Location: Our old favourite, Bacchus Bar

Category: Classics

Chosen by: Raman

For the second or third time in the history of the Unconventional Book Club, we picked a book only for the author to sadly move off the mortal coil the same week. I’m beginning to think we should stop picking ageing authors… RIP Harper Lee.

To Kill a Mockingbird is an undeniable classic—regularly gracing and often topping must-read and Top 10 book lists. We came to this book from a range of positions, from first timers to re-reads to those who had studied in school and others who had only seen the film. And we left this book in a range of positions too, from those who loved it to those who still loved it to those who liked it less on re-read to those who disliked it.

For the benefit of those who haven’t read it, To Kill a Mockingbird is the “coming of age” tale of Scout, the young daughter of a lawyer, Atticus, who represents a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a while girl in 1930s deep south America. Set against a background of racial prejudice in small town Alabama, it details Scout and her older brother Jem’s daily activities at school and at play as they learn about morality and justice.

Why those who loved it loved it

A tale narrated from a child’s perspective, To Kill a Mockingbird has always held wide appeal for children and has often been taught in schools. Those of us who loved the book enjoyed Scout’s innocence and hunger for knowledge, and how it provides an interesting perspective on a society that is otherwise ingrained with racism and inequalities.

While much of the local community deplores or doesn’t understand Atticus’ reasoning for representing Tom, and his children experience this first-hand, Atticus imbues his children with a sense of morality and equality through his measured answers to their numerous questions. It is easy to see why Atticus is a much-loved literary character. In a riveting court scene during Tom’s trial, Atticus expertly represents the voice of reason.

Indeed, the story itself provokes anger at the injustice, amusement at the children’s antics, and nostalgia—of times when stories of the unknown (i.e. neighbour Boo Radley) caused fear in children. By the end of the novel, Scout has matured and no longer seeks explanation for everything.

After a brief debate on the merits and demerits of mushy peas, the discussion continued…

Why those who didn’t didn’t

While we all agreed that we enjoyed the subject matter and plot, our disappointment was that the book is remembered for its theme of racial injustice, but the majority of the book is actually the banal day-to-day lives of the children. The exciting, and arguably best, parts of the book are the court scenes, but those are actually minor points in what seemed like an aside to the coming of age story.

These important scenes are over too quickly, while the novel focuses more on the interactions of the children through a lot of dialogue. In terms of style, there is also much preamble and scene setting. In fact, by page 80, literally nothing has happened. What we wanted was more of Tom Robinson’s story and less of Scout’s.

Perhaps the hype around this novel as an expression of inequality have led to perceptions that race is the main focus of the story, when in fact, the focus is on Scout’s coming of age.

Score: 7