Only when you think you’re reading a novel about a girl who refrains from being a typical one- rather is most comfortable in her pants than skirts, who loves being carefree of her attire and attitude, is least bothered about sitting cross legged and behaving like a classy woman, you come to know that there’s more to it. Just when you begin to think that Harper Lee gave it a trial to break society stereotypes on the lifestyle of a girl or a woman, you realise that she has more lessons up her sleeves and more needs to be unfolded. Just when you think the book is about daring to question the prevalent racism in the society, the state of helplessness of a black, you don’t know that much more awaits you. The book isn’t about Scout, Jem or Atticus. Not even Tom. It’s Arthur’s story.
A very fine novel, that takes pace only in its last quarter, after the climax of the courtroom trial. Until then, author Harper Lee builds up enough background for the readers so that one would cherish that’d follow, cherish the end, cherish the turn of events. Also, Lee gracefully places the entire plot in a small township- Maycomb County, with which the readers are bound to feel a sense of attachment throughout the novel, as if it were their own neighbourhood.
During most of the book, it feels like there are two different stories, of two different worlds, existing parallely: one of Scout and her brother Jem’s; the other of their father Atticus’s. While Scout and Jem are busy planning as to how to make Boo Radley come out of his house, they have another kid Dill to accompany them and provide them with bucketfull of ideas. Arthur Radley, nicknamed by the kids as ‘Boo Radley’, is their neighbour who seldom comes out of his house, so much so that the children have never seen him. This makes them build up prejudices against him, like his being as dangerous as a deadly animal or his being mentally sick, among other reasons. All their summers would pass with Dill’s witty statements and their scratching their brains together to figure out a method of getting Boo out of his house.
Meanwhile, their father Atticus (who’s a lawyer) is busy with a case engaging Tom Robinson, a local negro charged with the rape of a white girl, Mayella Ewell.
There’s enough background building about the Finchs, the Ewells, the Negroes, the neighbours, Maycomb County and everything else that has managed to make a mention in the book- before it actually gets to the courtroom trial.
Atticus is the defending lawyer, defending Tom. The trial begins with Mayella’s father, Mr. Bob Ewell’s and Mayella’s verdicts. They’re cross questioned and it is made clear that they’re lying. Then came Tom’s verdict and the true side of the story, that Mayella was the one who tried to entice Tom and on finding her doing so, Bob Ewell bet her up. Only in order to hide her ‘sin’ of enticing a Negro despite being a white, did she accuse Tom of raping her. This was made as clear as water by Atticus in the court. Inspite of everything, the jury charges Tom guilty. Tom eventually dies as he gets shot in an attempt to flee from the prison. Because apparently, ‘A black man was tired of enough white men having their ways, and he wanted to have some of his own.’
Soon after, Bob Ewell tries harming the very few people who were conspicuously in belief of Atticus’s statement. Jem and Scout’s turn arrives soon and they’re attacked on the street while returning from a Halloween pageant organised at school. Somehow, Scout escapes safely in her ham costume while Jem escapes with a broken elbow. Bob Ewell is found dead with a knife stabbing him and Jem is carried home by Arthur Radley. Heck Tate, the local sheriff, wants to hush the matter up as he doesn’t want to make Arthur feel uncomfortable with the things that would follow once Maycomb would know about his bravery, and as to that matter the crime he committed. Scout says, ‘It’d be sort of like shooting a Mockingbird’, as Atticus once had told them that it’s a ‘sin’ to kill a Mockingbird. Scout drops Arthur home and never sees him again. She looks at the neighbourhood from Radley porch. Wearing Boo’s shoes, she notices the neighbourhood and a beautiful description of how Boo saw the world, follows. Soon, the naive Scout too realises that it’d indeed have been a sin to shoot a precious Mockingbird.
Several elements in the novel make this a celebrated one. Lee talked about certain prejudices and stereotypes prevalent in the society, much before they eventually became openly talked about. She raised her voice on serious issues like white dominance- racism, and liberal thoughts of women ; without making the book a philosophical compendium: beautifully moulding all her concerns in her entertaining fictional characters. The nail biting courtroom trial, the kids visiting the church of the blacks with their maid Calpurnia, Scout’s witty remarks on breaking society imposed rules on women – serious issues couldn’t have been incorporated in a better way.
It’s only in the end of the story that we realise why Lee built up so many plots featuring Boo Radley and his association with the kids. One would definitely feel like going through the entire novel once again, paying attention to each and every intricate detail of Boo Radley ever mentioned, because the end will helplessly make you want to know him and feel for him.
Despite covering a few austere issues very efficiently, through the conclusion of the book Lee manages to keep the readers wondering about Boo, imagining details about him, and all in all get into a hangover of Arthur Radley: one of the mere characters in a book comprising a mature Jem, an entertaining Scout and a serious Atticus, even a very important Tom. Scribbling the last few words, Lee makes it Arthur’s story more than anyone else’s.