Book Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

There are classics. And then there are classics. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the latter.

Set deep in the Depression-era South of the 1930s, the story covers three years in the life of young Jean-Louise “Scout” Finch and her brother Jem… three years marked by the arrest and trial of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely charged with the rape of a white girl.

Scout and Jem scarcely notice the goings-on until their lawyer father, Atticus Finch, agrees to take the case and defend Robinson in court: a fact that the two children (and the other inhabitants of Maycomb, Alabama) are staggered by.

Harper Lee’s acclaimed novel is ostensibly a courtroom drama, but such a description does not really do this profound and multifaceted book justice. At once poignant, wise, and humorous, Mockingbird is a tale of such excellence that, to quote the Chicago Tribune, “it will no doubt make a great many readers slow down to relish more fully its simple distinction.

Lee’s writing is graced with an elegance so unspectacular it’s spectacular; more than once, I had to pause and read passages aloud, just for the pleasure of rolling them off my tongue.

The book concerns itself with a number of weighty, adult themes, but Lee chooses to tell it through the eyes of a small child. It is within this context – the coming-of-age story or bildungsroman – that she explores the evils of racial prejudice. The result is both subtle and potent; a morality tale that never succumbs to didactic preachiness.

We’re also presented with an unforgettable picture of moral courage in the character of Atticus Finch. To most of the white folks in Maycomb, Tom Robinson was tried and condemned the moment he was accused. Atticus not only believes differently, he acts differently. Even when the odds are stacked against him, he takes a stand for justice and equity. One man contra mundum – against the world.

“This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience – Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”

“Atticus, you must be wrong…”

“How’s that?”

“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong…”

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinion,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” (p. 120)

Scout and her brother, and many others in Maycomb, come to respect him for that. One of the most touching scenes in the book occurs after the trial, when the town’s black minister tells Scout, “Miss Jean-Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” (p. 241)

Stand up, indeed.

33 thoughts on “Book Review: To Kill A Mockingbird”

  1. Yes — Mockingbird is indeed a classic classic. Most people say it’s a book about racism, but that’s only a small part of it — it’s a book about courage — look at all the different forms of bravery are shown throughout the book. I used to love teaching that book because it was worthy and because the kids loved it. I hear that they no longer enjoy it and it has been cut from our school’s curriculum. I hope it comes back.

  2. This is one of the most classic classics. I read it for the first time a few years ago. Telling the story through a child’s eyes was the perfect way to allow the reader a slow dawning of what was going on.

  3. I read this just a few months ago, it was a really amazing book. The characters were amazingly crafted and the themes it dealt with were handled with masterful precision. My brother and I read this book and both of us loved it.

    Great review, glad you enjoyed it.

  4. I missed this in my youth and didn’t read it until I was in my forties. We took the audio version (exquisitely read by SIssy Spacek) on a car trip and made a indelible family memory. My favorite two words of this book: “Hey, Boo.”

  5. Do you have any cautions for this book? I’ve been interested in reading it for awhile, but I understood that there was some rather strong swearing in it, which at this point, I generally avoid. Your review has increased my interest though! :)

    To the KING be all the glory!

    1. The swearing is infrequent and when it does pop up, it’s fairly mild – nothing you wouldn’t find in a PG movie. There are a few misuses of God’s name, some racial slurs, and some violence. The mature themes (rape, assault, etc.) make it a book I’d recommend for older readers, say ages 14 and up.

      Hope that helps! It’s a great book; I’m sure you’d enjoy it. :)

  6. I have loved this book since I read it in high school myself, 30 years ago. How sad to hear that any school is cutting it out of fear that students won’t like it. My 14-year-old daughter has just read it, and I am so happy to report that she enjoyed it immensely.

    1. It’s hard for me to imagine how anyone could not like this book. I know I’ll be rereading it soon – it’s one of those stories that you want to begin again as soon as you’ve finished. :)

  7. Such a good book. There’s an interesting documentary about Harper Lee on Netflix. It’s so interesting that this was her only published book. But I guess if you’re going to be a one-hit wonder, you might as well write a classic.

  8. I just finished reading this book, it’s a classic in every sense and it goes beyond racism. It’s a book essentially about life.

  9. Look, I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, and certainly, as Atticus stated, everyone is “entitled to full respect for their opinion”. But I just really did like this book as much as other people. I am an avid reader, have read lots of classics, and lots of trash. When I really like a book, I will read it over and over. I have read paperback books until they fell apart. “Eleanor of Aquitain and the Four Kings” was one of those. Yes, that wasn’t a fiction book, but neither is “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, really. I read TKAMB once in high school, didn’t particulary enjoy it, and read it again two years ago. Still, nothing. Sure, Scout is a precious imp. Yes, Atticus is a good guy. But the reason this book is so popular is because of the content, not the writing. The book came out at a time when we needed to hear this story in this country, and have our eyes opened about racism. White reviewers love it. Scholars have noted that the black characters in the novel are extremely two dimensional, and hardly figure in the story telling at all. In the same way that “The Ghosts of Mississippi” is really a story of white heroes rescuing black victims, so is TKAMB. Why is this the only kind of anti-racism story white people like?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s