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Friday, August 18, 2006

To Kill A Mockingbird

The third book I managed to read during my vacation was Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird. This one of the 'must-reads' of American literature I hadn't read yet (there a others, but trust me their numbers are dwindling :d) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Quite simple, a very good book. Harper Lee seems to be one of those JD Salinger type authors who pop up for one amazing book and then vanish from the public scene again.

The story is one of a young girl and her brother growing up with their father alone in a small Southern town. While sampling many aspects in the novel, the authors most important strain is the trial of a black man accused of raping a white woman (THE perpetual fear of Southerners most likely brought about by the fact that white men had been raping black women for centuries by then, no, I guess I'm just kidding). The father is his attorney and tries to defend this hard-working upright citizen against the charges brought against him by a family residing on the lowest rung of the social ladder. The narrator is an 8-year old girl (the American obsession with young narrators is really quite intriguing btw, Catcher In The Rye, Huckleberry Finn...) telling the story out of her naive point of view.

Again, a really good book, I ate it up, finishing it in a day and a half (or something like that). I recommend it to anyone. One point of criticism does apply though. This is of a very similar nature to the attacks launched on Uncle Tom's Cabin and others later (like, again, Huckleberry Finn). While it is obvious that the author sympathizes with the plight of the American black men (including women in this, maybe people would be more appropriate) the portrayal of the few black characters that appear in this novel are quite unflattering. The woman taking care of Atticus' (the father) household is the stock character of the unselfish, nice black mother figure that takes care of the children as if they are their own. Yet, she is the only black character developing any kind of depth, even if hers is very shallow indeed. Every black character (including the, surely educated to some degree, reverend) address Jem (the 13-year old brother of the narrator) as Sir. He is thirteen for God's sake. Lee seems to fall for the typical white Southern, she does so well-intentioned, but yet her description of the race problem in the South explores the topic from one side exclusively, making it lack in profoundness to a certain degree.

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