© 1960 Harper Lee
Mark Twain once opined that a classic is a book which everyone praises and no one reads. That cannot be the case with To Kill a Mockingbird, a classic coming-of-age story set in the fictional county of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. The story told by Jean-Louise "Scout" Finch is once of growing up -- not only in the literal sense of advancing in age, but in learning to grapple with adult questions of conscience and courage. Scout and her brother Jem are guided in this endeavor by their father, the remarkable Atticus Finch; a man of deep, quiet courage and unpracticed kindness.
Atticus is a lawyer in the noble sense of the word, who hopes to use his office to see that justice is done. When he takes a stand against the prejudices of his fellow citizens and defends a black man accused of rape, Atticus and his children must learn to persevere with dignity. Though Atticus is regarded by everyone I know who's read the book as a pillar of moral strength, the understated nature of that strength impresses me the most. Atticus is not a Puritan proclaiming morality from the pulpit, reveling in righteousness: he simply does what he thinks is best and is content to let that stand. His strength of character is not a pillar: it is a foundation, deep, wide, and ever-steady. I think I would go mad living in Maycomb during the trial, just as Jem nearly did -- but Atticus is possessed by the serenity of Martin Luther King, this faith that the moral arc of the universe is long but bends toward justice. Perhaps that peace comes from the deep affection he has for the community of Maycomb, which carried great appeal to me before the trial started. I live not far from the real-life inspiration for Maycomb, and I know what kind of city the Finches hail from. I delighted in meeting their neighbors, felt their fear and wonder as Scout and Jem explored the world around them.
While the story of Atticus Finch must have been dynamite in its time and continues to inspire today -- continues to earn the title 'classic' -- this book a fantastic novel despite the reputation classics have for being wise but unreadable. I did not read To Kill a Mockingbird as a classic. I began in that vein, but I soon became enraptured by the humor and gentle spirit of Atticus, the self-willed pugnacity of Scout, and the passion of her brother Jem. I was too busy soaking in this wonderful story to realize -- "Oh, yes, this is a Classic". I've been remembering it with great affection for the past week and a half, reluctant to finish the review because then I knew part of me would move on. I will be revisiting this book in the future: it has become an instant favorite.
Absolutely wonderful If you've not read this, or if you're only experienced it as a classroom text, it is well worth your while to visit it on your own.