To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee takes us to a small town in the deep south of America in the 1930s, and shines light onto the inequalities of race and class. Lee has the story narrated by the young girl Scout, interweaving the lives of three inquisitive children, the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman, and a mysterious black family and their son Boo Radley. Racism, bullying, incest, and a seething undercurrent of prejudices and perceptions form the framework for this story, which is loosely based on Lee’s own experience as a child.
Atticus Finch, the single father of Scout and her older brother Jem, is the moral foundation of this story. He’s the lawyer who represents the accused Tom Robinson because it’s the right thing to do, not that he has too. His pragmatic philosophy and matter-of-fact approach to explaining things to Scout allow Lee to use him as the straight line in the book. There’s very little motion in his moral compass.
Many consider this story to represent the loss of innocence. Does it? Scout is a curious and precocious child. She asks questions – sometimes – and learns what life is. Some answers have a deeper and darker meaning than others. However, just because a truth is ugly does not diminish the need to state it. Though Scout struggles to understand inequality, she retains the spark of a child.
The book as published in 1960. In many ways, the America of the 1960s was similar to the America of the 1930s. We continue to struggle with equality in our justice system. This story is a must read.