Harold Bloom's 2004 five star Guide is not to be confused with his 1996 Bloom's Notes, which is a two star affair.
There is something unsettling when a Yale professor writes "Mockingbird 101 for Dummies", which is Bloom's NOTES. [the reviews so far appear to be referring to Bloom's NOTES or the actual Harper Lee text, and not specifically to Bloom's GUIDE]
Bloom's Guide is an erudite critique. Even when he is summarising the essentials of the book, there is heavy intellectual input. Bloom's work is in the first half of the book. There is an interesting detour into Truman Capote, whom he suggests the character Dill is based on.
To give the potential reader a flavour of this magnificent Guide, I have chosen a few samplers:
In The Story Behind the Story, at page 15 "...Mockingbird was written in 1960 and published in New York. Perhaps some of the reason for its immediate popularity is due to the fact that it was not written in 1930's Alabama, whose unjust climate provides the story's fuel, but rather, that it was written at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Five years previous...Rosa Parks...desegregation in Little Rock..."
In Summary and Analysis, at page 29, "There is not one story in "Mockingbird", but several, and the principal plot line is one that is too morally weighty for a child of nine to comprehend. Hence, in an effort not to compromise Scout's childlike perspective, Lee has put the rather weighty aspects of her tale into the mouths of her adults..."
At page 32, "Unlike the men of Maycomb, the women cast an opaque web over the world. Their role in the novel is to obfuscate, whereas Scout has grown up under the tutelage of Atticus, whose purpose in life is to cast light and make things clear..."
Page 41, "Lee did not write her novel in Alabama, she wrote it in New York City at a time when it was not uncommon for liberal college educated elites...to take an interest in African-American rights..." and at Page 42, "(Mockingbird) demonstrates that there are two kinds of gentility in the world - inherited and natural..." and Bloom deftly places the text's characters into the two categories.
Page 45, "Having someone over for company is a subtle way of asserting superiority, because one can afford to extend graciousness; ...heirarchy..." The next time I get an invitation, I will factor in Bloom's observation.
Page 46, "...if Scout has a quest in the novel, it is in recognizing the true ladies from the false, and in appreciating a true lady's value."
Page 48, "...citizens of Maycomb are eager to blame Mayella's rape on Tom Robinson because they want to blame the Old South's decay on the black population...class paranoia: poor whites of dubious character, or 'white trash', and not blacks, are responsible for the 'rape' of the Southern way of life."
And that is Harold Bloom's way of summarising the "facts" of the text. Page 50 onwards brings in Prof. Bloom's peers to give their views on Mockingbird, like Claudia Durst Johnson, Professor Emeritus in English at the University of Alabama; Theodore and Grace-Ann Hovet, professors emeriti at the University of Northern Iowa and a host of luminaries.
There are a lot of illuminating points of view, but to show that Bloom's GUIDE is different from other critiques, kindly allow me to pick out some matters to see if the GUIDE is to your taste:
Fred Erisman on Regionalism of the South, at page 54: "...Maycomb is being forced to respond to events touching the nation and the world. The Depression is a real thing, affecting the lives of white and blacks alike; the merchants of Maycomb are touched by the fall of the National Recovery act; and Hitler's rise to power and his persecution of the Jews...the influence of external events can no longer be ignored."
William T. Going on Scout's Point of View: "This modification of a Jamesian technique of allowing the story to be seen only through the eyes of a main character but to be understood by the omniscient intelligence of Henry James is here exploited to bold advantage. The reader comes to learn the true meaning of Maycomb through the eyes of a child who now recollects with the wisdom of maturity...."
W.J. Stickey on the Novel's Defects: page 61, "the words 'quite suddenly' and 'did a peculiar thing' ... are rhetorical tricks resorted to by fiction writers when they are unable to cope with the difficult problem of rendering a scene dramatic." Touche. So this is what TV writers for "Prison Break", "CSI", "Women's Murder Club", "Heroes" (and a lot worse series) resort to when out of ideas: they create artificial tension with near misses and by making chewing gum look difficult.
Dean Shakelford on Gender Issues, page 77, "...Scout...is...unable to accept society's unwillingness to seek and know before it judges. And it is perhaps this element of the female voice in Harper Lee's "Mockingbird" which makes Horton Foote's screen adaptation largely a compromise of the novel's full power."
Theodore and Grace-Ann Hovet on Contending Voices, page 79 et sequel, "Rather than ascribing racial prejudice primarily to "poor white trash", Lee demonstrates how issues of gender and class intensifiy prejudice, silence the voices that might challenge the existing order..."
"...Scout explains these rural whites blame the increasing presence of African Americans on the more prosperous white leadership in the towns"
"...the unjust treatment of African Americans...is the product of an uneducated and irresponsible class of poor whites who use physical intimidation and mob rule to defend what little status they have left..."
"...strategy of placing responsibility for American intolerance and injustice on the vanishing rural poor...'the white trash scenario' - was so successful that it has become a cliche in popular culture, evident not only in "Mockingbird" but also in films like Easy Rider and in prime time TV programs (sic) such as Heat of the Night and I'll Fly Away."
This is an absorbing Guide. It is thoroughly entertaining. 60 plus material pages of this guide (excluding References, etc) is not a long read, but each paragraph has a purpose and brings home yet another refreshing idea. Sometimes, it tries to analyse what Harper Lee was thinking as she was writing. Where were Harper Lee's actual sympathies. Is she Jessica Tandy's Miss Daisy in sheep's clothing. Does she have a hidden agenda in writing "Mockingbird"? Is she really as liberal as universally acclaimed, and where did she make the Freudian slips in her text, or were these "slips" deliberately planted.
Bloom's GUIDE has certainly stirred a hornet's nest, and reading To Kill a Mockingbird will not be quite the same again.