To Kill A Mockingbird. Harper Lee. 1962.
As I previously mentioned, I have decided to read my way through the BBC’s top 200 books. I love reading and find great pleasure in escaping into a world created by an author. I think reading can broaden our perspective, introduce us to alternate views, stimulate our imagination and nurture our sense of adventure. I love that a story can immerse us in an unknown universe. Sometimes a story will inspire a longing for a distant land worth visiting. Sometimes a story will show us a new side of a place we love. And sometimes, if we are really lucky, a story will transport us to a world that no longer exists.
My first book club selection, To Kill A Mockingbird, takes us to a world that is confined to the history books. Set in the southern United States during the 1930s with the depression in full swing, this book examines issues such as racism, elitism and strict gender roles. It was an era of change and many of the social norms were shifting but not without significant growing pains. What I found interesting was that this world just simply no longer exists. Characteristics of the time and place can be seen of course but the dynamics of this particular time in American history is just that, history.
When starting this book, I had no expectations in terms of the content as I had never read a synopsis of the plot or seen the contemporary movie. I had however often heard the names Atticus Finch and Boo Radley and believed that in these characters lay some great significance. Thus my expectation was that this much discussed American classic would surely impart upon me some profound wisdom. I expected that it would open my eyes, change my views, cause me question reality. I guess those are some fairly lofty goals and unfortunately I didn’t really feel that it presented me with a unique story.
Then I realized that this book had been published in 1962, a time when these themes would have been much more a part of American life and that Lee’s critical presentation was likely quiet shocking. I came to understand that my relationship to this story was one of a voyeur not as a participant. I am not American. I am not a minority nor have I lived in an area with outright racism. I am not faced with blatant sexism. In all, I have a limited personal experience with the struggles faced and while I can sympathize with the characters, I cannot empathize with their true emotions.
The lesson that I take away from this book is simple. I am incredibly lucky to be born in Canada in this era when a young, white woman has every door open to her. I hope that I can make the best of the advantages that I have been given because as Miss Maudie so aptly put it “there but for the Lord’s kindness am I“.