‘Shoot all the Bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird.’ Set in 1930’s Alabama the language and writing style of this novel initially took some effort to become engaged. And dare I say it, some of the opening scenes were a little tedious? There, I’ve said it, but then something slowly grabbed my attention and I was there, in the long slow heat of a developing drama. The story is narrated through the eyes of nine year old tomboy Jean Louise Finch (Scout) who lives with her older brother, Jem. Both children are being raised by their widowed father Atticus, a lawyer and a man of some standing and integrity in the county of Maycomb.
Atticus is defending a black man against the accusal of raping a white woman. To say the odds are stacked against Tom Robinson is an understatement. And the fallout of the trial witnessed through the eyes of Scout and Jem, highlights the stubborn longstanding ignorance and prejudice of those times and beyond.
Slivers of description threaded through the narrative are vivid and the rest of the cast spans every strata of society; the upper class white women taking tea and cake down to the servitude of the lower-classes, and those who dare to step into both worlds. Then there’s the mysterious Boo Radley, the steadfast Miss Maudie, the slippery, no-good Ewell family, the morphine-addicted, acidic Mrs Dubose, the Finch family’s black cook and mother-figure Calpurnia – who often serves as a bridge across the divided communities. The respective warts and good deeds of these characters are always exposed, the consequences of their actions fully played out. Atticus advises his children to always try and understand what life is like in another person’s skin, in the hope that any hatred will never destroy their faith in human kindness and understanding. There’s a strong, simple social message in this story and it’s still relevant today.