“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
- Miss Maudie
Although this novel was required reading during my ninth grade year, I can’t honestly say I read even a few pages of it back then. I vaguely remember watching the movie version released on Christmas day 1962, with Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, filmed in black and white. The only thing I remembered of the story, however, was Boo Radley.
Fast forward approximately 18.5 years to last week. I got an idea in my head to find a list of the “100 Best Novels of All Time” and found one compiled by Time Magazine on Goodreads; To Kill A Mockingbird was number one, and was easily accessed thru the library at the high school where I work.
This is a story about a young girl named Scout growing up in a sleepy Southern town rocked by a crisis of conscience when a black man was accused of raping a white woman. Scout’s father was chosen to defend this man, who was innocent yet found guilty by a jury of white men purely based on that era’s expectations of racial prejudice.
The back of the book explains it thus: “Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos… Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American Literature.” More than a masterpiece, it went on to win the Pulitzer prize in 1961.
What makes this novel so memorable will be different for each person who reads it. For me, it was more than just a reminder of the injustices perpetrated on a race of people so many decades ago; more than the childish fears and fancies concerning a strange neighbor whom no one ever saw; more than the drama of a small Southern town in the grips of the Great Depression.
For me, it was about learning to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to really try and see the world from their perspective. It was about opening yourself up to new possibilities of who you might become as you grow and change and try to find your own place. It was about knowing when to stand up for something you believed in no matter what anyone else might say or think, and when to alter the truth just a little to keep the balance between right and wrong. Lessons we all would do well to learn.