I think if I had my way, I would have wanted to meet Harper Lee, and I’d have arranged for our rendezvous at an ornithologist’s tavern. It would have to be fantasy playing out for me as I was amidst the melodious cacophony of the birds, while listening intently to Ms. Lee’s rendition of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It has been years since I’ve read the book, but there’s something about Scout that’s so comforting, as if to me, she was a second cousin twice removed, yet somehow close. I re-read this stunning piece of fiction recently, but this time for Atticus- the apostle of moral and legal righteousness, who continues to stand as a hallmark for lawyers even today. More than a book, it’s been a code that has been practised across the world- bringing a delicate balance in the otherwise black and white of our everyday.
The winner of this story has never been the plot, but the storytelling. A straitjacket story of a widowed white lawyer, known for his love of the law and the deliverance of justice rears his two children, whom he adores to no end. Every page is a subtle epithet of the racial struggle in the 1930s, and its impact on a small town called Maycomb County. Scout and Jem Finch, children gifted with a thirst for knowledge and bravado, along with an innate inquisitiveness. Despite feeling comfortable in their humdrum, they do nothing to surprise you as children of their age given the stage the story was set in. When a coloured man (Tom Robinson) is charged with the rape of a white girl, Atticus takes up his case, upon Judge Taylor’s suggestion. What happens subsequently is a string of incidents that make you question your faiths, perceptions, and notions. “Our courts are the great levellers” is a standing testimony to the unshakeable faith that a common man can rest on the system of justice, ensuring an unbiased and fair (another play on the racial discrimination that the “coloured” have been exposed to) treatment. Statements such as these transcend barriers of time, proving their significance and relevance to our contemporary lives. If I had to pin down on an ‘intended surprise’, it would perhaps have to be Boo Radley- the mysterious character who keeps getting uncomfortably mystical throughout the plot. From the beginning to the conclusion, his appearances are sporadic and indeterminable, until a revelation grows on the reader towards the climax, creating a sudden and indistinct sense of awe and respect for him.
As I had mentioned earlier, this is a story that doesn’t evoke strong feelings that would lead you straight to a Court of Law or spur you to fight for your rights. This is a story that feels like a 6-year old playing hopscotch, while bearing witness to a grave injustice playing out in front of her. A wide-eyed despondent feeling, coupled with an anxiety to tell somebody of what happened. Over the course of time, the helpless feeling is often washed over by an insignificant memory of childhood and replaced by a moderate understanding of what life is all about. Despite our growth, sometimes questions are posed at us just to prove a point- having been instrumental in shaping us and bringing us to who and what we are now. This is not a story of reinless action, but of profound acceptance- a way of life that can never be taught, only read.