I asked some of my newfound high school Facebook friends if they remembered what year we first read this. The consensus seems to be 12th grade, which sounds about right. Since that was approximately as long ago for me as the book has been in existence (OK, I exaggerate … really, half as long as the book has been in existence), it’s kind of interesting to be re-reading it now as an adult.
For starters, I will admit this with much embarrassment: I remembered precious little of the novel. Whether I had a severe case of senioritis in 1987 or was more preoccupied with other dramas, I can only guess. Other than the names Scout, Atticus, and Boo, the novel was a clean slate to me. I’d forgotten Calpurnia, all the other supporting characters.
In some ways, I would love to revisit my 18 year old self in Mrs. Schurr’s class while reading To Kill a Mockingbird (and, while there, perhaps pass along a thing or two about some matters that are more clear now). I’d love to know what I thought, what I wrote about in any papers that were assigned. But, in other ways, it’s nice coming to this as an adult.
After finishing Part I and making my way into the beginning pages of Part II last night, I’m finding that Atticus is resonating with me more than I expected. As a parent of two young children, I can more fully understand lines like this:
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” (pg. 149)
We were raised in a different time from our kids – just as Atticus was raised in a different time than Scout and Jem – but the importance of instilling such values and qualities endures, is something that all parents hope to provide for their children. That sense of letting them know right from wrong, of conveying that we don’t always know the people who are closest to us and thus can’t make assumptions, that it really does take a village to raise a child, that community and a sense of place is important.
As an adult, I’m also appreciating Harper Lee’s writing much more than I probably did in 12th grade, back when I knew it all. The dialogue and dialect of the Deep South, the vivid description of characters and scene, the pure pluck of Scout, the mystery of Boo … it’s all coalescing so nicely, don’t you think?