Shoot all the Bluejays you want….

….but its a sin to kill a mockingbird. What an awe-inspiring, beautiful novel this line is from. I wanted to talk about some of my all-time favorite books and thought this was the perfect one to kick off with, even though hundreds of people would have already reviewed, praised and discussed this book countless times. Harper Lee is truly a great author, one of the greatest in my books.

There are some things that happen in life which you can never forget. The first time you get an A in a test, the first time you learn to ride a bicycle, the first time you go on a school trip, the first time you get to taste alcohol,your first crush and so on. It differs for everyone I guess but for many people, there are particular moments in their lives when they can remember every little detail of an incident with utmost clarity….the sights and sounds at that time, even the exact thoughts  running through their heads at that second. I think that is how it was when I first came into contact with this book ( though it might be embarrassing when I describe it). I remember it was given to me by an Australian lady, the wife of one of my dads colleagues at work, when I was around 14 years old. We had gone out for dinner with their family at the hotel they were staying in. It was a very beautiful and luxurious hotel, the type of hotel which can excite and dazzle any kid my age. I suspect my reaction was too obvious as the lady started laughing at me ( in a kind way, mind you) and invited me to see her room. I jumped alongside her, chattering away a mile a minute (most of which I think she didn’t understand) and ran ahead of her into the room inspecting everything with a fascination of a kid seeing a plane for the first time. I now think it was a wonder she didn’t find me irritating with my behavior but even if she was, she admirably put up with me and treated me with utmost fondness. Basking in her attention, I started talking to her about all my favorite books (which at that time ranged mainly from Harry Potter to Enid Blyton). She listened patiently and pulled out a copy of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ from her bag.

The cover of my precious book. During the trial of Tom Robinson.

I still remember the color of her bag. Red with sequins, the kind of bag a foreigner visiting India would love to buy as a souvenir. She gave me the book and said ” I bought this book with me from Australia. It’s the type of book every person in the world should read. I’m giving it to you because I know you will appreciate it as much as I did”. That time I had vaguely heard the name as it was pretty famous but I expected the book to be one of those tedious, historical books about old times, filled with phrases and words I probably wouldn’t understand. I accepted it from her nevertheless and it lay in my closet for two weeks after that. One day, utterly bored and with nothing to do (as it is with people who suddenly start to read a book they’ve ignored till then), I took it up. I still remember, it was around 2 pm in the afternoon, a Sunday. I started reading on my verandah but moved to the bed once it started to get dark and didn’t move from that spot for 5 whole hours. The words on the each page completely absorbed my mind and body and I don’t think I have ever felt happier than when I did at that time. It was a beautiful, nostalgic feeling. From wondering first about the slow town life of Maycomb, laughing over the games Scout, Jem and Dill used to play, Atticus firmly yet humorously raising the kids and the background of racial inequality in the Deep South, the loss of the children’s innocence little by little in the book as they carry on experiencing emotions ranging from mild confusion regarding the line drawn between whites and blacks to outrageous indignation when injustice is served, really helps us to see how they mature throughout the book. The children also experience happiness, excitement and fear when they come across a mysterious character Boo Radley and different people like their aunt who has very preconceived notions toward social class distinctions and their neighbor Mrs. Dubose, who they think is evil till it is finally revealed why. There’s one quote here which really made me think. It’s a very insightful, brilliant quote uttered by Atticus Finch to a horrified, angry Jem.

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do”

I can’t help admiring the character of Atticus Finch here. At the beginning of the book, even his own daughter Scout describes his treatment of the children as ‘with courteous detachment’ . You would think that he didn’t really bother how his children were brought up, given his total acceptance of them addressing him with his name. He also doesn’t instruct or reprimand them as much as a normal parent would.If you look closely, this way of bringing them up seems to be the most beneficial as it allows them to observe and think for themselves. Leaving a lot of things unsaid is Atticus Finch’s way so that the kids can find out for themselves and decide whether something is right or wrong. For example, the above quote is right after Jem learns of Mrs. Dubose’s death. He receives a ‘present’ of sorts from her, if you could call it that, and immediately gets almost hysteric. He asks his father what was the point of sending him everyday to read to her, bearing all her insults, if she was going to pass on anyway. Here, we see pride in its raw form from Mrs. Dubose who though mean and insulting, managed to die a ‘free woman’ by battling her drug addiction and finally winning against it right before her death. And we also see  how much Atticus values and respects that attitude, so much that he actually sends Jem to read to her, first telling him to do it as an apology but all along what he really wished for was to offer at least some form of relief  to the challenge which Mrs. Dubose undertook. Along with that, for Jem to see her courage with his own eyes so that he can keep that in mind for all the hurdles he has yet to face in the future. It is an ingenious and acute way of teaching his children some important lessons in life. Despite the focus of the book on racism, it still preserves its innocence. For example, one night the children follow Atticus to his office in town, fearing that someone may harm him. They come right in time to see a mob of people getting ready to do exactly that when Scout  runs up to them and starts chattering about something. Her total obliviousness to the situation before her somehow makes the tension defuse and surprisingly they back off.

So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ’em to their senses…. That proves something – that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human.  Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children.

Atticus is right. Faced with an innocent child, the men who were originally looking for a fight lost their spirit and  remembered their own children. In the same way, people may discriminate all they want between blacks and whites, but in the end everyone is still human.

I would like to discuss another brilliant quote which impressed me to no bounds with the character of Atticus Finch.

The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.  As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.

What a powerful statement by a lawyer with a strong prevailing sense of justice. How can anybody not respect this man? When he utters this, he is described to be having a fierce look on his face, unlike anything he has worn before. The force behind these words is evident as to how strongly he feels against such discrimination. Atticus knew what he was up against in the Tom Robinson trial and he knew that there was a strong possibility the jury would be biased in their decision. Yet in spite of that, he fought to the core to convince them to be impartial and believe in Tom. He never lost faith in the system and that is what I most respect him for. Being a lawyer who knows what is the correct course of action and when justice should be delivered. In a society which would do anything  just to push black people down the social ladder, Atticus Finch stands out as an indomitable voice, not afraid to show that there is absolutely nothing wrong in treating blacks as equals who deserve the same respect and freedom that white people are privy too. The ending of the book, dealing with the attack on Jem and Scout and the subsequent heroism of the ghost in the shadow Boo Radley made me marvel at how this book connects all the stories with an elegant simplicity. The reason why Boo Radley stays inside is implied as because he wants to stay inside, away from all the town’s prejudices and drama. The children finally begin to understand this later on when Boo transforms in their minds, from being a malevolent town spirit to a guardian angel, sharing in all their joys and sorrows and watching over them from the shadows of the Radley House.

To the left of the brown door was a long shuttered window. I walked to it, stood in front of it, and turned around. In daylight, I thought, you could see to the postoffice corner.
Fall, and his children trotted to and fro around the corner, the day’s woes and triumphs on their faces. They stopped at an oak tree, delighted, puzzled, apprehensive.
Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate, silhouetted against a blazing house.
Summer, and he watched his children’s heart-break. Autumn again, and Boo’s children needed him. Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

Scout’s imagination is really beautiful. All it needed to understand Boo was just that, a little bit of imagination. I think that this whole arc involving their discovery of the actual Boo Radley, quirks and all, goes along perfectly with them growing up in the real world. They learn kindness and compassion as well as the courage to stand up for what one thinks is right. They also learn how ugly the situation can be sometimes and that people are not always as moral as they seem.In conclusion, “To Kill A Mockingbird”, written from a child’s perspective and which talks about sensitive issues like prejudice and rape along with the simple delights of growing up and new experiences, is truly a masterpiece and reading it is a pleasure. This is one book that fills me with joy each and every time I read it and if you haven’t read it then for gods sakes, do so immediately.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s