In choosing to read a classic which has been made into a film even those of us who hadn’t read the book still came to it with preconceptions – Atticus Finch had to look like Gregory Peck and the book would be dominated by the trial scene! I had studied the book for O’level, and had been left with the impression of a complex and challenging story which I had always intended to reread but never quite got round to. It has many strands: racism, injustice, social status although at its heart it is a tale of courage and growing up.
It was a delight to rediscover the tale, (particularly those elements that didn’t grab me as a teenager !)– Harper Lee’s writing is deft with many touches of humour. The story is set in a small town in Alabama during the Great Depression. She creates a range of realistic characters from all levels of society. The story is told through the eyes of Scout, a precocious tomboy which gives a surface of games, squabbles and trouble at school. It charts the loss of innocence of both Scout and her brother Jem as encounters and challenges bring home to them the injustices in the world around them, and through all this Atticus guides them gently but firmly instilling his moral code. Their relationship changes – at the beginning of the book Jem taunts Scout by accusing her of acting like a girl, by the end he is telling her to be more like a girl.
The key polarising event in the tale is Atticus agreeing to defend Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of rape by a white woman, however the main message is broader than the anti-racism theme – it is about being decent and respectful to all whether they are poor, elderly or mentally ill, and having the courage to stand by your convictions.