The book “To Kill a Mocking Bird” is a novel written by Harper Lee which was published in 1960. The book was an instant success in becoming a landmark work of American fiction having won the Pulitzer Prize given the remarkable way in which the author based her observations regarding her family and neighbors in the context of the prevailing social circumstances. The novel was able to win the attention of people with its portrayal of humor and warmth despite having dealt with serious issues about racial inequality and rape. The father of the narrator, Atticus Finch, proved to be a model of integrity for the legal profession and a moral hero for most readers. In consequence, the book became a model source of reading that inspired people to further take on the issues of race in the USA and throughout the world. The basic theme of the book relates throughout to solve the complications and confusions that arise due to racial injustice and the increasing incidents of how innocence is destroyed. The author has addressed issues of gender roles, courage, compassion, and class that threatened to weaken the foundation of American society during the given period. Although published in 1960, the book is very much relevant in the present times in view of the same issues that are still applicable in being important areas of concern in bringing about equality amongst different races and genders. The book essentially propagates tolerance and decries prejudice in bringing about equality amongst the masses so as to make the world a much better place.
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Despite the positive themes in the book, the author has been criticized for the use of racial labels that have been repeatedly used in the supposed ill-treatment of black characters. Just as there are several stories of injustices prevailing today in regard to civil rights injustices, the book, which relates to the 1960s, clearly indicates that the same issues were equally relevant during those early years. When Atticus Finch, the father of the author, who is an advocate, takes on the case to defend a black named Tom Robinson, who was wrongly accused of raping a white woman, there are several protests from the white protagonists in criticism for his having taken on the case, in the stark portrayal of the prevailing intolerance against blacks. Although Atticus puts up a strong argument in favor of Robinson that clearly proves his innocence, he is still found guilty by the jury that is just not ready to believe a black man as against a white one. Hence it is clear that justice is not served thus giving way to further incidents of racial discrimination in proving the existence of racial predominance. Jem, who is the narrator in the book, has her faith totally shaken in the justice system. The present time is full of similar instances whereby rights do not triumph always although everybody may be aware of the factual position. There is still a strong element of doubt in society whether the tide of political correctness could appreciate the given resolutions and bring about the required changes. Atticus is portrayed as a responsible white citizen who despite being a widower, has the responsibility of bringing up his two young children Jem and Scout, who are portrayed as being typical children spending their time playing and going to school. Finch is portrayed as a principled lawyer with uncompromising ethics.
To Kill a Mockingbird, in being a story through the eyes of a child, Scout, is entirely depicted as having all the actions of the different characters filtered from her viewpoint and that of her brother Jem. Children are the same everywhere and at all times. The book pertains to the 1960s and the children of today are as innocent as they were during those times. They are sensitive in absorbing the delicate issues that are dealt with by society without any basis of truth and logic. Atticus is portrayed as a loving father and noble lawyer, the likes of which are present today also but in very few numbers. The book examines how children perceive danger as was evident when Jem and Scout witness a scene when their father is literally attacked by a mob that does not favor his defending a black man. Such narrations in the book clearly portray the seriousness and extent to which racialism was prevalent in the America of the 1960s. The repeated use of themes such as racial violence, rape, and incest in the book clearly indicates that such issues did characterize American society of that period and that they were widespread not only in the big cities but also the small ones such as Maycomb, in which the plot of the book is centered.
Although Harper Lee has always denied that the book is not an autobiography of her life, several events from her life and childhood are narrated as parallels in the book, which indicate that she was rather concerned about the negativities in the society that existed during her childhood. There are several instances in the book that draw a parallel from her actual life, for, her father too was an advocate who took on the case to defend two blacks who were accused of murder. Her real brother was also four years older than her just as Jem is four years older than Scout in the book. Lee has very elaborately portrayed the caste system that prevailed at that time, which in all probability existed during her childhood years. She has narrated the taboos and traditions in a way that appears to influence the plot of the book more significantly as compared to its characters. However, the book primarily concentrates on conveying the extent of race relations prevalent during the time.
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 2002, Harper Perennial Modern Classics.