What can I possibly say about To Kill a Mockingbird that hasn’t already been said in the past 50 years since its publication … or in the past few weeks in celebration of this occasion, 50 years ago today?
As I mentioned in my post on Friday about Part I, it had been awhile since I’ve read this classic (25 years!) and I really didn’t remember much about it. I knew the basic storyline, but aside from that and the main characters of Scout, Atticus and Boo, not much else.
Part II was a quick read for me (I read it in almost one sitting) and much more came back to me in those pages. I remembered Scout and Jem at the trial, and I definitely remembered the scene on the street following the school play. That was vaguely tucked into my consciousness while being the main scene that I associated the book with all these years (if that makes any sense).
What strikes me about To Kill a Mockingbird today on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its publication is how timeless and relevant this book is all these years later. There are so many themes running through these pages that we’re still dealing with today – racism and issues of class, the rush to judgment and to make assumptions, just to name a few. Tom Robinson’s story is that of so many others, and so in turn is Scout’s and Jem’s and Atticus’s and Boo’s and Mr. Ewell’s and Mr. Raymond’s and almost every character in the book.
It does make one wonder: what book, what author, what literary characters in our conscious today will we be talking about and discussing 50 years from today? When I’m 91, which book will I be re-reading? I’m honestly not too sure. (Of what book I’ll be re-reading, that is. If I’m still here at age 91, rest assured that I’ll probably still be working on Mount TBR.)
Reading To Kill a Mockingbird at this juncture also makes me wonder about the characters themselves. Because Harper Lee makes them so real to us in the book, it’s interesting to think what they would be like 50 years later, how the experiences that they lived through in the novel would have shaped them. What would Scout be like as she approaches her 60th birthday? (Still a spunky spitfire, I’d bet.) Would Jem have become a lawyer like Atticus? And what of Atticus? Would he have eventually remarried?
To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930s; fifty years later for them would have taken them to the 1980s. What would their experiences in the ’60s been like, living as they would have through the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.? And even later: what would they have thought of Obama being elected President? I think their childhood experiences were such that they couldn’t have helped but shape them and their impressions of these historical events.
Maybe the answer is only found within ourselves, that the evolution of the characters is really the evolution (or not) of ourselves as a society when it comes to issues of race and class, and how far we have (or have not) come.