Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

β€˜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The backdrop of this premise is Atticus’ struggle to bring up his children in a way that that challenges outdated conservatism and also of his courage to stand-up for what he believes to be the right.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

ISBN: 0-446-31078-6

Price: RM29.90 (Borders, The Curve)

15 thoughts on “Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. I read TKaM at the same time as Rebecca, so I am afraid it was Rebecca that captivated me.

    Kak Teh

    Ah! This reminds me – I must look seriously into getting myself a copy of Rebecca. If I am not mistaken, there was a Malay movie once that went along the lines of Rebecca: Pusaka Pontianak, was it?

  2. I first read TKAM as a young reporter some 30 years ago, and I was angry beyond words at the turn of events. I revisited the book twice since, the third time only a few years ago.. and my anger had not dissipated. TKAM affected me greatly…

    Puteri Kamaliah

    Yes, ma’am! TKaM does tend to have this effect. But it also brings hope and inspires courage to stick it out regardless of the odds – to me, at least

  3. mamak,

    Lu ni real James Dean punya gang.
    How about reviewing Jack Kerouck’s
    ‘On The Road’
    V Seth ‘Suitable Boy is a good one too.


    Mr Kerouac will be quite difficult to review because of his ‘stream of consciousness’ style of writing. However, the ‘beatnik’ generation he writes about is right up or alley, eh? For you, my friend, I will give it a try – one of these days πŸ™‚

    Be that as it may, my next review project is likely to be Henri Fauconnier’s ‘The Soul of Malaya’. Planters, colonialists, romance of virgin forests… *drool!*

  4. Brader,

    Wud luv to hear your take of this as this was indeed my pre-occupation at some point in time in the recent past πŸ™‚


    Can I take what you mean by ‘pre-occupation at some point in time’ to mean ‘The Soul of Malaya’? Sure thing, bro. However, I am still on my first read-through of the book right now.

    I’d be happy to oblige.

  5. I look forward to your review of The Soul of Malaya – but for now let me tell you a story.
    A few years ago a Malaysian entourage went to Paris to promote tourism. A French man approached the then minister, who shall for now remain nameless, and said he’s got a book to give the minister – however, the book is in French and the minister did not take it. When asked, he was the grandson of Fauconnier and the book was The Soul of Malaya – in French. I was speechless..

    Kak Teh

    This may prompt me to actually finish a self-help book targeted at politician wannabes titled, “Are you Dumb Enough To Be a Minister?”

    Thanks for this wonderful gem, Kak Teh

  6. Mamak ,

    I do have a copy of an Estate log book in Sungai Buloh diary the begining of the Malaysian Rubber Industry during H.N Ridley era.
    What shall I do with it?
    It was a present from Julian of Bentram Rota years ago.
    Nicely bonded .


    *drooling* Whoa! Simpan baik-baik, beb! Let’s see if we can mine that for inspiration for a novel or something. Must be worth a small fortune!

  7. pak tuo/bangkai, in my hands now is a manuscript handwritten by ex mcs officer, ex changi pow who wrote poems, half in malay and half in English. I have been asked to help with the translation. Many, many people are coming forward with lots of old precious documents now.

    btw, have you read A Planter’s Bungalow? A coffee table book but loads of beautiful stories behind those beautiful bungalows. I have met and spoken to those planters, their children – such wonderful recollections of their time in those bungalows.

    Sorry, I think I am hogging your blog. But I love stories like these – have you read Tales from the South Seas and They Came to Malaya? Over the last few years I have been meeting and interviewing lots of veterans who served in Malaya and they have such wonderful stories to tell.

    Kak Teh

    I regret to report that I have not read the books you mentioned. However, I am quite excited to start on my quest in searching for the said books. BTW Amazon doesn’t have them in stock πŸ™‚

    No, ma’am, you are not hogging space on this blog – you grace it with your presence. And good luck with the translation.

  8. Mamak/Kak Teh

    Sound intresting from Kak Teh.

    Tales from the South Sea yes,do have a copy
    Gavin Young ‘Slow Boat to China’ and ‘Slow Boat Home’is my liking.

    Travelling epilog by the author from Liverpool across the ocean and back with small boat,hopping fishing trawler,ferries etc,island hopping across the South Pacific,Bikini Island and Micronesia etc.

    Author do arrive in M’sia via Puket with a local fishing boat.Travel around Trenggnu with Pak Cik boat island hopping.
    Got to dig my attic again Kak Teh/mamak.

    There is a small book shop at Protobello Shop call ‘The Travellers Shop’ which I used to hang around alot on Saturday market.
    Yes ,the shop was a shooting location of Hugh Gant/Julia Roberts block buster ‘Notting Hill’.
    I’m sure you could recall that shop.

    Yes.Julian and me was digging such old books for private collection.I have a few old copies via Julian.Its part of my personnel collection.

    As for translation I’m ok with it.


    Ah! Portobello Road. The memories that brings. Isn’t it a shame that, in all probability, a bookshop like that will not be viable business in Malaysia today?

  9. Mamak with permission,

    Kak Teh dear,

    Caroline Hawthropite(now a Prof) at Faculty of Eniviroment,Urban Planning Dept.University of Westminister,Marylebourne St.was my batch at PCL before.
    She was born in Malaya in circa late 50 and a daughter to British High Commissioner then in the early 60’s.(Not sure who daddy was).She used to tell tale me her stories of Malaya during the early stage of what she recall than.But again,that was ages ago.She went to Bellemy International Sch.and has fond memories of Malaya and amah.


    You always have my premission πŸ™‚

  10. hey, you write about me. *snigger*

    anyway, after the soul of malaya, do try the malayan trilogy.


    I guess I have, haven’t I, dear? And few things have given me as much, or as intense a pleasure as in so doing.

    Malayan Trilogy? By Anthony Burgess? I shall revisit the work and shall honour your request as soon as it becomes practicable for me to do so.

    Isn’t the Malayan Trilogy where Burgess created his setting in the fictitious Malay village called Lanchap? Perhaps one day, when I am a famous author, I shall return the favour and create the setting for one of my novels in a fictitious English hamlet called – let’s say – Midsomer Wanking πŸ™‚

  11. Mamak,

    Do anyone intrested in Kontek Kamariah life auto!!!!!
    Ibu Zain was on Istana Budaya but the script a bit scrap.

    Big names deserve better acknowledgement.

  12. Go for it…i heard its a 3-year off part time or something for the Bachelor of Jurisprudence. As the old adage goes…its never too late to turn, never too old to learn.

    The Last Gig

    I hear you, my friend! And thanks for the words of encouragement.

  13. Because I knew I could never be a good litigation lawyer like Atticus, that was why I turned to corporate law instead. Hahaha

    Both book and movie were such gems – timeless, as you say.


    I have not seen the movie yet, but I suspect it will be fabulous. Anything with Gregory Peck in it is bound to be good

  14. dear mb,
    am not sure whether you hv read my response to yr comment on my blog-the law is not an ass… but allow me to say this of yr writing. the pleasure is all mine. clearly in yr writings i see the language master at work. i will certainly recommend all our young Malay boys and girls, to read your writings. first to to enjoy great work, 2nd to learn the craft of the English language. thank you to you indeed for sharing yr writings with us. i thank you too for the good thoughts on my blog. with kind regards/sakmongkol


    Look what you’ve done, sir! You’ve made me blush..

    I am very flattered that you think so highly of my writing. I just hope that I am deserving of such praise.

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