Book Club: To Kill A Mockingbird

My daughter’s eighth grade English class has been reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and it is the April selection for the Bodacious Bloggity Book Club hosted by Marathon Bird.

I hoped reading it together would prompt conversation with her. Even though my daughter is now my height and the story brought us into the same frame of reference, we were still looking through the window of those words from our own places. She is experiencing this story for the first time. I am relearning and refining.

The first time I read To Kill A Mockingbird is the first time I understood the power of perspective. In the concluding scene the main character, a young girl named Scout, recognizes her change of perspective:

Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.

I occasionally stand on my neighbor’s front porch to try this exercise. That change of perspective certainly reveals the weaknesses and uncovers the strengths of my own home.

Now, I am reading this book again with parent eyes, with added experience and adult-like assumptions.I am not nearly as fresh. And neither is my perspective.

But only in this place could I discover something new.

Harper Lee’s did not choose Scout to tell the story of misunderstood Arthur “Boo” Radley and maligned Tom Robinson so that younger readers in high school literature discussions could relate to her.

Instead, I believe Lee gave us this story through the young eyes of Scout to replace our tired adult perspectives. In this way, she could strip the prejudice of experience and offer the opportunity to relearn like a child.

Scout’s childhood perceptions aren’t innocent. In fact, as her brother Jem said, it was when they were trying to get their reclusive neighbor, Boo, to come out of his house that this story of overcoming prejudice begins. They think he is quirky and weird, and he is.

But Scout and Jem have to go through the miserable punishment of reading to Mrs Dubose every day for ruining her shrubs and the horrific racial injustices in their community before they prepared to meet and accept the real Boo Radley.

I want to parent like Atticus. He seems like the kind of father that teaches by example rather than always trying to teach with his mouth. For example, in the process of guiding Jem through his punishment with Mrs. Dubose he shows his children how to love someone who is hard to like. Atticus overlooks her flaws and discovers what is majestic about her—her bravery to overcome an addiction.

I teach with my mouth because I like words. As a family we recently watched the movie Amazing Grace (read my review of that here). When my daughter and I considered the impact of that movie on reading this book and what our own prejudices might be against African Americans, it was she who taught me. She said, “It was like when slavery ended, it didn’t end.”

Ironically, it is in the dim light of Jem’s room when Scout finally meets Boo and comes to her own understanding.

They were white hands that had never seen the sun, so white they stood out garishly against the dull cream wall in the dim light of Jem’s room. His face was as white as his hands.

It took her describing him as the individual he really was, not just a creation in her mind for her to see him and know who he is. Later she says,

I wondered why Atticus was inviting us to the front porch instead of the living room, then I understood. The living room lights were awfully strong.

Boo is sensitive to light. This brings this story to a symbolic conclusion for me. While light makes it possible for us to see, being sensitive to that light helps us to not only see but to perceive slight attitudes, feeling and circumstances of others.


  1. Aranne
    Apr 25, 2008

    Wow… I never even thought about the sensitivity to light and all of that. Maybe that is because I am out in the sun all of the time and it doesn’t bother me one bit, but that is a very good point. The more that you avoid it the more you become sensitive to it.

    You can take that to other areas too, The more that you avoid people and their problems… the more you become sensitive to them or “affected” by them, therefore avoiding them all together as well… Hummmmm..

  2. Holly
    Apr 25, 2008

    What good thoughts! What you said about perspective is very true. A small shift can sometimes make a big difference. Good description of Ms. Lee trying to replace our tired adult perspectives. I didn’t really think about why she told the story around Scout, but that makes sense. I also like what you said about relearning with your daughter and each relating to the story in a different way. Glad y’all could do this together.

    Atticus was such a fine role model with his actions and his words.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your review! Thanks for joining in the BBBC. I’ll post about the next selection soon.

  3. Lacie
    Apr 26, 2008

    I loved your perspective on the book. I think I am going to have to write down my ideas as soon as I finish so that I get the full feeling down before I move on to another book.

    I do think Atticus was a wonderful lead by example dad. He loved his children and those around him, however he was also able to feel his emotions while keeping them under control to do what neede to be done. He was always able to see the whole picture.

    Thanks for the “light” discussion!

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