‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (TKaM) is one of those books – when read for the first time – makes you want to kick yourself in the rear for the folly of not having read it much, much earlier. I, too, might not have read TKAM at all had a lovely lady – one who has since become very dear – not introduced it to me. But that is – as I am always fond of saying – another story: Better told, perhaps, at a later date. Now, back to TKaM,
Setting and Central Characters
TKAM is set in the 1930s, in Maycombe County, Alabama. It revolves around the childhood days and the coming of age of the narrator, Scout Finch, a precocious nine year old girl with a predisposition for settling disputes by way of a good, old-fashioned punch-up. Always at hand are her brother, Jem Finch, and their good friend, Dill Harris.
Atticus Finch, Scout’s father and prominent Maycombe lawyer, is central to the story in TKAM. Given the prevailing environment of ignorance, conservatism and racial prejudice, Atticus is a moral beacon for the town of Maycombe. Unfortunately, the townsfolk of Maycombe are unable to regard him as more than a magnificent symbol, rather than as an example to live by.
The antagonist is the mean-spirited bigot, Bob Ewell, while the unlikely hero is the reclusive, mysterious and constantly misunderstood Boo Radley.
TKaM’s basic premise is simple: There is no bigger wrong than destroying something that has been good to you and that has done you no harm.
The backdrop of this premise is Atticus’ struggle to bring up his children in a way that that challenges outdated conservatism and also of his courage to stand-up for what he believes to be the right.
The novel’s exposition begins with the daily lives of Scout and Jem Finch, their intercourse with the townsfolk, and their curiosity regarding their reclusive neighbour Boo Radley. Their rustic calm is shattered when their father, Atticus, is called upon to defend Tom Robinson, a harmless and well-liked black man, who has been wrongfully charged with the crime of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell (Bob Ewell’s daughter)
Though Atticus did enough at the trail to acquit Tom Robinson, the jury nevertheless returned a verdict of guilty; consistent with the tide of prejudice sweeping Maycombe County at the times. Tom is then shot dead while attempting to escape from prison pending his appeal. Meanwhile, Bob Ewell bides his time and plots his revenge against Atticus for making him look like a fool at the trial.
One night, when returning from a school play, Scout and Jem are pounced upon by Bob Ewell. He would have killed them both but for the intervention of the mysterious Boo Radley. In the ensuing struggle, Radley stabs Ewell to death.
Heck Tate, the town sheriff decides on a cover-up and makes Ewell’s death out to be nothing more than an accident: Ewell killed himself when fell on his own knife in his attempt to murder Scout and Jem.
TKaM is a timeless tale of one man’s unending quest to stem outdated dogma and racial prejudice. Its message still rings true today as it did in 1960 when the book was written. The lesson it teaches is as valid to Maycombe County Alabama as it is for even modern day Mengkarak, Pahang.
TKaM reminds us that, at times, we have no choice but to stand-up and fight even when we know we are going to lose. Read the book see if it doesn’t change you in some way. It will. I assure you of this.
As an aside, in my mind, TKaM does for lawyers what Top Gun did for fighter pilots. The moment I put the book down, I was almost tempted to jumpstart my legal career, the one that I so unceremoniously derailed over two decades ago. Hmmm, I wonder if I am too old for UM’s Bachelor of Jurisprudence external programme…
When I grow up, I want to be Atticus Finch.
Title: To Kill A Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Price: RM29.90 (Borders, The Curve)