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Atticus and the Mob - To Kill a Mockingbird Analysis

February 14, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 192

While helping some friends transfer groceries upstairs from the back of their car (which, together with all the rooms in their house including the lavatory, doubles up as a library!), I came across the book To Kill a Mockingbird. Since a colleague had been tirelessly recommending it for weeks, I decided to read it. The book packs such a punch that it is hardly surprising Harper Lee has published nothing else - perfection cannot be improved upon.

It is often the way in which the author paints his pictures that determines whether a book will become a classic or not. If such a work is to have lasting impact, the characters, fictional though they be, must somehow become actual people you could almost touch, their emotions and lifestyles becoming yours as you read. (That's why, for example, people Charles Dickens had never met often became incensed enough by his unflattering portrayals of the more unpleasant characters to threaten him, convinced by the piercing accuracy of his descriptions that it was they he had been denouncing in his books).

All the characters in Lee's book were beautifully drawn, but Atticus was by far the most compelling. Somehow the author was able to distil all that is noble in the human state and portray it in that worthy character. Atticus's moral convictions motivated him to go against the mores of his hideously shallow, pew-warming, contrary-minded, criminally-bigoted, Bible-toting, God-dishonouring society. Learning about him made one feel better about belonging to the race of homo-bloody-sapiens (so vain he named himself 'wise'), and gave one some hope for our future on the planet and beyond: to conceive of such an individual, one must pre-suppose that real-life Attici can, and do, exist.

The tale is made all the more gripping by the contemplation that the attitudes described in that small town are real, and by no means restricted to the Deep South. Those unsavoury characters in Maycomb, Alabama, where the story is set, belong to the same ilk of society that, all over the world, overlooks or abets a multitude of atrocities through cowardice, indifference or outright malevolence. That mindset flourishes in some real-life churches (both within and outside the USA) no less than in Lee's fictional one, and is certainly not absent from the secular world. This verismo aspect is partly what makes Lee's book so perennially topical.

But this Atticus, now: Describing him through his daughter Scout's eyes was a real coup, since in that way Lee was able to depict with particular poignancy certain noteworthy traits, such as his modesty in the face of his considerable accomplishments. Unlike other people's fathers, he didn't do anything, as far as Scout could see; yet it was he alone who in an hour of crisis was able to dispatch that rabid dog with such outstanding finesse and savoir-faire. Unlike his co-professors of Christ, he actually lived the Bible, rather than just spout it; so he alone had the guts to take up the defence of a doomed man in the book's pivotal court-case - an action which attracted the town's opprobrium, expressed via a singular assortment of venomous insults as well as the very real threat of physical harm from the hypocrites ever in attendance. And then there was his manner of handling the attacks, and of teaching his children so to do. Anyone can hit back with fists or words, but to remain silent and dignified in the face of extreme provocation, and to continue to be gracious to all, including to one's sworn enemies - now, that takes some doing. His reaction to being spat upon, for example, was positively Christ-on-earth, the mark of a true hero.

Lastly: practically every sentence in the book is a masterpiece in its own way. However, this line from the book rather stands out - when taken in context, it all but sings. The line comes from the part just after Atticus had lost the case, and was walking out of the court-room in dejected fashion, thoroughly beaten. Seems like Scout, up in the spectators' gallery, had fallen into a deep sleep, from which she was awoken by the Pastor, seated next to her. In this manner did he invite her to join the rest of the gallery-side throng in rising to their feet, enacting in silence their eloquent tribute to the still-exiting Atticus: -

"Stand up, Miss Jean Louise. Your father's passing."

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