To Kill A Mockingbird has captured the hearts of more than thirty million readers. The novel is set in Alabama in the 1930s, when segregation divided the population and racism led to many injustices being perpetrated against the African-American population.
A story based on such cruel events as these seems unlikely to be a loveable and entertaining read, but Lee has achieved this in her book. Through Scout and Jem we are offered a child's curious observations on the ethics of the 1930s. Lee's use of an innocent narrative voice for a story about guilt and discrimination makes that story even more horrific. We also learn the moral lessons of the story as they are taught to the children by Atticus and Calpurnia.
One of the lessons from the novel is that in order to understand a person's ways, you must walk in his shoes. Atticus tells his children to do so constantly - with the Cunninghams, the Ewells and Tom Robinson. Such an approach opens our minds to the inner life of even the less moral characters, helping us to understand their actions.
The novel's central theme is summed up in Atticus's commandment: "Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird". This is a reminder not to persecute the innocent; the mockingbirds of this story are Tom Robinson and Boo Radley.
I was compelled to read this novel twice over, hooked by the account of Scout's childhood as she moves from playing to discovering, from observing to learning. The reader is given an incredible insight into the world of 1930s Alabama: Maycomb is portrayed as a slow-moving town where neighbours have only gossip to thrive on. Coming from within a town as apparently peaceful and tranquil as this one, the violent and unjust events of the novel hit us all the harder.
The New Yorker: skilled, unpretentious, and totally ingenious
Time: teaches the reader an astonishing number of useful truths about little girls and about Southern life
The Atlantic Monthly: pleasant, undemanding reading
Chicago Sunday Tribune: a novel of strong contemporary national significance
Flannery O'Connor: It's interesting that all the folks that are buying it don't know they're reading a child's book. Somebody ought to say what it is.