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Book #2: To Kill A Mockingbird

Quick Facts

  • To Kill A Mockingbird (published in 1960) has sold more than 30 million copies, been translated into 40 languages, and won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize.
  • The novel was made into a hugely successful movie in 1962, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.
  • In a 2006 survey of librarians, To Kill A Mockingbird was second only to the Bible in a list of books everyone should read before they die.
  • Dill’s character in the book was based on Truman Capote, a childhood friend of To Kill A Mockingbird Author Harper Lee.
  • To Kill A Mockingbird is Harper Lee’s only novel, and one of only a few of her published pieces.

My Thoughts

I’ve had quite a few people ridicule me for never having read To Kill A Mockingbird. My wife said I should be ashamed to be a southerner. It’s true; I should be ashamed. That’s why I put this book second on list of the 101. Thankfully, now that I’ve read it, no longer am I a loser southerner.

Some books are just good as books. Maybe they are well-written, with beautiful prose and creative imagery. The authors do their job—which is to entertain you. But To Kill A Mockingbird is a different kind of book. Not only did Harper Lee manage to do all of those things, she also made a social commentary that has impacted millions of people over the last five decades.

You know the story. Or, if you don’t…it’s time you read it. The book is really broken into two parts. The first part centers on the narrator—a six-year-old girl named “Scout” Finch—her older brother, Jem, and their best friend, Dill, who visits every summer. The three spend their summers in the dusty old town of fictional Maycomb, Alabama trying to figure out a way to get the reclusive, rarely-seen “Boo Radley to come out” of his boarded up house across the street.

The second part of the novel follows Scout and Jem as they deal with the repercussions of their father’s court case. Atticus Finch is a lawyer who is representing an innocent black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping the town drunk’s daughter. Atticus and his family endure all sorts of verbal, and even physical, abuse from white townspeople who are livid with him for representing a black man. When Robinson is convicted by an all-white jury, eventually getting killed when he tries to escape from jail, all hell breaks loose in Maycomb.

Very few books that I’ve read have painted such a picture of time and place like To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee dropped me right in the middle of small-town Alabama in the 1930s—a town where everyone knows each other, some families are known to have “gambling streaks” and “drinking streaks,” and white folks love God and hate black people.

I love Lee’s description of Maycomb in the first chapter:

Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.

In my dreams, I write like that.

The book is similar to The Catcher in the Rye in many ways. Both use an adolescent narrator who attempts to “fight the man”—Holden fights against he phoniness of the adult world while Scout, through her father Atticus, look to take a principled stand against a racist town who is bent on killing an innocent man.

Scout develops more as a character than Holden, making To Kill A Mockingbird more of a bildungsroman, which is a fancy literary term that means the protagonist is kid who learned a lot of stuff and grew up. The book’s timeline goes over a series of several years, and we see Scout and her brother Jem both progress as characters into young adults over this period.

Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.

As a Christian, I would even propose that Lee’s book is heavy on Christian principles. To summarize the novel in one sentence, I’ll steal a line from Atticus Finch: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

I’m a Christian who does my best to follow Jesus, and that’s why I love the character of Atticus Finch so much. He didn’t care what the town thought. He didn’t care that he was the lone voice in the wilderness. He followed what he knew was right—even if it meant putting himself in danger. That’s integrity.

Other Stuff

The Meaning: The term “to kill a mockingbird” represents killing the innocent. Maudie tells Scout: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Mockingbirds are innocent. Tom Robinson was a “mockingbird” who’s only fault was to try and help out a white girl.

Highlights: The prose. As I said above, I’ve never felt like I’ve been catapulted into another time and place quite like I did while reading To Kill A Mockingbird. I rarely re-read books (except for the purpose of completing this list), but when I’m done with the 101, I’ll re-read this one. It’s that good.

The book also has the Animal Farm feel. You know you are reading about something much bigger than the story itself.

Lowlights: On the flip side, it’s sometimes hard to believe the narrator is six-years-old. Her language and understanding of complex issues like justice and racism are extremely advanced. It’s an issue I noticed, but didn’t get too hung up on.

I disagree on this issue, so it’s not really a lowlight, but some critics believe the black characters are too one dimensional and are props to set up Atticus Finch as the hero. I thought main black characters like Tom Robinson and the Finch’s housekeeper, Calpurnia, were actually more complicated and complex than their white counterparts.

Memorable Line: “I think there’s just one kind of folks.  Folks.” –Scout Finch

Final Thoughts: Much like The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird is a must-read if you really consider yourself an avid reader. You’ll take away a lot from this book. It really caused me to reset my mind and realize how far this country has come in terms of civil rights. No doubt, a far more subtle racism still exists here in America, but the type of angry mob that Tom Robinson faced, and Atticus Finch fought against, every single day is a thing of the past. Read it.

Up Next: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Question: Have you read To Kill A Mockingbird? Hate it? Love it?

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106 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great review, R. Looking forward to number three.

    Like

    September 14, 2010
  2. Katie #

    Very insightful! It makes me want to read this book again.

    And I told you that it was one of the best books ever!!

    Like

    September 14, 2010
  3. Another great review, Berto! Guess I’m a loser because somehow I managed to graduate without reading this book. However, I’m currently working on fixing that problem. I picked up the book a few weeks ago so I can cross it off my reading list. 🙂

    Like

    September 15, 2010
  4. Neil Sagebiel #

    I just read Mockingbird for the first time myself. I thought it was wonderful, both the story and characters. Nothing wrong with the writing either.

    Like

    September 20, 2010
  5. Marshall Walker #

    My mom grew up in Monroeville, AL which is what the fictional “Maycomb” is based off. She actually walked to school just like Scout and went to school next door to Boo Radley’s house. Cool huh?

    Like

    February 9, 2011
  6. Reading this book right now! I’m blogging about my own list of books to read, and this is one of the first that I am reading from my list. It’s good to see that someone else sees Lee as such an amazing writer.
    When you said ‘in my dreams I write like this,’ I felt the exact same way!
    I am looking forward to seeing what you have to say about other books I have read or am going to be reading.

    Like

    March 15, 2011
  7. Read this for my project.
    Loved it.
    Glad its currently on the top of your list (:

    Like

    March 15, 2011
  8. I loved this book, loved, loved it, and I am not American. I guess this is one of those timeless books.

    I never understood that part about the mockingbird, and always wondered why the book was named like that (I don’t remember if the book itself explained it). Thanks for sharing.

    Like

    May 10, 2011
  9. jncwhaley #

    Just found your blog. Love it! This is the book that I read in 7th grade that got me hooked on reading. Can’t wait to read your other reviews.

    Like

    October 9, 2011
  10. New to your site but decided to follow! I’m an avid book lover and reader myself. I love your review of To Kill a Mockingbird. It made me want to try to pick it up again. I started it about a year or two ago, but put it down. Not really sure why. It’s not that I didn’t like it, but I guess it just wasn’t the book I was supposed to be reading at the time. I firmly believe the book picks you most of the time. Good luck and keep up the good work! Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Like

    October 10, 2011
  11. Nice review. But I have to disagree on that Tom Robinson was the Mockingbird only.
    Boo Radley was the/a Mockingbird. If Heck Tate would have told the whole town that he saved those kids from a murderer, every single person would have been barging down his front door. That would have “killed the mockingbird” of Boo, as he wanted to keep by himself.

    Like

    October 11, 2011
  12. I enjoyed your review. I have wondered when is the perfect age to pick up Mockingbird. My son in High School didn’t enjoy it at all and my daughter in Jr. High loved it. Perhaps she was ready for the social intricacies and he was not.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your thoughts. Thanks.

    Like

    October 20, 2011
  13. I love TKAM and get to teach it every year with a new group of high school freshmen. We’ve just started, and these jaded youths are caught so off guard by the silliness and sweetness of Scout that they laugh out loud in class and sit quietly as she delivers deep truths.
    I think the adult Scout looking back and narrating through her child-self does add more depth than is realistic for a kid, but there is a childlike innocence in the approach to issues like justice, racism, and tolerance that are endearing and effective.
    Thanks for sharing your post, and I’m glad you’ve gotten to cherish TKAM!

    Like

    October 21, 2011
  14. Pi. #

    I’ve only started following your blog a couple of weeks ago; I just want to say that I’m really enjoying it. I am a complete list-aholic, and I’ve managed to come up with a list of over 200 books (all from before 2005) that I want to read, amongst which are the Time’s 100 books, of course.
    I love reading your reviews; as soon as I’ll finish “The Finkler Question” I’ll follow your suggestion and finally read “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

    Like

    October 28, 2011
  15. Lori #

    Great post. I am also reading The List; I started it in 2006 and have 17 more to go. I don’t ONLY read books on the list which is why I haven’t finished sooner. I’m also a runner and an avid knitter which takes a lot of my time…I try to find books on CD (hope that’s not cheating). I just happened on this blog when researching how to read Infinite Jest and am thrilled. To Kill A Mockingbird is my secret favorite novel…I say secret because it’s not dense or necessarily intellectual, but there is just something about the writing, the characters, perhaps my channeling Gregory Peck when I read it that makes it a magically thrilling experience.

    Like

    January 21, 2012
  16. This is my FAVOURITE novel. It is amazing, and your review sums it up perfectly 🙂

    Like

    February 18, 2012
  17. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and Lee does a wonderful job of simplifying the matter so that middle schoolers (i read it in middle school) can understand it, but leaving an understanding that the issue goes beyond this particular instance with Robinson and is more complicated than the book could explain. This issue of justice for the sake of what is right is something that everyone regardless of ethnicity will have to deal with at some point in their life. This is an issue that seems to, in part, define who we become.

    Like

    February 23, 2012
  18. If I were to be stranded on a desert island I’d hope to have To Kill A Mockingbird in my back pocket. It would be a welcome friend with which to spend my lonely hours. I’ve read TKAM several times; I re-read it each time I teach it to my high school English classes. It has captivated me, delighted me, wooed me, and frustrated me each time I’ve gone back to Maycomb for a visit. I love the richness of the characters. Scout, Jem, and Dill are delightful children, and their antics are a joy to read. I especially love the scene when Jem loses his pants in the fence. The wisdom of the adults in the novel, people like Calpurnia, Maudie, and Atticus, inspire me and remind me of how important it is not only to teach values to our children but to be willing to live out those values in our own lives as well. We never know who may be watching! I think the scene in the courthouse when the minister in the balcony has Scout stand up because Atticus is leaving the courtroom is one of the most inspirational of all time. And every time I read the novel I want Tom Robinson to be acquitted. I’m still breathless with the shock of his death, and I know it’s coming!

    By the way, there are three mockingbird figures in the story – Tom Robinson, Boo Radley, and Mayella Ewing. Her life was a horror, and she was just as much a victim as Tom.

    I can’t say that I agree with Time Magazine’s list; too many of these novels are dark and depressing. I prefer to read things that resonate with hope, but I do applaud your efforts to read through them. Some are most definitely worth the time.

    Like

    March 29, 2012
  19. the undeniable anglophile #

    Hey, I love this book too! I’ve written a review about it on my own blog. It’s really a landmark achievement in the world of literature!

    Like

    June 7, 2013
  20. This a great review of a very special book. I notice a commentator further up who disagrees with you with regards to Tom Robinson being the “Mockingbird” and believes that Boo Radley is the character whom the author intended to be viewed as such. I have to say that I agree with both viewpoints and would go as far as to say that there are number of other characters who could be identified as symbolic Mockingbirds including Dill, Jem and Mr. Raymond – innocents whose lives have been blighted or destroyed by the presence of evil and prejudice.

    I wholeheartedly agree that Atticus is a wonderful character, he is a real moral compass for all of us and is my favourite literary hero. The “folks” line is my favourite quote from the book, a simple sentence which speaks volumes. I believe this is a rare and special book which should be read by everybody. xx

    Like

    June 28, 2013
  21. I love To Kill a Mockingbird and have re-read it a few times. It’s the book that made me a Reader, cap R, when I read it at a young age. Before that I was just a reader, and Nancy Drews were my favorite. Interestingly they both feature lawyer fathers. Though I suppose Carson Drew was no Atticus Finch. But in his own way he was an ideal father in his limited supervision yet unlimited funding of Nancy’s adventures!

    I’ll always remember the beginning of To Kill a Mockingbird and loved how it came full circle in the end… “When my brother Jem was 13 he broke his arm.”

    Like

    August 10, 2013
  22. Hello would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re utilizing?

    I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different web browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most.
    Can you suggest a good hosting provider at a honest price?
    Many thanks, I appreciate it!

    Like

    October 24, 2013
  23. This has been, ever since I read it, m favorite book! I love everything about it!

    Like

    December 8, 2013
  24. Loved it. One of my all-time favorite books.

    Like

    February 13, 2014
  25. Sparky #

    I’ve just stumbled on your blog, and I love the concept, and although I’m rather late in this I just wanted to add two things:

    – Much as the book consists of two sections, it also concerns two mockingbirds. Boo Radley is the other mockingbird, and I was a little surprised that you didn’t touch upon that.

    – The opening lines shows that these events are all in the past at the time of narration – “when enough time had passed to be able to look back on the events leading up to it” (that may not be the exact quote but it runs something like it) showing that there’s definitely been a passing of time between the events and the time of narration. I always pictured an adult Jean Louise Finch telling the story. In any case, Scout’s obviously no longer a child when she tells this story, so I think the emotional maturity of the narration is completely understandable.

    That’s all. Cheers.

    Like

    March 13, 2014
    • OldSwarls #

      I’ve just finished the book and I totally agree with your point about the second mockingbird Boo Radley. I would even say that, from a current point of view, he is the more important one.

      No doubt that Toms case is a very prominent one, considering racism being the huge issue it was at the time the book was written or even the story took place (not saying it’s not still an issue to some degree).

      The fact that Boo is never pointed out as the one saving the children, thereby not drawing attention to a man that certainly doesn’t like attention that much, shows a great amount of empathy. He is the mockingbird not killed because he is being protected from exposure.

      I think that empathy is a quality that too many people lack in today’s society and that’s why I, personally, like this book and especially this ending so much.

      Liked by 1 person

      October 28, 2014
  26. BRegular #

    I did read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in grade nine for school, and because it was nothing more than an assignment I didn’t really get a lot out of it, and a lot of it went over my head because I didn’t understand the context, the racism issues, and some of the narrative was really confusing to me at that time. Your review has encouraged me to perhaps give it another kick 🙂

    Like

    June 27, 2014
  27. The prose is wonderful, you become so lost in that dusty old town. I will read this again and again. That is such a cool fact about Dill, I never realized he was based on Capote. After reading the book again recently I revised my views on Atticus Finch, I just think he is too perfect in a story full of flawed characters. Here is my view is you ever get a chance to read it.
    http://lightlit.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/to-kill-a-mockingbird-atticus-the-improbable/

    Like

    July 10, 2014
  28. I’ve read the last chapter more than a dozen times. I know the story, but that last chapter is a coming of age masterpiece.

    Like

    August 3, 2014
  29. I bought this book and didn’t read it for about a year…Started it when i bought it , read a couple of pages and then left it only to start reading “Girl with a dragon tattoo”. Picked it up again just to finish it( randomly decided to finish all the books that i had lying with me) and then just fell in love with the book. I realized that had i continued reading beyond the page on which i left it the first time i wouldn’t have kept it down. Its an absolute favorite and one book that i can read a number of times and take away something new every time…

    Like

    August 6, 2014
  30. Really enjoying your reviews on the books you’ve covered so far. A great synopsis without giving too much away for those that haven’t yet read them. I keep getting told I should read “To Kill A Mockingbird” but it doesn’t feel the right time to do so and I end up in another book instead, (War of Wars, by Robert Harvey at the moment). I best get on to this one next before time starts running out. Thanks and keep up the good work.

    Like

    September 5, 2014
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    Like

    October 31, 2014
  32. lily ann #

    this is my favorite book……

    Like

    December 14, 2014
  33. One of my favourite books! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    May 26, 2015
  34. Peachy #

    Excellent review.
    I just read it recently too. If nothing else, all the ruckus and controversy about Go Set a Watchman made me finally read it. And I don’t regret it one bit. I’m ashamed of myself for not having read it sooner.

    One of my favorite lines from the book: Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

    Like

    August 2, 2015
  35. Reblogged this on .

    Liked by 1 person

    February 24, 2016
  36. This is NOT advisable as Gold and Silver gadgets may survive, however
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    Like

    October 20, 2017

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