There are so many “modern classics” I haven’t read; it’s almost overwhelming. The ones that I did read in grade school, I don’t remember enjoying at all. I found them dry, characters not relatable and tedious to read when you were given reading quizzes on the content the following day. Questions like: “why did character X frown when character Y did Z” did not pique my interest, nor did they help me appreciate literature or cultivate any passion for reading. To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t in my school English curricula so I picked it up at the library and decided to give it a go. I don’t regret reading the novel as it is considered one of the most highly regarded works of literature of all time and always included on those lists of “books you should read before you die,” but quite honestly, it was a bit of a drag to get through.
The story is narrated from Scout Finch’s perspective. She’s a fairly normal eight year old girl attached at the hip with her older brother Jem. Their father, Atticus, is the town lawyer, who both revere and respect. Unsurprisingly, where the story is set in the 1930’s Deep South, Maycomb County, Alabama to be specific, there is extensive racial prejudice and injustice ripe in people’s attitudes and the local justice system. A young black man named Tom Robinson is accused of raping a white girl– there are no witnesses except a white man’s word over a black man’s. We know how that turns out. Atticus is appointed to defend Tom and the townspeople ridicule and ostracize the family, including young Scout and Jem.
I can understand why this book is considered a timeless classic– themes of racism, classism and injustice will never grow old unfortunately. We will live in a time where the justice system is stacked against blacks, in favor of whites, and where rampant and brazen injustices run wild. However, the savior complex Atticus is given by Harper Lee rubbed me the wrong way. It felt like it could be a trope of sorts: an educated, privileged white man realizes all people are equal and cuts the black man’s chains to set him free. Additionally, Lee is a white woman, writing about a white family, but includes experiences of Tom and other black characters without having any lived experience as a black person. The fact that this novel is the story about racism in America to me is strange. There are so many works by African American authors who live with the legacies of prejudice, injustice and oppression, who are so much better equip to write about this topic. Ultimately, I’m glad I didn’t have to read this book in grade school. It would probably eat away at my soul if I had to remember why X happened Y after Z did– you get the gist.