Saturday, 1 July 2017
Book Review - To Kill A Mockingbird
Published in 1960, Harper Lee's debut and which for many years remained her only novel, To Kill A Mockingbird addressed issues which resonate even in our current circumstances. The characters so delicately constructed and so warmly presented are etched in our minds and continue to inspire us every time we go back to them. A recent example is Barack Obama quoting one of the characters in his farewell speech a few weeks ago, he said "If democracy is to work in our increasingly diverse nation, each one of us should pay her to the advice of one of the greatest characters of American fiction - Atticus Finch. Who said, you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Until you crawl under his skin and walk around in it"
On the surface the book may be about his children Jem and Scout Finch. It is, in most parts about them but the real, unassuming hero of this classic is their father, their only parent- Atticus Finch. Narrated from the point of view of the delightfully rebellious and remarkably smart for an 8 year old, Scout Finch, Atticus's humanity shines through throughout this book. Of course from the point of view of a young daughter, every father is a hero but Harper Lee gives us one and many reasons why he should be a hero for all of us, selective use of his shooting skills being one. The author also gives us reasons why we should go back to our childhood, unlearn the societal norms we've collected over time and re-learn the basic human values we're all born with but which get lost somewhere in our journey to adulthood.
The story follows the 3 children, Jeremy, Scout and their summer friend Dill who explore the bizarre ways of the adults of Maycomb County. A small, sleepy town in the state of Alabama, Maycomb County has its own share of racial prejudices. It was rudely shaken awake one day when a black man was charged with the rape of a white woman and their leading attorney, Atticus Finch chose to defend the case. I say chose even when it was an obligation he had to fulfil. I say chose even when the judge appointed Atticus to defend it. I say chose because he did. Atticus Finch put all his might in to give this poor man a fighting chance to prove his innocence even when he knew that a white man's word against a black man carries no weight. They may be equal before the law but society thinks otherwise and society doesn't even spare his 2 children who have to endure ugly comments about their father. But Atticus unlike most parents doesn't try to shield his children from this reality. Instead he warns them, he prepares them because he knows what he teaches them now will become the voice of their conscience later in life and as he very wisely says in the book, "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
I know the summary sounds sad but the book isn't. It's warm, funny and full of childhood innocence. The author beautifully captures the image of a childhood. I was reminded of my own. Of summers spent with my brothers, getting involved in fist fights and patching up soon after though frankly I didn't have much luck with the fighting as Scout did, being the only, youngest, shrimpy little sister to my four brothers. I could also identity with Scout's indignation at being called a girl because back then "You're such a girl" was something akin to an insult. And in between these innocent, light hearted games of children lie the greatest beads of wisdom. The book pokes fun at hypocrisy, stereotypes, gender roles, court room drama all through the eyes of an 8 year old child. How, one might wonder! Children are supposed to be ignorant, naive little beings and in this assumption of ours is where we're wrong and wherein the genius of the author lies. Children do not view the world with a filter of prejudice. We do! Because they've not yet been taught to. Our general worldview, our stereotypes about people are something we've been taught and what we've picked up from observing the adults around us. This corruption of our innocence is brilliantly demonstrated in a conversation between Jem and Scout where Jem being four years older, classifies people of Maycomb County into four kinds while Scout, still young enough to stay untouched by this corruption simply says, "There's just one kind of folks, Jem. Folks!" There is another beautiful scene where Dill rushes out of the courtroom crying because the way the state lawyer cross-examined Tom Robinson was in Dill's words, sick! But not another soul in the court room, not even the blacks, flinched but it reduced Dill to tears. Children feel it in their hearts what is right and what is purely wicked. We? We've grown accustomed to; we've taken for granted what treatment is meted out to us and what we do to others. If we be honest with ourselves, Maycomb's general disapproval of the blacks and their way of life will remind us of something closer home. Our country has a long history of diversity but do we still not hear religious slurs here? Have we not tried to put down what we conveniently termed 'lower caste'? Have our attitudes changed?
It is almost impossible to do justice to this book in a review and my humble attempt does not even come close. To Kill A Mockingbird will remain one of the greatest works of fiction we've ever seen and a gentle reminder of our humanity for all those who read.
Komal Bhat, NIRMAN 7
Labels: पुस्तक परिचय