Posts Tagged ‘race relations’

The literary world, at least in the US, has been all abuzz lately about the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. The official date was last Sunday, and I reread the book last weekend for the first time since ninth grade. I’m a fast reader, so it only took me a couple of days, but I’ve been thinking about it for a week.

I remembered the basic storyline: black man accused of raping a white girl, defended by a white lawyer in an Alabama town in the 1930s. And something about a creepy neighbor…? That was about as far as I got. I had forgotten all about most of the minor characters – Miss Maudie Atkinson (a neighbor and friend), Mr. Heck Tate (the sheriff), Miss Caroline (the bemused first-grade teacher), and Dill (the summertime friend). I’d forgotten how deeply Scout and Jem mused and thought about the world; how fiercely Atticus loved them and they loved him; I’d forgotten the pitch-perfect crafting of the last few chapters, when justice is finally served by the last person you’d ever think of.

There’s a good deal of debate about why Nelle Harper Lee never wrote another book. (She has lived quietly in Monroeville, Alabama, for many years now.) But I wonder if she simply said everything she needed to say with this one.

It’s a story about friendship – Scout, Jem and Dill; Scout, Jem and Calpurnia; the children and Miss Maudie Atkinson; even the children and Boo Radley. It’s a story about race relations, obviously, and the paramount importance of treating people like people, no matter who they are. It’s a story about family, and bravery, and childhood, and growing up.

I can’t hope to add anything new to the essays and blog posts and discussions and school essays, and the classic movie with Gregory Peck – everything that has swirled around the book for the last fifty years. But I love it. And I hope my children love it. (And I think you should read it, if you haven’t already.) And I hope my kids and my friends and I will remember, long after we’ve forgotten the finer points of the story, that “you never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” and that because they do no one any harm and make music for us to enjoy, it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.


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