Harper Lee on the set of To Kill A Mockingbird, via Wikipedia
How is it possible that I've gone 32 years without reading Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird (J.B. Lippincott Company, 1960)?! I had good luck again on the free damaged books cart at the library where I snatched up this Pulitzer Prize winning novel, shoved it in my overstuffed laptop bag, set it on my bookshelf for nearly a month, ran out of books to read one night, remembered that I had Mockingbird, cracked it open on BART on the way to work, and have had my nose buried in its brown, withered pages for the last two weeks (yes, I read slow, but two weeks is actually fast for me).
Where to begin? There is so much to admire in To Kill A Mockingbird. Too many things to list here. So for this post, I'm going to focus solely on the protagonist, Jean-Louise Finch, a.k.a "Scout," the six-year old narrator, because she is an inspiration to me, and I'm guessing to all writers. Scout is the type of character that writer's dream of creating. I don't think Scout's physical appearance is noted anywhere in the book, other than that she wears overalls instead of dresses, and it doesn't need to be. Knowing whether or not her hair is brown or red didn't make one difference to me. Her image is crystal clear. Her actions are what set her apart...
Her hot temper and propensity to fight:
"You can take that back, boy!" This order, given by me to Cecil Jacobs, was the beginning of a rather thin time for Jem and me. My fists were clenched and I was ready to let fly.
Her distaste for school:
"Despite our compromise, my campaign to avoid school had continued in one form or another since my first day's does of it: the beginning of last September had brought on sinking spells, dizziness, and mild gastric complaints. I went so far as to pay a nickel for the privilege of rubbing my head against the head of Miss Rachel's cook's son, who was afflicted with a tremendous ringworm. It didn't take."
And further, when she attempts to blame learning swear words as another reason not to go to school:
"Aw, that's a damn story," I said.
"I beg your pardon?"
Atticus said, "Don't pay any attention to her, Jack. She's trying you out. Cal says she's been cussing fluently for a week, now."
Uncle Jack raised his eyebrows and said nothing. I was proceeding on the dim theory, aside from the innate attractiveness of such words, that if Atticus discovered I had picked them up at school he wouldn't make me go.
But at supper that evening when I asked him to pass the damn ham, please, Uncle Jack pointed at me. "See you afterwards, young lady," he said.
See what I mean? Scout exudes personality in everything that she says and does. I couldn't help but fall in love with her innocent observations and naive queries. She is the epitome of childhood. Remember when you were young, and looking into a snow globe the world inside actually seemed real? Or on nights when the tooth fairy was to arrive, her hand could practically be sensed placing a quarter under your pillow. What about when playing international spies and the sound and vibration of enemy footsteps on a bridge overhead from where you hid could be heard and felt... (okay, maybe the international espionage game was unique to me and my sister - we weren't allowed to watch television during the summer, so we came up with some pretty intricate ideas). What I'm trying to get at in my roundabout way, is that Harper Lee's characterizations of Scout are very astute, endearing, and very real. Summon up the way that world looked inside the snow globe. Reach back in time and pull those memories from your head. If you can reconstruct the innocence and feeling of childhood, like Harper Lee did with Scout, then your story will be that much more real.