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To Kill a Mockingbird

A Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee published in 1960

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To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  • Aug 24, 2009
 It seems a little superfluous to review a novel that is the most common book read by high school students in the United States (I read it for the first time when I was in the 9th grade), but since it’s among my top 10 favorite books of all time I can’t resist. “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published in 1960 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. It is Harper Lee’s only published novel, but it has sold more than 30 million copies and been translated into 40 different languages. Starting in 1964, Ms. Lee began declining interviews and has not talked with reporters about the book since. The story is loosely based on Lee’s observations of family and neighbors in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama in the 1930’s.
The book is narrated by 8-year-old Scout, daughter of widowed lawyer Atticus Finch. It recounts Scout’s adventures with her older brother Jem and another boy named Dill who visits his aunt in the town during summers (Dill is based on Truman Capote, a close friend of Lee’s). The kids are simultaneously fascinated by and terrified of a recluse named “Boo” Radley, a grown man who never seems to leave his house for obscure reasons. During the course of the story, Atticus defends a black man named Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman (Mayella Ewell). Despite strong evidence of his innocence, Robinson is convicted by the jury. Near the end of the book, the mysterious “Boo” Radley steps in and saves Scout and Jem from a late night murderous attack by Bob Ewell (Mayella’s father), who is outraged that Atticus defended a black man.
The book can be seen as a “coming of age” novel with respect to Scout. Some have criticized the narrative voice as being far too sophisticated for an 8-year old child. Although this criticism seems justified, others have viewed the narrative voice more as that of a grown woman reflecting on her childhood. The novel’s main themes are racial injustice, the importance of human dignity and tolerance of differences, and the loss of innocence. Children are not born prejudiced; prejudice is learned from adults. Another criticism of the book is the way African Americans are portrayed. It is instructive however to consider the setting. The book describes events in the deep South during the 1930’s. For realism, language should reflect the times. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain has been similarly criticized (and unjustly in my opinion).
Early on in the book, Atticus emphasizes to Scout the importance of seeing things from the perspective of others:
 “First of all,” he said, “if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. 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.”
Concerned that some of townspeople will try and take the law into their own hands, Atticus sits outside of the jail one evening watching over Tom. Jem, Scout, and Dill arrive on the scene just as four cars pull up and several men get out. Scout breaks away from Jem’s grip and runs over to Atticus; she doesn’t understand what is going on. Scout notices Mr. Walter Cunningham, whose son Walter Jr is in her class at school. She strikes up an innocent conversation with him and asks after Walter. Mr. Cunningham responds:
“I’ll tell him you said hey, little lady,” he said.
Then he straightened up and waved a big paw. “Let’s clear out,” he called. “Let’s get going, boys.”
Later, Atticus reflects on the amazing fact that a child was able to effortlessly defuse a potentially dangerous situation:
“So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ‘em to their senses, didn’t it?” said Atticus. “That proves something – that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children … you children last night made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough.”
The novel could be a manual for diversity training. Although a minor scene, one of my favorite parts of the book is when Calpurnia (the African American housekeeper for the Finches) brings Jem and Scout to church with her and the reception is decidedly cold:
Lula stopped, but she said, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here – they got their church, we got our’n. It is our church, ain’t it, Miss Cal?”
Calpurnia said, “It’s the same God, ain’t it?”
The scene shows that intolerance is blind to color. Not only are the white people of the town prejudiced against the blacks. The black townspeople also are not very tolerant of the whites.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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review by . March 09, 2011
Harper Lee's masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird revolves around the childhood of Scout and Jem Finch. Scout recalls the most important events of her life in those years: the quiet dignity of her father Atticus, her adventures with Jem and her friend Dill to sneak a peek at Boo Radley, and most of all the trial of Tom Robinson. Atticus must defend the innocent black man from charges of raping a white woman in the Alabama of the 1930's. In one summer, she grows up.    This novel …
review by . June 23, 2010
Harper Lee's novel is an iconic read that you will remember vividly from the day you read it. Set in the South where racism and prejudices still run rampant, the novel mainly focuses on Scout and Boo Radley, characters you are not likely to forget anytime soon. Scout, a rascally young girl, and Boo, her reclusive and mysterious neighbor, force the reader to reexamine their instant reactions and judgments of those they meet.      I first read this book as a high schooler …
review by . June 15, 2010
I was one of very few students in school who loved reading this as an assignment (though truthfully, I liked reading pretty much anything), this is the sort of book you can read over and over again. This book is interesting in that it covered a well addressed topic (racism) in a not so typical way. It really addressed all facets of what it meant to be white AND black in the South during a time when the legal system wasn't fair to blacks.      Reading this the first time …
Quick Tip by . April 12, 2011
While a bit on the plodding side, an important and inspiring read about one man's fight against racism.
review by . June 05, 2010
When I first read To Kill A Mockingbird, I was quite young and lived in the South in a town much like the one in the novel.  Albeit many years later, there was still the same feeling and still the same racism.  What Lee did was hit the very core of many small Southern towns, and in rereading the book a couple of years ago, it still resounds with me.      I also find it interesting that Harper Lee never really wrote another book.  Oh yes, she helped her friend, …
review by . July 21, 2010
I remember having to read this book for the first time my freshman year of high school in english class and being so moved by the story and even today, ten years later, it still stirs up so much emotion for me. Harper Lee's book, To Kill A Mockingbird, is a classic tale that is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago when it was published.  We would like to believe that so much has changed since then and that racial strife has disappeared, but sadly that is still not the case …
review by . June 14, 2010
Although most of us read Harper Lee's classic in high school, this is a must re-read as an adult.There is a reason that this book is extremely popular Lee's writing is so real and exact, it makes the characters come to life. To Kill a Mockingbird is such a quotable book. You will find yourself, once well versed in the story, quoting Atticus Finch along with Scout and others. "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside …
review by . June 10, 2010
If I had to choose five books to take to a desert island, this would be one of the five. One never tires of the story, the characters, and the lessons learned. It was written at the height of civil unrest and eloquently illustrates the need for reform between whites and African Americans. TKM is a story told through the eyes of a young girl living in the south with her father, brother, negro housekeeper, and for awhile, a difficult aunt. The girl in question is named Scout, her father Atticus …
Quick Tip by . December 29, 2010
Written a scant three years before Martin Luther King awed the world with his magnificent "I have a dream" speech, Harper Lee also stunned the world with this poignant story centered on the unconscionable treatment accorded to the black man in USA's Deep South.
Quick Tip by . December 29, 2010
A brilliant and moving novel that will never be forgotten regardless of how many years go by. Beautifully written by a sensitive and observant writer. Perhaps the finest novel about childhood written by someone not named Twain or Joyce.
About the reviewer
Steve DiBartola ()
Ranked #152
I was invited to join Lunch by one of the developers, who apparently read some reviews I posted on Library Thing. My interests are books, music, and movies. I enjoy both classical and contemporary fiction, … more
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About this book


The novel is renowned for its warmth and humor, despite dealing with the serious issues of rape and racial inequality. The narrator's father, Atticus Finch, has served as a moral hero for many readers, and a model of integrity for lawyers. One critic explained the novel's impact by writing, " in the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism."

The primary themes of To Kill a Mockingbird involve racial injustice and the destruction of innocence, but scholars have also noted that Lee addresses the issues of class tensions, courage and compassion, and gender roles in the American Deep South. The book is widely taught in schools in English-speaking countries with lessons that emphasize tolerance and decry prejudice. Despite its themes, To Kill a Mockingbird has been the target of various campaigns to have it removed from public classrooms. Often the book is challenged for its use of racial epithets, and writers have noticed that although white readers react favorably to the novel, black readers tend to respond less positively.

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Books, Book, Cafe Libri, Fiction, Literature, Classic, Race Relations, Prejudice, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee


ISBN-13: 978-0791075616
Author: Harper Lee
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: J. B. Lippincott & Co.
Date Published: July 11, 1960
Polls with this book
1984 (British first edition)



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