22 January 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

It seems like I'm slow on the uptake on most everything... Twitter, blogging, mommy-ing, cooking, reading To Kill a Mockingbird... yeah, you heard me right...I didn't read the book till a few days ago... :/ But, hey! I read it, didn't I?

And I am loving it! It's a classic, and sometimes classics have a small problem... they were great in their time, but their reputation is often bigger than the actual effect it has on me. Its probably due to the fact that by the time slow-poke me gets to read them, I have already read more contemporary (meaning 'better') stuff or, well, the concept is a bit outdated. Don't blame the book, blame myself.

Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird was an exception, and a pleasant one at that. If you are a slower-poke [ha! New word in your face!] than me, then I will tell you the story.

Spoiler alert (now that is irony! Warning a 'Spoiler Alert' for a book the whole world except me has already read, ha ha ha...spoiler alert.. get it?... get it?...Aah, never mind...)

The story of the happenings in the little town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression, is told through the perception of a 6 year old Scout Finch. Scout, along with her brother Jem and sweetheart Dill, observe people and events and share their thoughts with each other. The highlights of the novel are the questions they ask Atticus Finch, father of Scout and Jem and a lawyer who is seen as too progressive for his times.

The children's understanding of the world is tainted by the callous comments, narrow-minded prejudices and the baseless superstitions of the neighborhood. Sometimes, they act based on these - their fear of Boo Radley because they believe the wild stories about him - and sometimes, even their childish innocence refuses to believe the nonsense they hear - for instance, they refuse to believe that Black people are inferior to the White. When the children take their perceptions to their father, Atticus' response to them, and the way in which he interacts with black people and others who do not 'fit in', is what moulds the perception of the children.

The ultimate test for the prejudiced little town comes when Tom Robinson (a Black slave) is accused of raping a young White woman called Mayella Ewell. The irony of the situation is that it is the Ewells who live a degenerate life. A brood of unruly and unwashed children, a perpetually drunk father who beats his 20-something daughter, a daughter who made an inappropriate advance on the poor Black slave who feels sorry for her and helps her out with chores. Bob Ewell walks in on Mayella. Tom, who had been trying to refuse the 'White lady' without seeming too rude, runs with terror when he is spotted in this compromising situation. In his own words in the courtroom, "You would have done the same if you were a Black slave". True to his fear, he is accused of the rape of Mayella Ewell.

The jury believes a White woman's lie over the truth and condemns Tom Robinson to a death sentence. Later, Atticus is broken to find out that Tom was shot when he tried to escape from prison. As if enough tragedy was not going around, the children - Scout and Jem - are attacked by Bob Ewell, who comes after them with a knife to spite their father. Bob holds a grudge against Atticus, as the latter subtly exposed the degenerate lifestyle of the Ewells at court, in front of the entire town. The children are mysteriously saved by a stranger whom they did not see in the dark. Later, to their surprise they find out that it is Boo Radley, the same recluse whom the town has not seen for many year, who chose to remain indoors, watching the world go by. The only interaction he has with the children is to leave little carved figurines and other trinkets in the hollow of a tree. Jem and Scout would pocket these gifts with glee, but wonder who they are from.

Bob Ewell dies in the tussle, falling on his own knife, when he was pushed away by Jem. Atticus is now full of consternation and says that it is not fair to protect his own son from the law, since it seems the 12-year-old was in fact the one who killed Bob Ewell. To this, the town sheriff flatly refuses to acquiesce, and claims strongly that it was Bob who accidentally fell on his own knife. There was absolutely no evidence to prove to the contrary...

I told you...Spoiler Alert...!

Not much is known about Harper Lee, a woman from Alabama who chose to live life as a recluse and let her work speak for her. And speak they do. The poignant tale of childhood innocence trying to grapple with the harsh reality of an age of prejudice and injustice, is something that each one of us can relate to.

Now, if I can only watch the movie.... I know... I'm a slow poke... whatever...

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