This classic novel best exemplified how great stories can still be great even after more than half a century. Ms. Harper Lee took us back to the old, backwater city Maycomb, Alabama 1930. A time when black people were considered evil, second class and despicable. Prejudice against black people was the social norm. Ms. Lee ingeniously narrated the story from the perspective of the six year old Jean Louise Finch (Scout) as she was making sense of things that were happening around her.
Atticus Finch, a respected local lawyer, chose to defend a black man whom he believed was falsely accused. It would have been easier for him to follow suit with his fellow town people but he felt he wouldn’t be able to face his son in the future. He chose to stand behind his unflinching faith in the judicial system, however flawed that might be. These things were just too confusing for a 6 year old: Scout loved her black cook Calpunia, who was very protective of Scout too. But her aunt distasted Calpunia and asked Atticus to fire her. Atticus taught her to respect black people, but some black people were hostile when she visited their “colored church”. She wanted to stand up for her father when kids at the school called her father as nigger lover, but her father forbade her to fight. Even though Mrs. Dubose often tortured Jem (Scout brother) and Scout with abusive words, Atticus forced Jem to read books for Mrs. Dubose. Like everyone else who was growing up, she had childhood fantasies: imagining her reclusive neighbor as monsters (I recalled mine involved some bloodthirsty killing machine) and when their mischievous adventure went wrong, Jem ran away without his trousers.
There was a nail biting moment when Scout thawed the standoff between her dad and a group of mobs. There was also a heartwarming moment when the entire black society rushed to leave food at Atticus’ backyard. Although there were barely few pages describing the court cross examination, it was very clear that Atticus fought with tooth and nail to bring the case to court. Eventually, even against mounting evidences which proved otherwise, the black man was still convicted by the jury. I felt the chill running up my spine when Atticus walked out of the courtroom while every black man stood and looked at him with respect. From the start, Atticus knew very well the judicial process was as good as the people whom it made up, but he still risked everything to do the right thing. Everyone except the jury knew he won the case, including Ewells.
Besides the main theme of racial problems in the society, Atticus was a respectable character in many other ways. Ms. Lee brilliantly depicted how Atticus taught his children with wisdom, patience and compassion. Atticus taught them that shooting people with a shotgun is not brave and it took a lot of effort to stand in others’ shoes. Scout was angry that Ewell spit on his dad. Atticus reasoned that it was better for Ewell to take out his anger on him than on his own children.
Although Tom Robinson didn’t make it, the spirit of the story goes much further than just social injustice. The innocent narrative from a child made the storyline equally delightful and thought provoking. It is only under the direst conditions, were the true characters of men tested. The friar who gave his own bread to sick inmates at Auschwitz, the kind Japanese guard during second world war; Mandela’s long walk to freedom in prison; They were men of real courage, wisdom and determination. A wonderful short read for a sunny afternoon.