“‘When they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice. . . .’ His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. ‘Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.’ He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”
There are several books over the course of the Pulitzer Project which warrant the response, “What can I say about this book that hasn’t already been said a million times by everybody else?” Gone with the Wind and The Grapes of Wrath certainly fit that description, but I think that sentiment applies to Harper Lee’s 1961 Pulitzer-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, a hundredfold. The same could be said of the movie adaptation!
To Kill a Mockingbird is, in my opinion, comes as close to absolute perfection as any novel I’ve ever read. And it’s just so baffling that 1) this was Harper Lee’s first novel and 2) it is her only novel. We don’t have a J.D. Salinger situation in Harper Lee, though—she didn’t become a recluse or have a nervous breakdown or anything; she just didn’t want to write anymore novels. She was one and done; attained literary perfection and called it a day.
And I say, good for her. She figured it out and left it at that. She had something to say, she said it, and she got out of the way. Personally, I find that very, very admirable.
We all know the story of Jem and Scout and Boo Radley, so I’m not going to get into any of the plot details; and I think that most of us already know all about the themes of childhood, innocence, coming of age, and racial tension, so I’m not going to pound the pulpit about that stuff. But I do want to focus on Atticus Finch because, with him, Harper Lee gave us who I think is the role model of all models; he is the standard bearer of role models.
Notwithstanding this book’s powerful, powerful moral message, it never comes off as preachy or heavy handed. There are no lectures written here. The only sermon we are privy to is the example of Atticus Finch and the simple yet unwavering strength and quiet decency of the man.
In all honesty, I strive to live a life that is a shadow of the example Atticus Finch set.
This is a book about acceptance and tolerance, overall. The racial tension is a very important factor, but it’s not a book about race relations (as so many books are). No, Harper Lee is not content to write a story about blacks and whites and leave it at that—she offers the solution.