1. The beauty of language and the power of a good ol’ quote:
‘As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.’
2. That there is joy even amidst great sadness. To Kill A Mockingbird is so great because the characters are so endearing. Scout is just the most heart-warming of narrators, and seeing the ‘real world’ through the innocent, open-minded eyes of a child is so refreshing. Despite all the moments of serious, heart-breaking injustice, Lee succeeds in creating simple moments of innocent, pure humour. For example, Scout thinks that using curse words will get her out of school (where she claims to have heard them), and therefore starts using them in the most hilarious of contexts:
‘I asked him to pass the damn ham, please.’
3. The realities of the world. I was fourteen or fifteen years old when I read To Kill a Mockingbird, which I think was perfect as it was a really impressionable age. I think the novel is so successful because it is so accessible: no one can read it and not be aware of the world’s injustice afterwards. In that sense, it’s one of the most important books that I believe everyone should read, especially at a young age.
‘Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal… We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe – some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money…But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any supreme president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court.’
4. That courage is possible in spite of injustice and ostensible futility. But that you must never believe that courage is about what you show or how you appear or seem to be. Courage is something deeper: it’s about what you think and what you do about it.
‘Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing 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.’
5. It’s never too late for change and one must never lose hope. It’s easy to sit back and accept reality, but where’s the courage in that?
6. There are always two sides to every story. Most importantly, To Kill A Mockingbird taught me the absolute necessity of empathy. It is, in my view, one of the most important qualities for humanity. We have to be able to consider another person’s perspective; being open-minded is fundamental.
‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.’
7. That children have a voice, and a powerful one at that. One of the most moving moments in this novel is when the sight of Scout stops the mob from lynching Tom Robinson. Children bring a freshness that is underrated: they remind us of our humanity.
8. That children should NEVER be ignored. Children see things so powerfully. Their voice is so important because it lacks the bias and prejudice that becoming an adult unfortunately brings. Equally, they are impressionable, and we should not underrate their capacity to observe and to learn. What we say to them matters – it shapes the future.
‘When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles ‘em.’
9. The power of reading. Even if it’s difficult to change reality in any direct sense, the one thing we have power over and can always change is our viewpoint. We can always be open to learning new things. Just reading Harper Lee’s words is a powerful step in itself: it’s a power of mind.
10. Thus, that literature has an immense power like no other. Reading To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the most enjoyable experiences, but also probably one of the most important things I ever did. I genuinely believe it has shaped every thought I have had since.
Thank you, Harper Lee, for showing me the light of the literary world and inspiring me unlike any other book ever had before. I know that To Kill a Mockingbird has become somewhat a cliché favourite novel, but I think it is cliché and lovable for the very reasons that I have listed. Because it has the ability to awaken a young reader just as it did with me. I genuinely do not think I would be the person that I am today without this novel. I have Harper Lee to thank for a lot of things. For studying English Literature today. For every time I consider the perspective of ‘the other’. For every time I’ve opened my mind to another voice, another view, another ‘side’. For every time I have stood up for something that I believe in. And for every time I have been genuinely moved by the power of the word and what it can show me. I have Harper Lee to thank, because she taught me why I must read.