all take place in New England, while books that deal with slavery and civil rights almost all take place in the South. It also makes sense that more would be about civil rights considering it is something that we still deal with on a regular basis (in contrast to gaining our political independence from England, which I think it is safe to say has been achieved). No life-altering insight here, but it is interesting to see, and I have to wonder if the same will be true of future generations of Americans.

Favorite Quote

"Until I feared to lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."

Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird

First Line

"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

Harper Lee the First Line of To Kill a Mockingbird

Last Line

"He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning."

Harper Lee the Last Line of in To Kill a Mockingbird

Originally Published July 11, 1960

Paperback edition:

281 pages - Dec. 1, 1982

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