Sep 20, 2011

To Kill a Perfectly Good Language: An analysis of a classic novel

For many years the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee has been a best selling source of timeless knowledge. The book was written with style and eloquence, though it is set in a time and place where butchering the English language was considered communication. Southern grammatical catastrophes aside, TKAMB is an incredible collection of morality and social injustice.

The story is told by one Jean Louise Finch, also known as Scout. Scout tells the tale of a time in her childhood when she learned many things about the world that stuck with her throughout her whole life. From the terrible experience of her first day at school, to the controversial court case her father was involved in, Scout learns many lessons that remain relevant to everyone regardless of age, gender and race. While this book is several decades older than a majority of the people buying it, every situation, event and lesson that comes Scouts way is still one that will reach the reader.

An example of an issue that is addressed in TKAMB that is timeless: Racism. The controversial court case (how's that for alliteration) that Scout's father Atticus Finch is involved in revolves around racism. A man has been convicted for a crime he did not commit and he will be punished for it simply because he was the wrong colour. The decision to defend this man was not made by Atticus. The decision to do it right, and with everything in his power, was a choice Atticus made because it was right.. From the Aboriginals of Australia and their Stolen Generation to the Native American Indians being controlled and pushed around by the white man, racism is a very real and ever present issue.

There is one particular passage in the book that I believe sums up what the issue of racism is all about. It is when Scout has just gotten into trouble for insulting a boy who is poor. She pointed out his obvious differences without any understanding of why they were so. Atticus has this to tell her:
"If you can learn a simple trick Scout, you'll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" pg 33
While you can't help but read what these characters say in a Southern Accent, they certainly do get their point across. This book was written at the time when treating black people unequally was normal. White people were simply better than them. There did not seem to be anyone who would see through the differences to find that we are the same. The way Atticus teaches Scout to avoid prejudice when meeting someone who is different is to see things from their point of view. To metaphorically climb into their skin and walk around in it.

How could a novel set in this particular period of time still be relevant to the issues of today? I believe that almost all written works are timeless. Not because of brilliant writing, interesting characters or even a vast arsenal of impressive words. No, what makes works like TKAMB timeless is the fact that human nature does not change. People in our day and age need to learn the lessons of empathy that Atticus teaches Scout just as much as the people of that time needed it. It is a lesson that will always need to be remembered and taught.

While the novel is somewhat of a bother to those who get anxiety from seeing words like ain't and reckon all over the page, and illiterates would get envious of seven year old Scout saying things like 'naturally tranquil disposition', it is still an invaluable text. The purpose and ideas behind it are brought across in a balance of obvious and subtle tones. The morals and values are put into the head of the reader and stay there whether they wanted to learn something or not. That irritating colloquialism of the Southern drawl certainly got on my nerves but it did make the conversations seem more real. In fact if they had spoken eloquently I may have forgotten what the context was. In conclusion, To Kill A Mockingbird is forever relevant, valued and forced upon high school students.

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