After I graduated with my degree in English I started to feel a little ashamed of some of the books I hadn’t read yet. It’s true, it’s probably more the fault of the small private Christian academy I attended in highschool than the fault of my university, but whether or not the Scarlet Letter is more important than Animal Farm is neither here nor there. The point is I faced that shame and immediately read To Kill A Mockingbird. I can’t believe I went so many years without reading it, especially being an Alabama native; honestly I don’t know how to convey how Southern it made me feel and how adoringly it made me look around at my state and culture.
Now before you get all “Did you even read the book? How can you say that?” on me, I am certain these feelings did not arise from the subject matter, but rather they were the product of the outstanding writing style of Harper Lee. If you know me at all, I’ve never been the Southern Belle or the Proud Redneck kind of girl; sometimes it bothers me when people talk about the twang in my voice, but the way she wrote and the things she described just brought something alive in me. That’s what good authors do, they make you feel.
That skill is certainly the foundation on which my love for Mockingbird stands, but the next layer of attraction for me was just as intriguing. I really love the Southern Gothic; it’s my favorite genre of literature and the quickest way to intrigue a reader without him or her being completely aware of what you’re doing, and on top of that, one of the core issues in the book is that of Social Inequality which is an issue I will forever be interested and intrigued by, as should any human being, I think. She chose a serious issue from our history as a state and nation and people, and she chose an issue that will continue to manifest itself until the end of time, whether as blatently as in Mockingbird or as subtly as it sometimes appears in the form of our selfish pride.
One of the most interesting things to me, however, is the portrayal of innocence and morality. I think most people have a pretty firm grasp of their opinions on each individually, but when they cross paths, things can get a little more challenging. A couple of the most important questions this book strives to make the reader face are those of, “Is it wrong to remove someone’s innocence from them” and “Is letting one who is innocent just ‘be’ a moral crime”. I’m no philosopher, in fact the thought of it makes my head ache, and I am well aware that to answer these questions comprehensively one would have to define “innocence” and “morality” and probably “crime” and “remove” and maybe even a verb or two; but I don’t want to do all that. I just respect that Harper Lee shows the reader the necessity of these questions. It’s a wonderful book, full of wisdom and statements and rhetorical questions that maybe really shouldn’t be rhetorical at all.
At one point in the story Miss Maudie explains to Scout:
Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy… but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
This is yes, where the book gets its title, and yes, an explanation of a continual metaphor, but more than that, it’s for us. For the reader to ponder, to grapple with, and to decide not only whether or not it’s a sin, but if it’s a sin we’ve commited.