Newest Review: ... eyes of a young girl, centres around a lawyer who is asked to defend a black man wrongly accused of the rape of a white woman in Alabama an... more
You can shoot all the bluejays you want, but remember that nothing redeems this poor book
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Member Name: Coolchris330
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Date: 14/08/11, updated on 14/08/11 (39 review reads)
Advantages: It's a few hundred pages long, the courtroom scene is good
Disadvantages: Bad writing, bland characters, mostly directionless storyline, uninteresting and bland descriptions
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS. DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ SPOILERS.
'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee
Story and Characters
To Kill a Mockingbird is set in early 1920s America. Racism runs rampant and segregation is the norm and is generally enforced.
The actual story takes place in Maycomb in the US, where Atticus Finch, a single father after his wife died, and his two children: Jem and Scout live with him. Jem is Atticus' eldest child, and Scouts slightly older brother; Scout is Jem's younger sister. Atticus is a lawyer, and is known for taking on cases that he believes are righteous and the defendant's innocent - regardless of race.
Outside of the Finch family, yet still serving in the Finch's house is Calpurnia, a black woman who helps Atticus around the house, looking after the children and cooking meals. The book makes sure that the reader knows that Calpurnia is smarter than a lot of black people at the time, and that she had taught herself and her children to read and write.
There are also a vast selection of not-so-important characters who seem to play a large part in the book but actually have very little relevance to the story whatsoever. For example, a lady down the street called Stephanie Crawford who spreads rumours around town is mentioned many times but never appears to actually advance the story at all, and her entire purpose in the book seems to be to reinforce to the reader what happened only pages before.
There is also a mysterious Radley family, who apparently never leave their house, but their convicted son apparently runs rampant in the night to eat animals and children? I understand it's supposed to give the impression of children's rumours, but the fact that the adults of the book believe that the Radley's son is a beastly creature is beyond ridiculous.
There is also the Ewell's, a group of lower class people referred to as 'trash', who live off welfare checks from the state. Their children never attend schools, and nor can the truancy officers make them (why they can't is never actually elaborated on in the book). The two stand out characters from the extensive Ewell family are Bob Ewell and Mayella Ewell, and we'll get on to what makes them so important in a second.
There is also Tom Robinson, a black man who, on the way home from work walks past the Ewell's house, and occasionally does jobs for Mayella out of the kindness of his heart.
What better way to repay him then to accuse him of rape? Bob Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of rape, and who would be appointed to be his lawyer? No other than Atticus Finch. You can practically predict this happening from the word 'go'. Atticus is a lawyer that takes on cases that it is unlikely he will win, usually from black people who have been accused of crimes; Tom Robinson is a defendant who is black and has been accused of a crime. See why it's so easy to predict?
This part of the book is literally the only bit that has any sort of tension whatsoever without being over-the-top and cheesy. The court-room scene where the public watch Atticus attempt to defend Tom Robison, going over about fifty pages of wondering and observing of the court. By the end, you may be intrigued by this book, which is a shame because by this point you're already four hundred pages in, and would probably have already lost interest due to the seemingly directionless story.
Honestly, when reading this I thought that Atticus put up a good fight in the Court of 'Law', but the judge seems to be incredibly biased and Tom Robinson is sentenced to death. Great, but wait, there's a twist! Atticus is going to appeal, another court room scene, the book might actually be somewhat dece- oh Tom Robinson is dead, he got shot in the back of the head trying to escape from the prison where he was being held for the trial.
So Bob Ewell won, but he wants to take revenge on Atticus for trying to save Tom Robinson (why?), so he tries to kill Atticus' children (why?) and then kills himself by falling onto his own kitchen knife (why?). Jem is seriously injured, the doctor says he'll wake up in the morning, the police come around, have a cup of tea, explain that Jem didn't kill Bob Ewell but he in fact killed himself and the end of the book is right there. Bish, bash, bosh - what an eventful book.
Honestly, apparently this story is influential of many books and inspired millions, but I fail to see how or why. The plot is practically completely directionless and the characters incredibly bland and uninteresting. While, yes, the courtroom scene was very well written and intriguing, the book actually fails to see its own strengths and faffs around with pointless sub-storylines that only make the book feel incredibly drab.
In short, the storyline is poor and predictable, with so many sub-storylines that you stop caring before you hit the half-way point. It's a shame, because it's a book that, with a focused storyline, could have actually been good - but it just falls flat on its face.
I'll be honest, I've never seen 'To Kill a Mockingbird' praised for its writing style, and it's not hard to see why. The speech is written as it's said, which understandably is to try and make the reader believe that the book is actually set in America, but it ends up making the speech a jumbled mess - and a hardly legible one at that.
It also uses a lot of American slang without properly explaining what the slang means - I had to look up several words to actually understand their meaning - only to find that some of the words can't actually be found in a dictionary. To Google, where Urban Dictionary will explain exactly what is meant by the dialogue. Really, this is pathetic - you shouldn't have to look up something that isn't properly defined in the book because it's an expression or description that is barely used anywhere else in the world but a particular county in America.
As for the actual writing outside of the dialogue, it's OK. The descriptions lack flair and it's not really written in a particularly engaging way, meaning that at least part of the book is just about bordering on 'worth reading'. The grammar is also well placed outside of the speech, but inside the speech marks it is hard to tell when the characters are quoting someone or something or are saying something with emphasis because the use of apostrophes and quotation marks are muddled throughout.
The writing, in conclusion, is poor - better than some writers, and the speech is obviously written with marvellous intent, but like the storyline, it falls flat on its face.
Value for Money
'To Kill a Mockingbird' isn't actually worth your money in the slightest, unless you like directionless literature, in which case this book is worth every penny. The book is non-linear, slow and directionless. It's a few hundred pages, meaning that with Amazon's asking price of £4.19, you're essentially paying for the printer and the ink. It's a shame that the paper would probably be worth more without the ink on it.
I don't recommend that you buy this book, but if you wish to, you can buy it from Amazon from the 'not-quite-worth-it' price of £4.19.
'To Kill a Mockingbird' is a relatively tame book as far as content goes, but here's a run-down.
- Two young characters discuss where babies come from, and one suggests that you 'give it to each other' and then a baby is taken across the lake from a land where all the babies are and given to you. The conversation is relatively brief.
- A child says they've been playing strip poker to get his friend who lost his trousers out of trouble.
- Character's say "nigger", but it's not derogatory and it was commonly used as a description in the 1920s, meaning that it is used in favour of historical correctness
- Two young children say 'damn' and 'hell'. The characters are told off at one point in the book for saying these words.
- Young characters often get into fights, no description of detail.
- A rape is described without detail by the victim.
- A character shoots a rabid dog.
- There is a fire, no one is hurt.
- Three children are shot at, no shot hits.
- A character is said to have been shot in the head. Not described beyond that.
The book is relatively tame, and is pretty much suitable for anyone over the age of ten, but they may not understand some of the themes (rape, prejudice, racism).
It is beyond me why they use this as a GCSE book in Britain. It's far from compelling, bland, directionless and not very well written. There is very little in the way of redeeming features for 'To Kill a Mockingbird' other than the tense court-house theme.
Avoid it at all costs.
I award 'To Kill a Mockingbird' two out of five stars for having one minor redeeming scene.
Summary: Don't even bother.