Thursday, September 22, 2011

Morality and Race


I know it's odd that I never read this book in high school, because most people do. It's a pretty standard piece of literature that's read it schools. Because I never did read it, I decided since I was an English major, I should probably read it at some point. So why not now? And I'm glad I did, it was a very good read. I wish I would have read it in high school, instead of some other books (cough, cough, The Chosen, cough, cough).

So what's To Kill a Mockingbird about? I figure most people know what it's about, but I'll summarize it anyway, in case it's too difficult for you to recall. It follows the story of Scout Finch, her brother Jem, and their father Atticus in the small southern town of Maycomb, Alabama. Atticus is called to defend Tom Robinson, a negro, in a very racially divided town. The trial forces the town to show it's ugly side, and Scout and Jem are caught up in events that they don't understand. Through the trial, Scout and Jem learn what it means to stand up for themselves, in a time where being different isn't necessarily a good thing.

Now that we're all kind of on the same page, we'll get down to business. Harper Lee was obviously trying to make a statement with this novel, especially when you consider the fact that it was published in the 1960s, when the Civil Rights movement was just getting rolling. Lee is obviously commenting on the fact that racism is morally wrong, and even children can see that. At least, that's what I got from the novel, among other things. Though I don't think that this was necessarily the most important aspect of the novel. More generally, I think Lee was exploring whether human beings are essentially good or essentially evil. The conclusion I come to, through the novel, is that everyone has good and bad aspects, some have more of some than the other. Scout can see this through her father, who understands this fact about people. Atticus understands that people have good and bad qualities, and he tries to make sure that his children understand this too. He constantly stresses that they see things from other people's shoes and not to judge them right away based on their actions. Atticus is the moral center of this novel, and it's from him that Scout is able to build her own moral center.

I have to admit, I didn't realize Scout was a girl at first. It took me a little bit, and I think it's probably because I wasn't paying that close of attention at the beginning. Lee might have done that on purpose, making Scout a kind of social outcast because she won't conform to the "normal" ways of women. I liked Scout for that, I liked the fact that she was different. She wasn't afraid to be who she was, and I found that very admirable. Right from the beginning, you can tell that Scout is this way because of the way Atticus has raised her. He encouraged her to be herself, which makes her a strong young girl who will eventually become a strong women. And we all know we could use more strong women in literature :)

Well I could probably go on about this book forever, so I will stop there. Though the themes in this novel remind me of the themes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which I just read for my Intro to Literary Analysis class. Another excellent read, if you're looking for something that's funny and sad and has a good message. But next I will be reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson which I have heard very good things about. We'll see if my opinions match!

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