To Kill a Mockingbird: a classic everyone should read

To Kill a MockingbirdOften times classic novels don’t appeal to me because they feel over-hyped, but every so often one catches my attention and I give it a go.

What intrigued me most about Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird? Well the themes played a big part: racial injustice, class, gender roles, the loss of a child’s innocence. But it was also the way she went about telling the stories in the small southern town of Maycomb, Alabama – through a child’s lens.

Taking place during the Depression, the book is split in two parts. The first part focuses on telling the story of Scout Finch, the protagonist, and her brother Jem. The two of them, along with their summertime friend Dill spend much of their time preoccupied with trying to catch a glimpse ‘Boo’ Radley, the reclusive neighbour at the end of their street. The second part focuses on the children’s perspective of a very adult case of Tom Robinson, a black man their father Atticus is defending, who is accused of raping a white woman.

Scout is one of my favourite literary characters – young and naive, but curious with a strong, take no bull attitude. She always tried to push buttons by not conforming to societal norms – basically acting like a boy, which was radical in the 30’s. Much of her spark, she got from her father Atticus, who raised his kids to understand the world they lived in and that it wasn’t perfect, but did so in a way that went against the grain of the time. As she learned more about the Tom Robinson rape trial, from speaking with him, he didn’t sugar coat it or push her aside as most parents would, which helped Scout’s character mature. His character is flawless in his values and though it must have been a struggle raising his children on his own (with a lot of help from Calpurnia, their maid) he always empowered his children to learn for themselves. His biggest lesson, and one that weaved the two plot lines together was that it’s always important to view the world in the other person’s skin, so you get a better understanding of where they’re coming from.

I’m happy I read this small novel that packed such a memorable punch. If you haven’t managed to pick it up, I highly recommend you do – you won’t be disappointed. As an aside, I watched the movie after I finished the book, and while the casting was spot on, I found it omitted a lot and changed around so much of the story that it lost what made the book great. I give To Kill a Mockingbird a 5/5.

The Help: A story of standing up for your beliefs

The HelpI was introduced to The Help at a dinner with friends one night. A couple of my friends had read it, and seemed like they were really moved, so I made a point to remember it. Eventually I had a gift card to Chapters, so I decided to make the purchase, though I don’t normally buy hard covers.

When I got around to reading it, I didn’t really know what to expect, other than it was set in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 60s and that it dealt with race, class and so-forth. After reading the first chapter, which started off in the voice of Aibileen, a maid, I was hooked.

It took a bit of getting used to when I found it was telling the stories from three different characters perspectives. Each one, and the others were Minny (another maid) and Skeeter (a white daughter of a plantation farmer), shone with personality and were all strong female characters, but also had weaknesses as well.

The book deals with the very real problem of segregation in Jackson, as Skeeter goes about recounting the experiences from the help of Jackson. It’s really sad to read the many unfortunate things that African Americans lived with on a daily basis. Rules these maids had to abide by, like not sit at the same table as a white person, shake their hand or look them in the eye, because if it was the wrong time of day, you could set the boss off and next thing you know you’re on the street, struggling to find the next household to take you in.

Similar to what the show Mad Men often does, The Help also entwines major news headlines of the day into the story. Obviously with the time and topic, Martin Luther King Jr. plays a big role in the motives of the characters. There is also talk of space exploration, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, The Sit-ins, and so on. Stockett did a great job at weaving these in, adding  tidbits of historical information in the background, making it much more real.

I’m not an expert on race relations in the 60s, but I think Stockett offers a great viewpoint into what it was like. As a white woman, I’m sure she’ll get some criticism for attempting to portray what those women went through, but I think she did a hell of a job. It can also come across as a Pocahontas or Avatar-like story where the white woman helps out the poor unfortunate maids to see their own strength, but I felt throughout the book the characters were casting off any kind of pity they perceived from Skeeter; they were stronger than that, and worked with her out of their own wants and needs.

I think I’ve explained this one enough. If you’re not enticed to read this one, then you never will be. If you have already read The Help please share your thoughts. It’s such a great discussion book.

.. Oh and of course I give this one a 5/5.

This is also set to become a movie in 2011, according to Metrolic.com and IMDB (plus it stars Emma Stone!).

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