Written by Jaclyn Bucar, Park Street Education Tutor
If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. 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.
- Atticus Finch
For uninteresting reasons that I won’t get into here, I did not get to read To Kill A Mockingbird in high school. Though I don’t recall when, I did buy a copy of the book at some point in my youth; however, until sometime last month, it still sat on my bookshelf untouched, awaiting its moment - and the moment finally came!
I actually have tutoring to thank for my adventure with the Finches and their fellow inhabitants of Maycomb, Alabama, as I recently read the novel alongside one of my students. After finishing it, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have immensely enjoyed it as a teenager, and that I definitely missed out on something great in my high school years. At the same time, I think that the experience of reading it for the first time as an adult has allowed me to fully appreciate how To Kill A Mockingbird has transcended time, and that it will continue to do so for readers in the future, “young” and “old” alike.
For those who, like me up until recently, have not ventured upon Harper Lee’s masterpiece, I won’t spoil much of the plot here, but I will venture a little about the immersive world within.
The novel, set during the 1930s, presents life in the town of Maycomb, Alabama through the eyes of a young protagonist named Jean Louise Finch - or “Scout,” as we come to know her. Her age spans from six to nine years old over the course of the novel’s events. The narrator, adult Scout, reflects on the particularities of growing up in the town throughout the work, as it follows her and her older brother through complicated years in their childhood - years in which they begin to understand more about the issues and injustices in their society. In our introduction to Maycomb at the beginning of the novel, Scout paints the picture of “a tired old town” that “sagged” in the sweltering heat and rain of the humid, southern climate. The fictional town’s social climate is also charged, amid the tensions surrounding racial segregation and discrimination, social hierarchies based on “background,” rigid gender roles and the economic precarity that characterized the era in which the novel is set.
The journey the reader takes with young Scout is both eye-opening and thought-provoking in so many ways; I went through many emotions as I engaged in the realities of the time, and was often pensive about how society has (and has not) evolved from circumstances that characterized the past. In particular, adult Scout’s narrations of the reactions and reflections that she and her brother go through as they learn about people’s suffering at the hands of systemic injustices and social conventions are extremely powerful. Central to this learning and growth is their father, Atticus Finch.
As described by another character late in the book, Atticus is “not a run-of-the-mill man” in Maycomb. He stands for and defends equality and empathy in a society in which racial discrimination is the norm. Though my student is partial to Scout, and I can understand why, Atticus is by far my favourite character; he not only preaches morality and justice in his legal practice, but also lives by these principles in his personal life. His biggest preoccupation is teaching Jem and Scout to try to understand people before judging them, rather than adhering to the prejudices that dominate in Maycomb society. He is an inspiring example for his children in a world that needs the kind of change that he envisions - and for readers like me in our world, where we can still strive for so much more.
Needless to say, I immensely enjoyed the experience of accompanying Scout through this crucial time in her childhood and, most significantly, through the teachings of Atticus Finch, which are truly timeless. As they do with Scout, they will linger in your mind and make you think, long after you put the book down.
Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird? Share your thoughts with us!
(Photo description: To Kill a Mockingbird book on a wooden shelf.)