Takeaway: An American Classic.
To Kill A Mockingbird deserves all of its praise. I had not read it since middle school or early high school, so when it came out for the first time as an ebook last month (at a very reasonable price) I picked it up.
It starts a little slow I think. I read the background and first two years of the story and then set it aside and read several other books before returning to it again. But once the main story starts with Atticus defending Tom Robinson I finished the rest of the book in two days.
There is no good way to review this book. The basic story is well known and is one the true classics of American literature. And Emily Flury is also reading it to review for Bookwi.se, so I will leave the hard work to her 🙂 But I did read the Wikipedia entry just to see what it said and was surprised how autobiographical the novel was.
I knew (but had forgotten) that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were friends. I did not realize that Truman was the inspiration for the character Dill. Wikipedia also said that Haper Lee’s father was a lawyer that lost a case defending two African American men on charges of murder. After losing the case he did not practice law again. Jem was based on her own brother, also 4 years older. Haper Lee’s mother did not die until she was 25, but there was an African American maid/cook that worked for the family and her mother was emotionally distant because of some mental health issues. There was also a real Boo Radley character in her neighborhood, a young man got into legal trouble and the father kept him at home for the 24 years out of shame until he was basically forgotten and eventually died.
There was a lot of speculation about who the Tom Robinson character was based on. But in 2005, Harper Lee said in an interview with Charles Shields, who wrote Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee and I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee (young adult) said she Tom Robinson was inspired by Emmet Till.
The US needs to continue to read about and think about its history of racism. Books like this and While the World Watched as well as good histories like Noll’s God and Race in American Politics should not be books that are just read by specialists or those particularly interested in history but by the vast majority of Americans.