MMGM (8/7/2017) Classic Critique: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Update (June 26, 2021): When I wrote this review, I was unfortunately unaware of some of the racist aspects of To Kill a Mockingbird. As I have learned over the years, I can no longer recommend this book, but I have decided to leave the post up as a teaching opportunity. I highly recommend reading this article by Saoirse Herlihy about the problematic elements of To Kill a Mockingbird (special thanks to Elisabeth Ellington at The Dirigible Plum for recommending that article). I apologize for the ignorance in this post, and I no longer stand by this post's content. Thank you for understanding.
Update (4/2/2022): I typically participate in blogging groups that review kids’ books, but sometimes, I do end up reading adult books like this one. In the past, I have typically labeled those books as MG or YA when I review them, primarily because I still want my typically blogging audiences to see them! However, this has become confusing, so I have decided to re-label these books as adult books, while leaving the reviews in their original format. Thank you for your consideration!
If you were reading this blog several months ago, you might remember that I did a post in a new style I called Classic Critique, where I list the pros and cons of a famous book. Today, I am critiquing To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (which I wholeheartedly recommend). First, however, I would like to tell you that today is the one-year anniversary of Completely Full Bookshelf! I first posted on this blog on August 7, 2016, when I recommended When You Reach Me. I would like to thank all of the authors of the books that I loved so much, and I would also like to thank all of my readers, old and new, for giving me a supportive audience to recommend books to. Now, to the review!
- The characters. One of the best parts of To Kill a Mockingbird is the characters. Scout is a great main character who learns as the story goes on and whose adult self looks back on her child self without either looking down on her or seeming like she hasn't changed at all. Scout's older brother, Jem, annoys Scout at times but is still a good person, and Scout's father, Atticus, is both very wise and is a unique parent. Readers will also like some of the townsfolk, such as Maudie Atkinson.
- A plot that moves. Many classic books that I have read drag on without any thing happening. To Kill a Mockingbird is a welcome exception to that statement. No events are rushed, but none are focused on for longer than they need to be. Also, none of the plot events are boring or particularly depressing (some are sad, but they don't emphasize it).
- The ending. The main plot point of To Kill a Mockingbird doesn't have the happiest ending. However, rather than ending with a clichéd message of hope (which would have been fine, but not great), one final event happens that shapes the entire end of the story and makes the reader forget all about the preceding hardships (at least in the moment).
- The writing. To Kill a Mockingbird is simply a well-written book. No sentences are awkward, and the book has a great mix of beauty and humor. There are great metaphors (such as the one in the title) and great descriptions both of scenery and, often, of the behavior of society.
- The messages about race and gender roles. To seal the deal, To Kill a Mockingbird has great messages as well. Some of these are about race (Atticus, a lawyer, is defending an African-American man in court, and the book discusses both how racism is wrong and how not as many people are racist as we think), and some of these are about gender roles (when Scout's aunt comes to live with her family, she is constantly appalled by Scout's behavior, which involves playing outside and wearing overalls instead of dresses). These messages add to an already great book to create one that is worthy of all of the praise it has gained over the years.
- Sometimes, even people Scout's own age seem wiser than her. I doubt that everyone will agree with my cons, but I'm still writing them down anyway. During the book, Scout is not nearly as wise as those older than her when it comes to racism. However, over the course of the book, Jem, who is just a few years older than Scout, and Scout and Jem's friend Dill, who is of a similar age, are both upset over racism, while Scout isn't, really. This casts a somewhat negative light over Scout, which is jarring.
- One particular sexist moment. One other moment in To Kill a Mockingbird bothered me as well. At one point, Atticus is explaining to Scout that women aren't allowed to serve as jurors. However, rather than condemning this practice, he condoned it, with his reason being the usual "women are fragile" lie. In addition, he also jokes that, if women served as jurors, they would constantly be interrupting. Both of these got to me. Although everyone is flawed, I have always found prejudice to be worse than many other flaws, and, with Atticus being one of the few people who isn't racist throughout the course of the book, these comments were very strange and somewhat upsetting.
To Kill a Mockingbird isn't perfect, but no book is. It is still an incredible story that any reader will remember for the course of their life and come out of feeling changed for the better. Although some classics are only famous for being good in their time, To Kill a Mockingbird is still better than many books published today, and it probably will be forever.