To kill a Mockingbird

Shoot all the Blue Jays you want, if you can hit em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird… Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up peoples gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us that’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

-Atticus Finch


The book, ‘To kill a Mockingbird’ is narrated by an eight year old girl, Jean Louise Finch, of her life in Maycomb county, Alabama during 1930s. She is intrigued by her neighbours, class mates, teachers and relatives as she starts her school – just like every child is, including her father, who is a respected Attorney in Alabama. Almost involuntarily, she and her brother start to internalize and mimic their father’s voracious reading habit, develop interest in current affairs and legal principles, which is highly unusual for a child. Most objectionably, they also end up being drawn to the court proceeding involving a black man who is accused of raping a white girl, which interestingly is being defended by her father. And although Jean Louise is too young to understand the nature of the crime, it creates a lasting impact on her character.

The book is authored by Harper Lee. She has borrowed characters and key plot points for this tremendously influential work of fiction from real life experiences. For instance, she herself is portrayed as Jean Louise Finch, her fictional father Atticus Finch is the same as her real father Amasa Coleman Lee – the defence Attorney in the book who happened to be the defence Attorney in the infamous Scottsboro case; which is also similar to the case described in the book.

Perhaps the truthfulness and autobiographical nature of this work of fiction is the reason why this book continues to be one of the most influential books written in American Literature.

A New York Times book review of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Herbert Mitgang in 1960.

Simplified interpretation

The style of her narration is metaphorical. In fact, the title of the book is a metaphor too. The word Mockingbird is used to represent innocence. When it says, “…it is a sin to kill a Mockingbird” it says it is a sin to hurt the innocent. In this fictional context, Mockingbird it is used for black people.

Since the book is based during 1930s the language and perceptions of black people depicted is different from what it is now. Where their innocence is simply disregarded because of the strong prejudice they face at every life stage.

The word prejudice is discussed in depth through Jean Louise’ observation of various people in Maycomb county, which I feel is excellent for character building for the readers.

I have personally observed that the more education, experience and privilege a person acquires, the harder it becomes for them to accept ideas which are not consistent with their beliefs. Most of us educated people often think of ourselves as reasonable with good conscience. But as we grow older often times we lose our ability to carry out an unbiased judgment. This book is a stark example of consequences of such bias on other peoples’ lives and the lasting impact it creates. It is a reminder that no matter what we should never judge a person without stepping in their shoes and trying to understand them first, instead of being guided by blinding bias.

This principle might sound ordinary in isolation, but plays a pivotal role when a person hold a position of power, for instance, a parent, an employer, or a member of jury.

Significance of the book

This book forms an important part of American literature and is prescribed in most American middle schools as an essential read, since there continues to be deep rooted racism in America. It addresses racism during the formative years of American children by helping them learn on how to think and perceive it. I believe, it is a tool for bringing change in society. And I dare say this book will never become outdated even if and when racism does. Because it teaches us how to think simply, like a child, by observing, thinking and questioning things, instead of acceptation popular opinions.

To sum up;

The book starts with this quotation I did not understand at once,

Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.

Charles Lamb

but after finishing my read I revisited it, smiled and told myself that, no matter how happy, sad or angry I become, whenever I have to make a decision or form an opinion, I will approach the situation from the simplistic childlike curiosity and compassion of Jean Louise Finch; and inculcate the moral compass of Atticus Finch.

Thank you for continuing to read Contemporology. If you have read this book please enrich this space by sharing your thoughts on this book. And please help me connect with other enthusiastic readers by joining the mailing list and sharing this blog with other like minded people ❤ Take care

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