Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Review: Back to School Edition

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Happy September! This month always seems a wonder, reviving the year when it seems to have been dragging itself along, (all that sun and relentless heat of summer!), ushering in fresh autumn breezes, stunning and yet comfortably familiar seasonal fashions, (sweaters anyone?), and perhaps the most controversial new beginning, school! I'm not going to lie, I loved school. I have always loved learning new things, and I would be a professional student for the rest of my life if only it were allowed.  But I will content myself with being a life-long learner, even if I am no longer in formal education. So, in honor of back to school season, and in keeping with my belief that there are always opportunities to better oneself, I am revisiting and reviewing Harper Lee's timeless classic To Kill a Mockingbird.

The story takes place in 1930s Alabama, deep in the Great Depression.  We witness a few formative years in the life of young Scout, her brother, Jem, and their lawyer father, Atticus Finch. To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic coming-of-age tale, not only because we witness the physical growth and defining moral struggles of Scout and her older brother Jem, but because it tells the continued tale of the growth and struggles of our own country.  It is the tale of individuals, as well as our collective society, learning to engage with broad ethical dilemmas in an attempt to bring us back to plain human decency. While Jem and Scout slowly grow into the beginnings of more thoughtful and responsible adults, the county of Maycomb undergoes its own battle of moral conscience with regards to legally institutionalized prejudices and racism. We, as readers, struggle along with the characters about matters of justice, hypocrisy, right and wrong, hospitality, cruelty, and all the rights and responsibilities that come with being a part of a community as neighbors and fellow American citizens. 

Harper Lee's novel is a true classic by merit, but it would be a shame if that meant it were confined only to high school classrooms. There are always lessons to be reinforced about empathy, kindness, and, as Scout puts it, "lovin' folks like you love yourself." Whether Maycomb County evolves as much as its young constituents do is debatable, but that seems to be one of the valuable lesson of its tale- that societies can only improve when the individuals themselves decide to change for the better.

Tayler Morrissey received her degree in English from University of California, Santa Barbara.

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