Sunday, June 21, 2015

Book Review - "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

Many years ago I saw and loved the film adaptation starring Gregory Peck, but I never got to reading the book until a couple of weeks ago. Peck's impeccable portrayal of Atticus Finch has always stuck in my head. As I was reading the book, many scenes of that film kept coming back, but I already forgot how the story ends.

The story still moves me deeply, as the themes of human compassion, parenting, friendship, racial prejudices and class discrimination are evocatively explored. The voice of the narrator as a nine-year-old girl makes the story all the more endearing.

These quotes of Atticus's impress me most:

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

"They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions. But before I can live with other folks, I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

Perhaps this passage is the most striking in the whole book for its piercing poignancy:

"Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed."

However, what really gets to me is the ending, which was disquieting enough to make me take away one star. Heck Tate's (the sheriff's) decision to falsify Bob Ewell's cause of death in order to protect Boo (Arthur) Radley from being charged is obviously based on a flawed reasoning. But Atticus's ultimate acquiescence to it seems to overturn the very principles of honesty that he has been fighting so hard to uphold, both as a lawyer and as a parent. To me, this is a disappointing ending to an otherwise brilliant novel.


Old China Books said...

Hi Alice,

I have always thought that Sheriff Tate chose to "let the dead bury the dead" because he understood that if people learned that Boo had saved the children's lives (like the mockingbird's song) they would break into the Radley's reclusive existence with reporters, politicians, awards, medals, media hype, and angel food cakes. Tate thought that dragging Boo "with his shy ways into the limelight" would be a sin after Boo had prevented a terrible crime from happening (killing the mockingbird that sings its heart out for you). Atticus acquiesced because in this case justice was more important. His daughter understood this better than he did - that charging Boo would be like killing the mockingbird.

Law is not always right, and neither is justice always served well by the law. It's a conflict that has been with us all forever, and will not go away, and one that has to be relished by writers of fiction - so many riveting stories arise out of that conflict. Non-fiction, too, as in 地產霸權.

Best regards,
James Lande

Alice Poon said...

Hi James,

I'm so sorry for this late reply, as somehow I didn't get notification of your comment.

The point you made is certainly valid and I do understand it. What's nagging me is that Atticus, as a devout rights-defending lawyer, seems to be having double standards by his acquiescence to the Sheriff's action. One life was taken, however unworthy a life it was - Bob Ewell had rights too, albeit being a crook all his life. If Atticus sees injustice in the black people often being dealt an unfair hand by a blinkered society, how could he personally obstruct justice by deliberately covering up an obvious legal misconduct - one that can only amount to manslaughter under the mitigating circumstances (Boo could well be tried and acquitted)?