Growing up I believed there to be two sorts of people; those who saw Gregory Peck as the handsome, Vespa-driving journalist in Roman Holiday, and those who pictured him as the dignified, elderly Atticus Finch. As I grew older I eventually came to realise that this was complete bullshit. Regardless of the importance of Gregory Peck in our everyday lives it does however remain a fact that To Kill A Mockingbird has had, and still has, a profound influence which transcends the Atlantic. Timeless questions of tolerance and racial issues make it a book still widely read in schools and which maintains its educational value. This does however not mean that it isn’t a pleasant read.
A “pleasant read” may in fact be a slightly inadequate description of the reading experience, as it is a sometimes very disconcerting tale of human nature and relations. Taking the form of a coming of age tale picturing the childhood in the sleepy southern town Maycomb, it slowly evolves into a story which brings us to the very roots of human behaviour, as seen through the eyes of an innocent child.
The now classic story centres on Jean Louise “Scout” Finch who spends an untroubled childhood with her older brother and widowed father. Growing up an intelligent girl as well as a tomboy who never shies away from a fistfight, she never quite fits the criteria for a young lady of Maycomb standards. As her father is hired to defend a black man accused of having raped a white woman her temper is severely tested, as is her innocent perception of the people and workings in her surroundings. Through Scout’s narrative we are reminded how, although superficially shallow and flawed, a child’s vision and interpretation of its surrounding can be surprisingly acute. Along with her, the reader is taken on a journey teaching us to recognise humans’ potential for evil as well as our great capacity for goodness and compassion.
The story is so much more than one about a trial or a child growing up, and as the title suggests it is a tale to and of the many good people who have been injured by evil deeds. Every society has its own Boo Radley, and as he stands shyly in the corner of the Finch’s living room towards the end of the novel, only to disappear again, he presents a powerful symbol for the ease with which a promising human life can be ruined.
You know what we’ve read this summer? is an ongoing series of articles for OxStu Online, giving you our top tips on books of all shapes and sizes that we think you should be reading this summer. Check out our last entry here, or come back soon for the next update, and if you have your own suggestions or opinions let us know in the comments!