When I saw To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee book on the banned books list I was confused. Who could have a problem with a heartwarming tale of children discovering the truth of the world around them? A story about a widowed man trying to raise his children the best way he can? Children realizing the importance of being open-minded and non-judgmental?
And then, the light bulb. They talk about rape in this book. And drug abuse. And there’s a crazy white man and an innocent black man. And I guess book banners just couldn’t live with that.
Honestly, though, what stands out for me about this book is Scout’s line, “Atticus, the world’s ending!” Which made me laugh out loud (the classic meaning of the phrase, I didn’t say, “lol.”) at her reaction the first time she sees snow. And the attempt she and Jem put forth to create a snowman. As I grew up in Toronto, where getting three feet of snow in one day is not uncommon, this whole but was hilarious to me.
It is scenes such as the one mentioned above that always made me think of this book as “heartwarming.” Despite the fact that you see the worst sides of humanity the children, and the reader, are left with hope and belief at the end. It has always been those sentiments that stayed with me.
To Kill a Mockingbird has two parts. The first part concentrates on Scout Finch, her brother Jem and their friend (and sometimes neighbour) Dill. They spend summers in the town of Maycomb, Alabama playing together in the way of children during the Great Depression. They’re outdoors all day, using their imaginations. Dill, who is not originally from Maycomb, becomes very interested in the Radley house and the mysterious figure of Boo Radley. Boo Radley hasn’t been seen for years and the children don’t really know anything about him, but their imaginations run wild until they start playing a game acting out Boo’s life as they see it. Atticus Finch, Scout and Jem’s father, stops them from ridiculing Boo Radley, admonishing his children and teaching his children to always try to picture life from another person’s point of view before making any judgments about them.
Atticus Finch has become something of a moral icon in American culture. He is one of the best role models I ever had as a teenager and the idea that people want to ban this book, and ban Atticus Finch (and Scout as well, I’ve always loved her too.) from people at the very age they are forming their principals, beliefs, and passions enrages me. He is always adamant that other people have their own lives and that their perspectives are just as valid and right as one’s own is. His ability to admire people despite having base, fundamental differences with them makes him one of the biggest heroes of literature. Ever.
The second part of the book gets darker and forces the children to question their faith in the goodness of humanity. Atticus, a prominent lawyer in the Maycomb community, chooses to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman. The white community of the town, so far shown as admiring Atticus and his children, quickly turns on them and Scout and Jem are abused at school and even by their own (extended) family. More than anything else, the second part of this book showcases Scout’s goodness and Atticus’ courage.
Scout takes a look at the situation from the innocent eyes of someone young and in one short sentence sums up the truth of it. Then has to watch as the town, who also knows the truth of it, ignores that and gives in to their racial prejudices. Watching all of this, and watching her brother struggle with his own conscience is what pushes her to finally understand what Atticus meant about seeing life from someone else’s point of view.
And Atticus’ courage, well, no one can say it better than Atticus himself:
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.
That quote alone should have every person realize why people of all ages, but teenagers especially, should have the opportunity to read this book.
And this is the last of the mystery books in our Banned Books giveaway. Comment below for a chance to win one of our two great prize packs.
And check out our other posts this week for other chances to win, and read about other banned books that changed the way we see the world.
Banned Books Intro
A Wrinke in Time
Blood and Chocolate
Looking for Alaska
Book Birthdays (not strictly about Banned Books, but there is an opportunity to enter here)