Book of da Week: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

With Harper Lee’s passing at age 89 last week, we’ve decided to cover To Kill a Mockingbird. Truthfully, we’re not massively enamoured with this novel, but since it’s shifted over 30 million copies worldwide and has been something of a cultural phenomenon, we’re clearly complete morons for holding this opinion.

Certainly we have to look at the merits. The characters Lee creates are all personable and feel very real, with Atticus Finch portraying a noble and righteous lawyer defending the rights of an innocent man. The plot is surprisingly dark for what is essentially a tale about childhood, but it’s through seeing the terrible events through a child’s eye with which Harper Lee could add so much humour to the tale. Want to find out more? Onwards, sir or madam!

To Kill a Mockingbird

Okay, so it’s grown up plot time. We join Scout and Jem Finch as their father, Atticus, defends a black man who has been charged with the rape of a white woman. The book consequently explores the absurdity of the grownup world where irrationality and confounding decisions often seem to be the order of the day.

Think back to when you were a child. Weren’t adults simultaneously so convincingly authoritative yet bewildering stupid? That’s you now. You’ve grown up and you’re the moron, which is why you’re reading this on Professional Moron – kids are off blowing up prostitutes on Grand Theft Auto or busting out gangsta rap tunes at the local rave. Hand them another strawberry popsicle before Little Johnny collapses through dehydration!

To challenge the topic of racism and prejudice was mightily brave, but Harper Lee managed it with cool aplomb, wit, and a great sense of humour. We often find it is best to laugh at the bigots of the world, as those churlish enough to have the most pathetically puerile ignorance about them deserve to be playfully mocked. Not wishing to be too rude, but it’s novels such as this which have helped spread liberal leanings across the world. This is a marvellous achievement.

Legacy

First published in 1960 To Kill a Mockingbird was clearly a challenging novel for its time and it quickly wrapped up the Pulitzer Prize. This was, essentially, the only novel she had published and it’s left an almighty trail behind it, although Harper Lee refused to do personal publicity from 1964 onwards. She also had to overcome rumours her great friend, Truman Capote, wrote the novel. Which is balderdash, of course, as he was busy being drunk and compiling In Cold Blood.

Students the world over will be forced to read this (probably not at gunpoint) for decades to come, and perhaps this is the novel’s lasting legacy. It’s a tale about morality and being a good human being, and for this we have to be thankful to Harper Lee. Of course, you can watch the 1962 film if you so wish (a very fine Oscar winner it is, too) but we recommend you hit the novel first.

Hark! There was another film, too! Harper Lee was portrayed by Hollywood actress Catherine Keener in excellent 2005 romp Capote, in which Truman Capote blithely dismisses the book: “I can’t see what all the fuss is about” he drunkenly mumbles. However, on the back of our copy of the book there’s a quote from him:

“Someone rare has written this very fine novel, a writer with the liveliest sense of life and the warmest, most authentic humour. A touching book; and so funny, so likeable.”

A touch of honesty there, Mr. Capote? Regardless, it’s a fitting epitaph for Harper Lee and her contribution to literature, as it truly is a novel absolutely everybody should read at least once. Bravo, madam!

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