Monday, July 27, 2009

To Kill A Mocking Bird - Harper Lee



Another award winning book. It won the Pulitzer Prize.

I picked it up at the book exhibition in palace grounds in Nov/Dec 2008.

I will say it s a good book.
“Published in 1960, the story is loosely based on the author's observations of her family and neighbours, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.”

Set in Maycomb County, Southern Alabama, USA, the story is narrated by Scout Finch, who observed, absorbed and reacted to the events and happenings in her town.

The narrator is one among the characters of the story and a child and therefore, it is the world of a young girl, her town, her experiences, her people as seen through her eyes and of matters that mattered to her.
Although the blurb will tell you the book is about racism in America, it is not entirely true. Only a third of the book deals with racism, but for most part, it is about the six year old Scout, her brother Jem, her friend Dill, her guardian Calpurnia and her father Atticus Finch.

...Of what happened in school, of what they did in their afternoons, of how they sneaked into the formidable and eerie neighbourhood which housed a weird, mysterious Boo Radley whom they so yearned a glimpse of... Of the hole in the tree trunk where they discovered during their walks, little objects and curios left for them by someone they did not know… of their father Atticus who was their hero, of the special relationship they shared with him...

For the most part, the story sails casually, leisurely and unhurriedly through the lives of these children. Towards the end, the mockingbird of the story, Tom Robinson, makes an entry. Without much effort, the book succeeds in emphasizing the pitiable position of Tom Robinson, a Negro accused of raping a white woman.

Atticus Finch, a lawyer by profession decides to defend the Negro’s case much to the disgust and resentment of the town folks. The ensuing court case, as explained by Scout is a simple affair and yet riveting.

The sketching of the character of Atticus has done justice to the conception of the character.
The other characters like Jem, Dill and Scout (narrator) have also been well sketched. It is a book written with sincerity.

There was one thing I did not like – the language – full of colloquial and slang and very American. I hated it. I had to refer the dictionary too often – it was a criminal waste of time in this case as I don’t intent to include any of those words into my vocabulary. I understand that it was only warranted as the story is set in America, but the knowledge of the fact did not improve my reading experience by as much as an iota.

There were many lines I underlined with my pencil as I read. They appealed to me. Don’t ask me why…

Describing the hot season...
Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning; ladies bathed before noon, after their 3 o’ clock snaps and by nightfall were like soft tea cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum

I never loved to read. One does not love breathing. Reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around, or achieving 2 bows from a snarl of shoelaces.
I particular like the phrase “a snarl of shoelaces”

The Dewey Decimal System consisted, in part, of Miss Caroline waving cards at us on which were printed ‘cat’, ‘rat’, ‘man’ and ‘you’. No comment seemed to be expected of us, and the class received these impressionistic revelations in silence.
The humour in the last sentence :-)

Some more humour

…Nothing is real scary except in books…
…In Maycomb county, it was easy to tell when someone bathed regularly as opposed to yearly lavations…
…This was a group of white shirted, khaki trousered, suspended old men who had spent their lives doing nothing and passed their twilight days doing the same on pine benches under live oaks…

He seemed to be working himself into a bad humour, so I kept my distance…

Mr. Avery said that when children disobeyed parents, smoked cigarettes and made war on each other, the seasons would change. Jem and I were burdened with the guilt of contributing to the aberrations of nature thereby causing unhappiness to our neighbours and discomfort to ourselves…
Innocence :-)

Shoot all the bluejays you want if you can hit them, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird…

Did you know?
Widow's walk - a platform or walk atop a roof, as on certain coastal New England houses of the 18th and early 19th centuries: often used as a lookout for incoming ships.

What the Sam hill was he doing?
It means what the hell was he doing?

Most folks seem to think you are wrong …
Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that does not abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience…

…He was standing behind the pulpit, staring the congregation to silence…

…There was indeed a caste system in Maycomb, but to my mind, it worked this way: the older citizens, the present generation of people who had lived side-by-side for years and years, were utterly predictable to one another: they took for granted, attitudes, character shading, even gestures, as having been repeated in each generation and refined by time. Thus the dicta No Crawford minds his own business, Every third Merriwater is morbid, The truth is not in the Delafields, all the Bufords walk like that,... were simple guides to daily living; Miss Maudie Atkinson’s shoulder stoops because she was a Buford…

He preferred his own twilight world, a world where babies slept, waiting to be gathered like morning lilies. He was slowly talking himself to sleep and taking me with him, but in the quietness of his foggy island, there rose the faded image of a grey house and sad brown doors...

…The judge kept his eyes on him as if daring him to make a false move…

…Never on cross examination, ask a witness a question you don’t already know the answer to…do it and you will often get an answer you don’t want, an answer that might wreck your case. ..

…He took delight in corrupting child…

…Lost in fruity metaphors and florid diction…

…Peculiarities indigenous to that region…

…Greek revival columns clashed with a big 19th century clock tower housing a rusty unreliable instrument, a view indicating a people determined to preserve every physical scrap of the past…

…Decaying record books mingled with old damp cement and stale urine…It was necessary to turn on the lights during daytime. There was always a film of dust on the rough floorboards. The inhabitants of these offices were creatures of their environment: little grey faced men, they seemed untouched by wind or sun…

…If enough people, a stadium full may be – were to concentrate on one thing, such as setting the tree afire in the woods, the tree would ignite of its own accord. I toyed with the idea of asking everyone to concentrate on setting Tom Robinson free…


2 comments:

Nitish Ratnam said...

I had read this book a few years back and I couldn't help but think about the enormous evolution in the mindset of the American people through the ages. Through the days of slavery, to their civil war, to Martin Luther King's movement in the 1960's and into the present day. They are a relatively young nation compared to us but no matter what their shortcomings have been, one should appreciate the massive strides in their mind shift regarding racism. I wish I could say the same thing about my country. But things haven't changed much over the past few thousand years. As they say, old habits die hard! :-)

Sowmya said...

Welcome back Nitish.

You will call me too proud an Indian but I will have to say that frequent and quick changes are also an indication to the fact that their policies, theories and practises are short sighted and therefore only need to change often. And when you dont have roots, changes happen even more easily.

Our practises, beliefs and traditions on the other hand are time tested and the fact that they have survived for song long should tell us that they were founded on the best of intentions unlike those in the so called progressive western countries where every policy (especially foreign) is rooted in vested interest and ulterior motive.

Even the caste system that people love to condemn was so much better than mass slavery that prvailed in the contemporaneous races of the west.

But I agree with you. We are a tenacious people and cannot easily let go even when we should.