Scout Finch is a precocious six-year-old from rural Maycomb County, Alabama. Her father, Atticus, enjoys a quiet life as a successful lawyer in the 1930s, but the family’s lives are turned upside down when Atticus takes on an unpopular case. Tom Robinson is a black man accused of raping a white woman, and the entire town seems to have judged his guilt in advance of the actual trial. Despite Atticus’ heroic efforts in the courtroom, it’s apparent that the residents of Maycomb just aren’t ready to take the word of a black man over that of his white accusers, even when there’s no hard evidence of Tom’s guilt.
Yes, there are several mature subjects in this book, such as sexual assault, mob violence and racial epithets. It is not overly graphic, however, and I feel that Ms. Lee did her best to paint an honest picture of the attitudes that were common during this time. Given that the book was probably aimed at adult readers, I thought it was extremely interesting that this book was narrated by a six-year-old girl. The perspective of a youthful outsider allows us to get a great look at the emotions involved in this scandalous crime, as well as the biases that were inherent in the judicial system of that era.
One final reason to like this book (or if you’re like me, to LOVE it!) is the fact that it was Ms. Lee’s only novel. Also, despite the fact that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the best-selling books of the past fifty years, Ms. Lee refuses to do any personal publicity! She still lives in Monroeville, Alabama, the town where she was born, and maintains a very private lifestyle. By refusing to comment the inspiration for her novel or the hidden meanings of certain parts, it’s almost as if she’s choosing to let her book speak for itself. I think her taking a stand like that is incredibly cool, since it’s exactly what writing is all about! Even long after you’ve passed away, the words you’ve written will still be there to live on.