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“I never deliberately learned to read……..Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around, or achieving two bows from a snarl of shoelaces. I could not remember when the line above Atticus’s moving finger separated into words, but I had stared at them all the evenings in my memory, listening to the news of the day, Bills To Be Enacted into Laws, the diaries of Lorenzo Day - anything Atticus happened to be reading when I crawled into his lap every night. Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
To Kill a Mockingbird is the first published novel by American author, Harper Lee. Almost-nine-year-old Scout (Jean Louise) Finch had never set eyes on her reclusive neighbour, Boo (Arthur) Radley, until the night of Halloween, 1935. To Scout, her almost-thirteen-year-old brother, Jem (Jeremy Atticus Finch) and their summer vacation friend, Dill (Charles Parker Harris), Boo Radley was an almost mythical creature who remained hidden in the Radley house and was the subject of much childhood speculation. Their fascination was frowned upon by their father, Atticus, a lawyer elected to the state legislature.
When Atticus took on the defence of a black man, he warned his children that some unpleasantness could well be the result. This was, after all, Alabama, and attitudes to race and class were strongly prejudiced, but what happened after the verdict was beyond anyone’s expectations.
Lee’s telling of events from Scout’s point of view gives the reader a unique perspective that includes much humour as Scout, Jem and Dill learn life’s lessons. The Finch’s black housekeeper, Calpurnia, their neighbour, Miss Maudie Atkinson, their Aunt Alexandra, Atticus, and even Jem are given words of wisdom that will resonate today as they did when the book was first published: “People in their right minds never take pride in their talents” and “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” are but two examples.
Lee’s book deserves multiple readings: each pass through will reveal new delights. Truman Capote’s description: “A touching book; and so funny, so likeable” is wholly apt. Unforgettable.