The Mockingbird Lives On
“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
-Scout Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I summoned myself to read To Kill A Mockingbird when I was 14. I had been an avid reader all the time, before I could realise I was one. Unlike many others, I never spent my childhood reading Sherlock Holmes or Enid Blyton. I read anything and everything I could lay my hands on, sometimes even adult fiction. And when it dawned on me how essential reading was to me- that without it I felt my intellectual capacities wearing away, that without it time stuck like a gluey, curdled liquid and refused to flow, that without it life was insipid- I began to grow as a reader. I decided to push away the boundaries drawn around me, I tried to experiment a little with different genres, tried to read authors that had changed the lives of other aspiring authors, the books that were the talk of the century. The book had been gathering dust on my bookshelf since a couple of years. So, when I read that To Kill a Mockingbird had topped the list of ‘Books to Read Before You Die’ (and, of course, 2012 was just round the corner), I decided to dig into the treasure on my bookshelf that I had been oblivious to for so long. Somewhere amidst this, you could have found me in the school library concentrating hard to read Harper Lee’s only novel.
I had never read anything like Lee’s writing before. Her words came and hit me hard- yet there was softness, humour and innocence in the narrative of the eight year-old tomboyish daughter of upright lawyer, Atticus Finch, living in the Deep South in the 30s. Would you scorn at me if I confessed that I struggled with the first fifty pages? It was as if I were dealing with a revelation, a veil had been lifted off my eyes- that a great work of literature was finally acquainting itself with me. I could identify with the narrator’s voice- “Scout” Finch, a voracious reader, non-conformist in her own way, dealing with a sudden confrontation with the hypocrisy and double-standards of the adult world. A little girl she is, but her determination can put many a literary heroines at shame.
Come to think of it, merely two years have passed. Yet, as the novel turned 50 and I turned 16, I discovered it in a wholly new light. And I finally found a novel I could read for a second time without the ennui of repetition. If I could say more eloquently, I bumped into an old friend on my way after many months and realised that the passage of time has just made us happier to see each other.
As I write, the temptation of reading it again entices me. Why not? There couldn’t be a better way to end the year. I can remember how I convinced my mother to buy it to me four years ago. “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird– a lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this enchanting classic- a black man charged with the rape of a white girl”, I read the blurb out to her as she nodded in approval. There’s an overwhelming nostalgia, a mysticalness about my journey with To Kill the Mockingbird.
Whenever I look at the edition I own (a black paperback with a simple sketch of a mockingbird), I see three curious children- Jem, Scout and Dill- trying to find out a way to befriend their mysterious neighbour “Boo” Radley. There’s a loving father who doesn’t feel reluctant to answer his daughter’s question on rape (When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness’ sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ’em.). I see Tom Robinson, an innocent black victimised by a prejudiced society.
So, what’s so special about a novel turning half a century old? Some works are remembered and cherished as they age, others simply wither away. Age is what distinguishes most books that make a difference to people’s lives, books that affirm how powerful words can change the course of history or record it. To Kill A Mockingbird has been on the shelves for 50 years and has sold over 30 million copies. It has become a spellbinding legacy passed on from one generation to the other. It has stood the test of time- the greatest asset to a work and the biggest satisfaction to an anxious artist.