I may be one of the only semi-literate people who have not read “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I can’t even use the excuse that it’s because I live at the end of the world in Duluth, because the book was promoted as a community read a few years ago.
I’m in the process of rectifying this oversight. I like to listen to books on CD from the local library during my commute to work, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” is my most recent choice. Before reading the description on the back cover of the CD case, I knew vaguely that the novel was about a white southern lawyer who defends a black man; that it was written by the no-speech-giving and friend-to-Truman-Capote Harper Lee; that it was turned into a movie starring Gregory Peck; and that Bruce Willis and Demi Moore named one of their daughters after a character in it.
What finally attracted me to listen to the CD is that the story is told through the eyes of a child, and a precociously literate girl child at that. I am a sucker for unusual narrators. I’ve listened to about half of it by now, and I am coming to understand its classic appeal. Although the beginning is rather murky — you don’t really know why you’re reading (listening to) it because it doesn’t spoon feed the themes like authors do for readers now — if you give it a chance, you’ll notice it addresses all sorts of social issues.
Instead of being praised for her skills and sent on to a higher grade, the precociously literate girl (Scout) is made to feel bad that she can read by her insecure teacher. There’s sexual role modeling: Scout is under pressure to act more like a “lady” even though she’s only in early elementary school. There’s discrimination in the form of gender and color. A creepy neighborhood house and family stands testament to the damage that being overly religious can cause. And I haven’t even gotten to the trial part of the book yet.
If I were to dare to criticize the story (and I dare, for I am about as ladylike as Scout), I would say that sometimes the words used by Scout are too advanced for her age, even given that she’s literate. But the tone is spot-on as are the topics. The story also unintentionally provides a scathing commentary on the status of our communities today, where neighbors barely know each other or their histories.
It’s a great story. Go kill a mockingbird if you haven’t already.