Wednesday, June 4, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Recently I read two books in very close succession that surprisingly had something in common: Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington and Teach Like Your Hair's On Fire by Rafe Esquith.  The first is a novel about a girl who knows little about her mother, other than she tried to drown her when she was 2 years old and is now in a mental hospital.  Her father speaks very little of her and drowns his pain in alcohol most nights, leaving Sarah to her imagination as she attempts to figure out if she too will become crazy like her mother.  The second is a nonfiction book teacher's philosophy on educating students and how he manages to teach moral development within the classroom.  

What on earth would they have in common?  To Kill a Mocking Bird.  

Sarah idolizes Atticus Finch and writes letters to him throughout the book as she works out her problems.  Rafe Esquith uses Atticus Finch as a model to his students of a "Level 6 character."  

I felt like I was being bombarded with memories of my own reading of the novel, but I realized that they were faint memories.  I haven't read it since high school, maybe college.  So I went in search of my copy, but it's nowhere to be found--perhaps it's hidden in my parents' basement in one of the many boxes of books which are waiting for a home in a larger house one day.  Due to this loss, I went out the next day to purchase a new copy (eBook would not do this time) and settled in to read right away.  I devoured it all once again.

My new copy is already marked up and dog eared.  There are so many beautiful lines within this book.

If you aren't familiar with the story, it's set in the South in the 1930's and told from Jean Louis "Scout" Finch's point of view.  Through her innocent eyes we see a world of flawed adults that she and her brother try to make sense of with the help of their incredibly wise father, Atticus Finch.  I forgot how this book pulls you in and carries you along with Scout as she discovers the world of Maycomb.  I forgot how absolutely beautiful some of the lines are, and I only realized now how wonderful, how truly wonderful, Atticus is.  I think I had this idea in my head before, but as a parent, I am reading and just soaking up ideas and thinking to myself, "I have to remember this when Emma is older."  What I find amazing, though, is that even Atticus questions himself as he defends his reasoning.

The children are mesmerized by a recluse neighbor, Boo Radley, they've never seen, but about whom they have heard stories.  They try to draw him out of his house multiple times, but are unsuccessful.  They are successful, however in learning one of the main themes that Atticus continues to show them.  Take a moment to stand in someone else’s shoes. 

The major event that most people remember from the movie is the trail in which Atticus Finch is involved.  Scout and Jem watch as their father defends a black man who has been accused of rape while many in their small town voice their disapproval for a variety of reasons.  However, we also find many people who stand with Atticus and Tom Robinson, his client.  Atticus shows them how to be kind and generous and truly think about others and the young Scout, who seems wise for her age, takes it all, soaking it up like a sponge.

 At its heart, To Kill a Mockingbird is about being human.  It's about being a good person, not just to our best friends and family, but to everyone.  It's about giving each and every person a fair chance and to take the time to stand a moment in their shoes.  Take the time to see what it is they have to deal with each and every day and try to understand them.  

I believe that so much can be learned from reading a well written book.  It’s not just a story that takes you away to another place.  There are lessons, ideas, that can make you think about your own life.  What I am going to take away from reading To Kill a Mockingbird this time is to try to judge less.  A simple concept, yes, but one that, after reading this, with which I could use a little more practice.  I'll take a step back and do my best to understand others and put myself in his or her shoes. 

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