To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In the tired old Alabama town of Maycomb in the 1930s a six year old tomboyish girl called Scout Finch, her brother Jem and their friend Dill share a common obsession with getting their reclusive neighbour Boo Radley to come out of his house. Over the course of several years we see the darker side of life in the town through Scout's eyes. The grinding poverty, the children who only show up for the first day of school and are then never seen again, and the endemic racism that seems to be an accepted fact of life. It is only when Scout's father, the widower Atticus Finch, a respected lawyer who takes on the hopeless case of the defence of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of the rape of a white woman, that Scout begins to understand the harsh realities of life in the deep south of America.
I came to this book with no preconceptions, other than the barest outline of the story, and found a great deal to consider. The casual and accepted racism of that time and place are deeply shocking, and one of the most telling scenes in the book is the teacher who proudly tells the children that the Nazi Germany is a dictatorship which is why the Jews are oppressed whereas America is a democracy where all men are created equal, seemingly blind to the injustice in her own town. The book concludes that all men are not created equal - not the women who are prohibited from serving on juries, not the poor white trash who scrape a living by picking from the town dump and certainly not the black people whose word is effectively worthless against the word of a white man. It is only through the actions of decent folk like Atticus who are prepared to take a stand that things will start - slowly - to change.
A genuine American classic, that you really should read if you haven't already done so.
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