Recently I have had a great deal of time on my hands due to injury and as an avid reader I had become frustrated at the books I have read in the past year. I have not been gripped by a book in quite some time so I wished to rectify this by trying to read and re-read books which make it into the many compilations of what are considered the best novels of all time. I began with Time Magazines All-Time 100 Novels. All the different lists were made up of more or less the same titles. At number one was To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I was curious as to how I would receive this book after reading it in school at the age of fifteen as part of the school curriculum. I remember the books depth and subtle and not so subtle incidents of racism and often wondering how terrifying Boo Radley really was. What really struck me about the book was the unrealistic and wooden nature of Atticus Finch. He was indeed a character carved right out of the United States Constitution, he upheld the law in a just and fair manner regardless of class or race. The perfect American, a loving father, an exemplary worker, the kind neighbour and an ace shot with a rifle.Saying that, he lacked any real human emotion in times of great stress. When he was confronted in the jail or when Tom Robinson is cruelly killed he is void of any of the real fear and anger that the reader feels or indeed others around him feel.
I found Atticus so at odds with the other vibrant characters in the story, Scout is one of the most realistic and personable characters of all time, full of flaws and outbursts. Mrs. Dubose the contrary morphine addict or even Mr.Dolphus Raymond, the man who outs up smokescreens just so society can accept his choice. Was the book littered with so many unusual and hateful characters that Lee felt the need to stick in a Christ like character in the form of Atticus to redeem Maycomb County? The beauty of Harper Lee’s writing I suppose lies in her depiction of racism and abject cruelty in America in the 1930’s. The scene of the ‘ladies’ of Maycomb having afternoon tea discussing the plight of the African children whilst clearly ignoring the poverty of their near neighbours and workers at the other side of town is one that will linger long in my memory.
Despite what I felt about the characters I think the book is exceedingly popular because of the fact that the book feels timeless. Maycomb County is the place the world forgot, it’s dusty, hot, a town locked in introversion ignoring outside influences. The town feels like one long, hot, sticky summer night suffocating any hope of progression outside class or race. No one leaves. No one breaks the bonds of poverty. No one breaks out of the chains of racism and hate.