International Women’s Day 2022 reminded me of this blog, which I originally wrote shortly after Harper Lee’s death. I thought it was an appropriate time to share it again.
Every time I hear Harper Lee’s name I’m transported back to the English classroom at high school, which was the place where I was introduced to this remarkable story of courage, prejudice and human nature. Of course, the race message will always be the novel’s strongest voice but we should not forget that it speaks with many.
The sense of mystery when I first heard the children talk about Boo Radley was one that I identified with only too well. I think many of us will have memories of ‘that weird bloke who skulked around the town’ when we were kids, or the neighbourhood recluse next-door-but-three.
I already knew that prejudice was bad when I read the book, but it brought home to me the hypocrisy of people who, on the surface, appear honest and upstanding yet project their paranoia and insecurities so they manifest themselves in disrupting and harmful ways. Of course, this is a theme that is resonating very clearly around the world at the moment.
There’s a lot of Lee’s own formative years in the book too. She grew up in a small town and her father was a lawyer. Also, her mother lived with mental illness that resulted in her rarely leaving her own home. Like so many literary souls, Harper fell in love with English at high school, which put her on the path to creating her own timeless slice of writing.
To Kill a Mockingbird was of course a lesson within an English lesson. A lesson of human nature and the inexorable presence that it is. Above all though, it was and will always be a damned good story, which in the end is the most important thing.
So, thanks again Harper Lee for opening all our eyes.