“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember its a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) written by Harper Lee (and no. 78 on The Guardian’s list of The 100 Best Novels) has for many years been regarded as one of the classic novels in English Literature. Not only is it a winner of the Pulitzer Prize with over 30m copies sold worldwide but its also a major film (1970) with an Oscar winning performance by the Hollywood Legend, Gregory Peck, in his role as Atticus Finch, the heroic father and lawyer who fought for civil rights in the story.
Harper Lee is such a talented writer. Her characters (such as Jem and Dill) really do come to life on the page and in Jean Louise Finch (aka Scout) you have a narrator who is both funny and endearing at the same time.
The novel is a realist text which explores some of the issues the author herself experienced in Alabama, the deep south of America. The themes of class, gender and racial politics which drive the narrative are important in that while defining a moment in American history they also shed light on some of the issues to be encountered today. Written over 50 years ago, the story focuses on the case of an innocent Black man, (the mockingbird of the story) Tom Robinson, charged with the rape of a white girl, Mayella Ewell. The gunning down of Robinson by officers as he tried to escape is hauntingly reminiscent of the controversial shooting of the unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown by officers in St Louis, Missouri, last year. It would appear that on this evidence the book can be viewed as being ahead of its time even while defining a particular moment in American history. Another theme which runs cross currently throughout the story is the enigma of Boo Radley, an almost mythical-like character who, while making a brief appearance at the end of the story, leaves the reader with more questions than answers regarding who he really is.
Now, some 55 years later after To Kill A Mockingbird, the sequel, Go Tell A Watchman is to be released in July. The recent annoucement which was made through Harper Lee’s publishers has taken the literary world by storm, creating a frenzy of excitement as readers reacquaint themselves with her original masterpiece. The sequel was actually written first. It focuses on Scout who, now living in New York, returns to the deep south home of her childhood to visit her father, further exploring the courageous and heroic qualities of a man which proved so rare back then as, arguably, they do now.
© Copyright 2015, Darell J Philip