As yet another book that most of my friends were required to read in high school, I am thrilled to finally mark To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee off my list.
To Kill A Mockingbird is the story of a lawyer, Atticus Finch, in rural Alabama in 1935 told through the eyes of his daughter, Scout, who was 6 - 8 years over the course of the book. The first half of the book just set up the Finch family's life for the reader. Scout talks about playing with her brother, Jem, and friend, Dill, over the summer, inadvertently terrorizing a local recluse just to have something to do. When Scout starts school, you get a more solid impression that the Finch family is different from the rest of the inhabitants of their town and how difficult it is for her to relate to them. Things really become tough for the Finch family when Atticus is appointed as the defense attorney for Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a white girl. The townspeople start calling the kids "nigger lovers" and other such awful terms, none of which Scout understands at the time. When the case is finally put to trial, the truth is undoubtedly exposed - Tom Robinson is completely innocent and the accusers only made the accusation to try and save face. In spite of the defendant's innocence, the jury convicts him and he is sent to prison. The kids have an incredibly hard time coping with the knowledge of the injustice that happened, but learn that eventually life goes back to normal. Even though Tom Robinson was convicted, the accusing family never forgets that Atticus tried to save him and the father tries to attacks the Finch kids for revenge.
Now that I have read this, I can see why it has its famed status. The book is very well written and deals with what was a big hot-button issue in 1960 when it was published. I enjoyed the story itself as well as the poignant lessons it teaches. One part I found interesting was this part of Atticus' closing statement during the trial:"Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal, a phrase that the Yankees and the distaff side of the Executive branch in Washington are fond of hurling at us. There is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. The most ridiculous example I can think of is that the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious - because all men are created equal, educators will gravely tell you, the children left behind suffer terrible feelings of inferiority. We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe - some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they're born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes that others - some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men."
This probably seems like a strange quote to pull from such an iconic book, but I love it because it defines the true meaning of a phrase we still use today. It isn't possible that everyone be completely equal, but we should recognize that a person is still a person, regardless of their color or gender or any other aspect out of their control. We should never treat anyone as inferior no matter what differences there are between us. Atticus teaches this not only in this speech, but also in how he raises his children. People will always be different, but anyone who uses those differences to put others down is trash.
I highly recommend giving this a read if you haven't. It brings to light some very touchy issues while entertaining at the same time.