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A Moving Reading of a Wonderful Book by Roses Prichard
on December 18, 2007
Like many youngsters, I was assigned To Kill a Mockingbird to read as a 15 year old. Unlike most, however, the assignment was for speed reading class . . . rather than American Literature.
Don't ever read this book for speed reading class.
I always intended to get back to the book for a more leisurely reading that would allow me to take in the obvious brilliance of Harper Lee in more ways. I was pleased to find that my local library offered an unabridged reading by Roses Prichard (an actress with a Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Southern California) for Books on Tape.
In the first 15 seconds, I knew I had made a winning choice. Roses Prichard turns Scout (Jean Louise) Finch into a girl you'll feel like you've known all your life. Take the time to find this wonderful recording: You'll discover more in this book than you've ever thought could be in a book describing the thoughts and experiences of a five- to eight-year-old narrator.
Jem and Scout Finch are the only children of Atticus Finch, a highly principled lawyer in the small Southern town of Macomb, Alabama, whose wife died young of a heart attack. Unlike many novelists who cram their story into a few hours or days, Harper Lee showed the good sense to give us the family history and to let the children grow up over a few years before entering the heart of her tale. It's good story-telling and is great for character development.
Jem is five years older than Scout but tolerates her company as long as she doesn't start acting like a girl. That's fine with Scout who prefers overalls to dresses any day. As Jem grows older, he finds himself taking on the role of protector as well.
The children acquire a summer friend, Dill, and decide they want to meet the reclusive Arthur (Boo) Radley, a neighbor who always stays indoors. They have many adventures that will remind you of Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher in Injun Joe's cave.
The book is written in pre-Civil-Rights-era Alabama when consciousness of the bad things done to African Americans wasn't very well developed among those who weren't African Americans. The only people in the story who seemed to appreciate the full horror of discrimination are those who are honestly trying to live the Christian life. But even many practicing Christians proved to be blind to their African American neighbors' needs and concerns.
Harper Lee does a fine job of skewering all of those who are hypocrites on the subject of race. She even takes an appropriate shot at northerners who avoid the company of African Americans.
In a way, this book was The Uncle Tom's Cabin of the Civil Rights Movement, developing the consciousness that helped to change some attitudes towards African Americans.
The story also features lots of insights into Southern "justice" of the day -- inside the court, in the jury box, in jail, and in prison. To bring the evils of the attitudes to bear, Harper Lee tells us that it's wrong to kill a mockingbird . . . they only sing for us to enjoy and don't do any harm. By the end of the book, some of those in Macomb begin to feel that way about harmless human beings who do good, as well.
You can learn more about Southern culture and attitudes in the early 1960s by reading this book than by studying a dozen nonfiction texts. Harper Lee got it right. One of the lightning rods for racial tension in those days was unwarranted sexual fear of African-American males. That theme is fully developed through having an African-American be accused of raping a white woman.
But what I think makes this book timeless is its focus on what it means to be a good person . . . the story of Atticus Finch and his struggles with being both a good man and a good father.
But years from now you won't forget Scout: She's one of the great heroines in American literature and an important prototype of what the next generation should have become in loving other people.
Appreciate the untapped potential all around you!