When it comes to dealing with the theme of racial discrimination in novels using the coming-of-age technique seems very prominent, just think of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This novel shares that similarity yet produces a much deeper effect then those novels managed. Let me break down why I think this is and ascertain to you why this novel is my Top 10.
Firstly, it’s written through the eyes of Scout Finch, a six year old white girl who comes from a relatively prominent family in the Deep South. The whole first half of the novel is really just an entertaining build up for the reader, as we learn with the narrator important attitudes towards race and class in the 1930s. Straight from the get-go we get the impression that the Finch family’s perspectives are quite different from the rest of the folks. For example when Scout gets angry with Walter Cunningham for getting her into trouble she believes the way to solve their conflict is by “rubbing his nose in the dirt” (25) but Jem, her older brother, tells her to “let him go” and rather teaches her see things through his perspectives instead of being blinded by her own prejudices.
Scout it also taught to think for herself and just follow the trends that others set out. When her father becomes the prosecutor for a black man accused of raping a white woman, most of the town turns against him and even go so far as calling him “[negro] lover” (120) [the real text is much more derogative so I had to replace the first term]. Scout is appalled, confused and even a bit angry with her father for rejecting the hard-line practices of the era. She is to learn that every many should be given an equal opportunity and that justice/truth should be unbiased and not dependent on race.
This highlights another crucial part of the story. The idea that we learn about all sorts of different people, regardless of race, and how they live. Cleverly, Harper Lee illustrates that race is not important when it comes to truth or righteousness. The message seems simple, but when this novel came out the issues of racism and equal rights were being contested around the US. This was the time of Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Park and Huey P. Newton.
Verdict: A wonderfully written, rich novel about a conscience of a town steeped in prejudice and hypocrisy, all written through the eyes of a child. I literally cannot find a wrong with this book. It’s got a variety of wild characters, an entertaining plot and powerful messages. If you haven’t already, pick it up and give it a read, you will not regret it.