"Atticus said to Jem one day, "I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird." That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. "Your father’s right," she said. "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."
*sigh* There was something so beautifully heartwarming and lovely about Lee's one and only published novel. It had been over a decade since I read it, and while some details came back to me as I read it, I had forgotten how truly wonderful it is.
At first glance, it seems so simple. The first half of the novel shows us just who the characters are. We play along with Jem and Scout as they explore their neighborhood. We too fear the Radley house. We go with Scout to school and suffer with her when her teacher tells her not to read anymore at home. I just loved this line about that in particular,
"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing."
Oh Scout, I feel you on that. When things are threatened to be taken away, we all pitch a fit and hold on tighter, don't we? I do have to say, shame on any teacher who discourages kids from reading. You should be tarred and feathered. Moving on...
What I really loved about the beginning of the novel is that we understood just who the characters were. Jem was the older and more mature brother, who knew best and attempted to keep Scout in line. I was reminded often of my own brothers, who once they hit a certain age, didn't want to play with their little sister any longer. But Jem was smart, and you could see his transformation as he began to truly understand the importance of what his father was doing in court. It clicked with him.
As for Scout, while she knew that her father was sticking up for good, she still seemed to look at everything with such a childlike innocence. Atticus never hid things from her, but you get the idea that Scout didn't quite grip the full severity until very late in the book. I think that kids, in general, don't see the big picture. They are too focused on what is happening right now, and mainly, to them. I know that when I was younger, I was very concerned about how things would change ME, not the world around me.
"Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I'd have the facts."
But, hands down, the best and most well-constructed character is Atticus Finch. How I admire him for standing up for he believed to be right. Atticus is the kind of man who does not stray from something just because it is hard, and that is something he passed along to both of his children. You can see it in Scout and Jem when they stand up to the crowd of men in front of the jail.
I also love the little Atticusisms throughout the novel, as he passes down words of wisdom to his children. Because Atticus doesn't want his children to just survive in the status quo, he wants them to fight and understand that things can (and should) change at some point.
"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."
Atticus is a wise, wise man. Of course he has his flaws. He even owned up to Scout that he perhaps didn't listen to her thoughts before punishing her when she fights her cousin. It takes courage on the part of an adult to admit a mistake to a child. As adults, don't we feel that pressure to always be right? I certainly think so. This is what makes Atticus such a great character. As a reader, you think he is perfect, even though he isn't. He's just so real.
"When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don't make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles 'em."
I love Lee's novel. I really want to start over again, so I can admire how she slowly draws her reader in, slowly getting them to feel comfortable with life in such a small town. It is simply a work of genius and I loved every page of it. And I hope you will grab it off your shelf if you have it, or go find a copy somewhere, because it is just a marvelous, warm book full of the wonder and strangeness of childhood.