A white man’s burden

Review of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Even though it’s less than 100 years ago, the 1930s was a very different time from today. Racial discrimination was rife in America even though it had been sometime since slavery had been banned. To Kill a Mocking Bird is a story narrated by an 8-year old of that period as she learns her way of life in Maycomb, a (fictional) sleepy town in Alabama.

From simple struggles of learning to settle in school, of not having a mother, of trying to be a girl to that of dealing with a father who fights against racial discrimination, Harper Lee does a great job of describing Jean Louis Finch’s story. Lee’s vivid story-telling endears the reader to Jean Louis’s every up and down.

Atticus Finch, Jean Louis’s father, is the central character. Although the society around him blames him for many faults, one that he definitely does not deserve is that of being a bad parent. He has a laid back attitude with his son and daughter, but one that helps them each to flourish in their own ways. He hides little from his kids and respects each of their quirks.

In an incestuous town of white folks, Atticus is made to defend a black guy who is convicted of raping a white woman. A situation in which the weaknesses of being human and the ideal goals of a justice system come head-to-head. Through the trial and Jean Louis’s everyday life, the reader meets characters of every kind. There is a brother to look up to, an over-bearing aunty, a family whose kid never leaves home, a wise old lady, nasty cousins, a motherly black woman, among others. Each of their personality has something to offer.

But there is a discomforting feeling to read how this intelligent 8-year old is able to describe and explain very complex social phenomena, but is still a naive girl who is trying to fit in society. This disconnect is more apparent to me having just read The Curious Incident of a Dog at the Night-time, where the narrator is a kid with Asperger’s syndrome and the reader sees the world “exactly” through his eyes.

Lee’s book has its slow spells, but a reader who endeavours is rewarded. As with all good books, Lee is elegant at creating strands of stories that run parallel to the main one. Though sometimes I wished that some strands were given less space than they deserved.

While it is a great story, and arguably a better piece of literature, I wouldn’t go so far as to call this book one of the greatest I’ve ever read (as many of my friends seem to suggest).

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