It seems like year after year I see the same books at the top of every student's reading list. What's the big deal with TKAM and why does every teacher insist we read this? Is it that influential to American culture?
Why is To Kill a Mockingbird so influential?
TKAM is quite influential in American culture. For readers of the first edition, it showed them what was possible in American society. Atticus models attitudes and behaviors which were sorely needed by more people in his time. For current readers, TKAM reveals how much opportunity has changed in American society, as well how little some mindsets have been altered. Thus this book deserves to be read, pondered and discussed.
The next time you informally meet a lawyer ask: "What influenced you to study the law?" You will not have to make many inquiries before you repeatedly hear the answer: "Atticus Finch."
I don't know that To Kill a Mockingbird is influential to today's culture, but it is a reminder of our past. The book discusses various topics including racism, social constructs, rape, and murder. The most important part of the book for me, was in the discussion on racism. The father of the main character is a lawyer who attempts to defend a black man accused of rape. While the man is in fact innocent, the racial prejudice wins out in the trial and he is sent to jail. This not only speaks to the brokenness of the court system at the time, but it also speaks to how strong racism was. As such, it is a reminder to future generations to look at everything from an objective point of view and to remove racism. If this needs any further examples, just look at the very recent George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin case.
Another important aspect of the book is Boo Radley, who lives in seclusion but is touted as a "scary man" despite nobody ever having seen him. Radley is yet another reminder not to judge people before getting to know them, especially since he turns out to not only be a good man, but also potentially saves the lives of the two main characters.
It instilled in me (and others) an idea. People should not be judged good or bad, right or wrong, on the basis of race.
Of course, there is more to "To Kill a Mockingbird" than simply an anti-racist message. There is a description of a time that in large part no longer exists. Time has passed. People have grown old and died. In many ways, the book is source reading material. Instead of reading a textbook about race relations prior to the Civil Rights Act, this book gives you a more intimate picture of the tensions between Whites and Blacks living side by side, but not equally, in the South.
Hopefully you are inspired to read the book and come to your own conclusion. Teachers are there to challenge their students to reach a little out of their comfort zone. In the final analysis, it's up to you.
Consider the narrative point of view....Scout. There she is, a young girl, who is expressing the fear, confusion, frustration, and pride she feels with all of the chaos around her. If you approach the novel with an understand and acceptance of the historical time period as well, you might discover a newfound respect for the piece.
To me the answer is very simple, this book tells several universal stories in a way that few others have been able to. It speaks on multiple levels of the loss of innocence, justice (or rather injustice), prejudice, and hope. This book shed light on many of the darker aspects of the human condition and yet, perhaps because it is narrated by a child, it is still hopeful. I do not believe that the theme of racism (which some may believe is outdated) is what keeps TKAM on the top of best book list. I believe is is the hopeful tone in the face of hate that is what makes readers come back to the book time and time again. We all intrinsically want to revisit the innocence of childhood and Harper Lee does a beautiful job of creating a main character that is both innocent and wise.
The book talks about how the white people in the 1930s were prejudice to the black people. Harper Lee has made the book very powerful by giving the reader messages. Lee has also used various themes to make it the story more effective. Finally, Harper Lee has used symbols in the characters of the story making the lesson of the story extremely strong. By giving the reader messages, themes and including symbols in the characters that Harper Lee has made the book very significant.
Firstly, Harper Lee has incorporated messages to the reader making the story much more understandable and inspirational. A clear message that can be learnt from reading 'To kill a mockingbird' is not to judge someone by their differences and respecting them. This message can be seen first in the encounter with Walter Cunningham. "There's some folks that don't eat like us? but you ain't called on to contradict em at the table when they don't." (pg27) This was said by Calpurnia to Scout when she was being rude to Walter. Another example would be towards the end of the novel when Scout was talking about the Grey Ghost book to Atticus. "Atticus, he was real nice. . . ." His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them." (pg 309) Both of this quotes show how Scout is growing up and learning not to judge someone by their differences. Another message in 'To kill a mockingbird' would be that you will not know someone until you really see them. "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view?....
In theory TKAM is supposed to show how people do not think and get the facts. In theory, thinking and being intelligent should be valued.
The trial is the most gripping, and in some ways the most important, dramatic sequence in To Kill a Mockingbird; the testimony and deliberations cover about five chapters with almost no digression. (Additionally, the courtroom scene, with Atticus picking apart the Ewells as the whole town watches, is the most cinematic portion of the narrative, and it is the centerpiece of the 1962 film version of the novel.) Though the trial targets Tom Robinson, in another sense it is Maycomb that is on trial, and while Atticus eventually loses the court case, he successfully reveals the injustice of a stratified society that confines blacks to the “colored balcony” and allows the word of a despicable, ignorant man like Bob Ewell to prevail without question over the word of a man who happens to be black. In the trial conducted in the courtroom, Atticus loses. In the trial conducted in the mind of the reader, it is the white community, wallowing in prejudice and hatred, that loses.
It is fitting that the children end up sitting in the “colored section” of the courthouse, just as it is fitting that Miss Maudie refuses to attend the trial. All three lack the racism that the crowd of white faces in the courtroom propagates. Jem, Scout, and Dill are segregated even from the other children, who have taunted Jem and Scout with cries of “******-lover” in the schoolyard.
That the trial scene creates such an atmosphere of suspense is testimony to the author’s skill, because there is no real suspense; even Atticus knows that the verdict is a foregone conclusion. No matter what evidence is presented at the trial, the racist jury would never, under any circumstances, acquit a black man accused of raping a white woman. The reader knows that Tom Robinson will be found guilty, so Lee locates the tension and suspense elsewhere—in Atticus’s slow but steady dismantling of the prosecution’s case. Jem, still clinging to his youthful illusions about life working according to concepts of fairness, doesn’t understand that his father’s brilliant efforts will be in vain. He believes that the irrefutable implications of the evidence will clinch the case for Atticus. When Jem says, “We’ve got him,” after Bob Ewell is shown to be left-handed, the reader knows better. Atticus, like Mrs. Dubose in her battle with morphine, is “licked” before he begins.
Bob Ewell’s real name is Robert E. Lee Ewell, a moniker that links him with the South’s past and makes him absurd by comparison with his namesake, General Robert E. Lee, who fought valiantly for the Confederacy in the Civil War despite his opposition to slavery. If Robert E. Lee represents the idealized South, then Bob Ewell epitomizes its darker and less respectable side, dominated by thoughtless prejudice, squalor, and meanness. Atticus’s admonition to Scout that she should increase her tolerance by stepping inside other people’s shoes does not apply to Bob Ewell. When Atticus tries to do so later, he only underestimates the depth of this little man’s wickedness. The irony, of course, is that Bob Ewell is completely unimportant; he is an arrogant, lazy, abusive fool, laughed at by his fellow townsfolk. Yet in the racist world of Maycomb, sadly, even he has the power to destroy an innocent man—perhaps the novel’s most tragic example of the threat posed to innocence by evil.
The book has been influential over many generations because its main characters, even though they may deny it, harbor subconscious thoughts of racism. From several viewpoints, we see the emotional damage that has occurred from years of institutional discrimination: no one is exempt from the influence of hatred. The children of this small town, so innocent with their questions, are the hope for the future. Even though it is a tragic story of deception and bias, in the end it holds a hopeful tone.
Debbie P., Oregon
To Kill a Mockingbird is and always will be part of the English syllabus at some point in a student's high school career. Not only is it important to read so that the ignorance and prejudice during the time in which the book is set, but novels like this help insure history doesn't repeat itself. This work influences people to educate themselves on the horrors of our countries past and it puts it out there in such a way that students can relate to the characters and don't even realize the depth of the lesson they wind learning by the end of the book. The lesson is learned; but the beauty is that it is taught effortlessly so students don't feel like they are having just boring facts shoved down their throat. They are so busy creating an understanding of the characters and SUB plot that the historical information is learned almost second-hand and without even realizing it's happening. For an author to have the gift of writing in such a way that the outcome is so much more than just reading a book-simply magical-influential doesn't define the credit this book deserves.