Harper Lee’s way with words caught me up into the story so quickly. She gives Scout such a smoothness and cleverness that I didn’t expect to find. It seems like a whole different game than the books I was comparing it to before I started: The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, and The Pearl. Maybe this is because it’s written by a woman about a woman. It felt fresh and true. Take this line, for example:
“Summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screened porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape…”
I love it!
And the way Lee deals with racism and prejudice and classism and gender and justice and coming of age and living in community—all of it—is just astounding. This book was written 55 years ago but the discourse still feels brave and shocking today. We still need Atticus and Scout around teaching us that folks are just folks and “that there [are] other ways of making people into ghosts.”
This book obviously does a good job dealing with race, and I would encourage everyone to read it in light of current events in the U.S. However, the whole time I was reading it I was frustrated because Lee seems to be furthering oppressive ideas about women even while fighting for the radical idea that black people are people. But looking at the story again, Lee does address sexism. Subtly. Yes, the adult characters in To Kill a Mockingbird perpetuate ideas about women and their roles’ in society that make me want to laugh and scream, interchangeably, but Scout isn’t having any of it. She’s perplexed about why everyone makes such a big deal about the differences between boys and girls. She spends quite a bit of time worryied that some day she will be expected to act like “a lady” and she won’t be able to deliver.
However, one of the most joyous moments of this book for me was when, in the midst of the greatest danger the family encounters, Scout’s aunt—the one who is trying so hard to get Scout to act properly and stop running around with her brother—hands her a pair of overalls to put on instead of a dress. Because when it comes down to it, conforming to gender expectations just isn’t that important.
There are days when I feel like Scout. Days when I don’t think I’ll ever grow up to be a real lady, that I’ll always come up short in one category or another. But that’s okay. I am allowed to choose the overalls over the dress.
I am so looking forward to the release of Harper Lee’s sequel, Go Set a Watchman. I can’t wait to see how Scout has grown up since that autumn.
If you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, what were your thoughts on it? Are you looking forward to the release of the sequel?