As a teenager, I was spared the delight of encountering To Kill a Mockingbird, only hearing it in the context of conversations overheard from other classes as they discussed their reading for English Literature. Whilst half of my year group at school studied it as teenagers, we were left with An Inspector Calls (not my favourite..), so it’s been a treat to enter into a new fictional but thought provoking world when reading it for the first time along with Always Reading Club. It has been a classic that I’ve been wanting to read for a while and finally it made the top of the rather large pile of books!
As with any good book, or classic, it’s not yet left the recesses of my mind, but themes, ideas and characters from it keep popping back up as I traverse my own everyday life. So lifelike and compelling were the people and the story of Scout, Jem and Atticus, I still feel largely absorbed in it and as though their parallel universe must still be continuing on somewhere out there. It was such a good read, and so intersting from the aspects of racial discrimination that it carries too. Atticus, their father is full of nuggets of truth and it’s these along with his steady attitude that I still keep coming back to.
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.
We are familiar with expressions like ‘do unto others..’ and ‘how would you like it if..?’ Which carry a similar sentiment- but coming across the experiences in the world of Maycomb and the difficult trial that the children’s father is entrenched in professionally gave the idea a different ring.
Naturally this quote plays on the idea of the colour of skin which is such a sticking point in the trial and the plot of the book- Atticus and his children are rare in that they are able to relate to those of a different skin colour and empathise with them in this way. It’s got many profound implications when it comes to talking about prejudices and treating others differently because of how they look. But being wrapped up in the childhood world that Scout inhabits in the book and seeing these big issues from her eyes really made me think twice about the way my children see the world and recall my own simple, innocent childhood view of life. It’s no secret that I adore children’s classic books and a lot of that is that it reminds me of the child that I was when I first read them, takes me back to seeing the world at that age. That childish, carefree and playful view of life. Framing the narrative of TKAM through Scout and Jem forces us as readers to see their community, interactions and understanding through children’s eyes. We see Jem mature to Scout’s frustration as he no longer spends as much time with her and puts on knowledgeable airs. We see her passion to defend her father, the way she believes she understands the gravity of the case against Tom Robinson, see her fascination with the mystery of Boo Radley.
Her father Atticus she presents as slightly boring, not capable of much and old through her childish eyes. But Scout discovers more of her father’s values, watches his interactions and gentle nature and also his reactions in situations that may change her perceptions. In the case of walking in others shoes Atticus didn’t lecture, labour the point or even give overt correction, but simply shared his thoughts and let them sit and marinate until Scout came to understand them. I know I can veer towards lengthy explanations instead of dropping wise words when needed and I love how his parenting (although fictional) could nudge me into a different way of thinking too.
I found his presence reassuring- even the way that she would sit in his lap whilst he read the paper spoke volumes of his care for her- and his words loaded with meaning if you let them sit with you a while. I want to remember to be the kind of parent who can just sit and show love, and also empathise with them, walk around in their skin and see what is important to them and understand the way they are seeing the world. I want to be able to say the words that matter, when they matter, and to be quietly confident in being the person I am without feeling societal pressure to do certain things- Atticus certainly didn’t bow down to the pressures of his community even in tricky situations. He quietly and kindly teaches his children about the things that matter, about being kind and respectful, and how to navigate situations with grace and even when that means standing out. Scout could seem to other adults around her to be juvenile in her assessments of the situation she’s seeing unravel- but her words ‘I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.’ remain popular and true for good reason.
And isn’t all of this what makes a book that was originally a children’s book turn into a hallowed classic? The fact that it is still walking with me, sticking in my mind and I wanted to re-read it as soon as I had finished- all great signs. Keep your eyes peeled for some TKAM inspired goodies in the shop soon!