Summer Reading Challenge: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Originally published by J.B. Lippincott & Co. in 1960
Hardcover and paperback, 300 pages (editions vary)

Full disclosure: I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the Guys Book Club, a group I founded and lead at the Severna Park (Maryland) Library where I work. We have a system in the club of alternating who picks the books each month: they pick one, I pick one. I picked this one, but must give credit to one of our members, Paul S., who suggested it. We discussed the book two days ago.

If for some reason you’ve survived into adulthood (or beyond the 9th grade, which is close enough) and haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird, please stop reading this post and find a copy right now. It makes no difference whether or not you are from the South, whether or not you plan on visiting the South, or any other factor. You can go online and read about the plot of the book, that it’s a coming of age story, a Southern gothic, a story of prejudice, racism, rape, Southern culture, and much more. It’s all of those things, but more importantly…

It’s a story about humanity.

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I originally read the book 40 years ago (yes, as a 9th grader) and while I hadn’t read it since then, I’ve seen the movie at least half a dozen times. Part of the problem in remembering a book or a movie (or both) this popular is in keeping your memories of each version separate. In the case of To Kill a Mockingbird, much of the 1962 film is faithful to the book, creating a seamlessness, but also potentially creating memories of the book or movie that aren’t actually there.

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Many scenes from the book did not make it into the movie, partly due to length issues and party due to things that the producers probably thought could not be shown at the time. Some of those missing elements include:

  • Scout’s point-of-view – The entire novel is from her POV, but the movie (which we see mostly through her eyes) allows for other points of view.
  • Aunt Alexandra, who moves in with the Finch family and gives Scout such a hard time, is absent from the film.
  • Mrs. Dubose’s drug addiction is not mentioned in the film.
  • Miss Maudie’s house does not burn down in the film.
  • Calpurnia does not take the children to her church in the film as she does in the novel.
  • We see Nathan Radley cement the tree hole in the film, something we do not see in the book.

You can find other differences, some big, some practically unnoticeable. (I could’ve sworn a line from the movie – when Jem tells Dill “You tell them about that in Meridian County, Mississippi!” – was in the book, but it’s not.)

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The guys in the book club talked a lot about the book and the film, as I knew they would, but what came up over and over was the character of Atticus Finch and his portrayal by Gregory Peck. I can’t be 100% certain of this, but my theory of why this was such a popular topic at our discussion is two-fold:

  1. Peck’s performance was superb. Not only did he win a Best Actor Oscar for the role, Peck is practically inseparable from the character, even after more than 50 years. If you’ve seen even one still image of him from the film, it’s practically impossible to picture anyone other than Peck as Atticus Finch.
  2. With the publication of the novel Go Set a Watchman (2015) and the controversy surrounding it (You can Google it), I think people want to remember the Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, and not the one from Go Set a Watchman. (Again, investigate further if you’re curious.)

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In rereading To Kill a Mockingbird, I found it a much richer reading experience in my mid-50s than I did as a teenager, which should not be surprising. I also found that while much has changed (not only in the South), much – sadly – has not. We are still dealing with so many of the issues examined in the book. Mockingbirds are still being killed, either aggressively, through collateral damage, or by neglect and indifference. But we still have Scouts and Jems and Dills in our lives, trying to understand and make sense of the madness of this world. And, thankfully, we still have a few examples of Atticus Finch, if you look hard enough. I just wish we had more.

My final question at the end of our book club discussion of the book was, “Does this book give you hope?” The unequivocal answer was “Yes.” I hope the book gives you hope as well.

Sum

This review is part of my participation in the Summer Reading Challenge at Out of the Past: A Classic Film Blog.

Photos: Esquire, Book Riot, Hubpages, The Hollywood Reporter, Film Grimoire

 

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