Coming of Age
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."
- "To Kill a Mockingbird" (1960)
To understand how significant "To Kill a Mockingbird" is, one must take note that this is Harper Lee's first novel. It also turns out to be her only novel, but many writers will envy her place. Not only was the book an instant bestseller, but it also earned Lee, a native of Monroeville, Alabama, a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a year after the book's publication. More accolades came Lee's way, including a poll by the Library Journal, where the book was voted the Best Novel of the (20th) Century. For Lee, all of these seemed like a fairy tale.
"I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected," she said.
Harper Lee will turn 88 on April 26. It had been more than five decades since the novel's release. "To Kill a Mockingbird" still resonates, even significant in modern times.
Set in Maycomb, Alabama, the novel is a coming-of-age tale of Scout, a six-year-old girl who lives with her father. He's Atticus Finch, whom literary afficionados fondly remember. He's a small-time lawyer in a small town. Then came the case of Tom Robinson, a black man charged of dishonoring Mayella Ewell, a white woman. Judge Taylor would appoint Finch as Robinson's lawyer, something that would make an impact on Scout.
Discerning readers would figure out that the novel was semi-autobiographical. Maycomb may be a fictional town, but it was no different from Monroeville. Scout was depicted as tomboyish, which was how Lee's early years could be described in one word. The events happened during the Great Depression, in the Deep South. Racism exists, but not in the Finch household. Scout and Jem, her older brother, don't have a mother, but there was Calpurnia, a black housekeeper, whom the author depicted as a stepmother to the children. But that was shown in two chapters only, as Cal, as Scout fondly called her, was aware of her place. (In the presence of Finch's friends and neighbors, she was just a housekeeper.)
What is remarkable about "To Kill a Mockingbird" is the insight of a six-year-old girl on topics that are considered taboo for her age. But events forced her to be perceptive. She may not have grasp the significance of the happenings in its entirety, but she guessed it quite right. If not for her old man, just and wise, the kind of father whom every daughter - and son - can be proud of.