Column: Celebrating Day 5 of Banned Books Week with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

This is the fifth column in a week-long series of celebrations Banned Books Week, celebrating the freedom to read. Each column reviews a different and often challenged book.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“You never really know a person unless you think about it from his point of view…until you crawl into his skin and walk around in it,” Atticus Finch in “Killing” Dead A Mockingbird” told his daughter Scout.

These lines, taken from Harper Lee’s famous work, neatly summarise the core reason why the book should stay in school curricula and not on banned lists. With tough questions and full character development, the novel tells a story about the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama.

It features conflict when the protagonist’s father, a lawyer in Moral Town, is charged with defending Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white woman.

It also arguably highlights the continuation of the white messiah complex and uses the N-word, both traits I don’t condone myself, but which led to its entry into the district’s banned library. Teaching literature in schools is important, as is teaching critical thinking skills, and in my experience the two are often linked.

Reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” didn’t make me think I could use the N-word, but it did spark a necessary conversation about the way racism is ingrained in history and contemporary society when taught in my own school.

Like many other banned-list books, it taught me lessons about empathy and character, and I would be less if it didn’t.

Lee takes a scalpel to dissect the human condition, exposing the kindness and cruelty of her characters. Rarely static, Lee allows the reader to observe a shift in character understanding.

Finches’ neighbor Boo Radley is one of my favorite fictional characters. As readers, we don’t see his character development, but what others think of him paints a picture of where they were in their respective upbringings. Initially, Scott and her brother Jem saw Radley as a manifestation of superstition. They made up stories about him, a hermit, but he ended up saving the children at the end of the story.

“He’s really good,” Scott said to her father after Radley rescued the children from an attempted stabbing. “Most people are, Scooter, when you finally meet them,” Atticus replied.

This conversation, 13 words in total, is testament to the importance of the book itself.

Published in 1960, Lee wrote a candid story about the racism characteristic of her era. She does this through the narration of Boy Scouts, a child, and in such a way that the story is understandable to other children. I first read it in middle school, but it’s a book worth reviewing no matter your age.

“When I was on the way home, I thought Jem and I were going to grow up, but we didn’t have much to learn except algebra,” Scott says at the end of the book.

Thankfully, I finished algebra, but books like Li’s ensured that I would never finish learning complex characters.

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