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I read this book for the first time as a sophomore in high school. I had a wonderful teacher in English that year (racking my brain to remember his name) who was a football coach and an English teacher. That in itself wasn't the norm for me. Most coach teachers were in charge of Social Studies. Anyway, I remember really breaking this book down and talking about the many facets of the meaning of this book. It includes all kinds of themes in it: racism in the South, coming of age, the creepy, secretive neighbor down the street, kindness, and generous friendship. Our teacher allowed us to really debate these themes and I had my first taste of what it was like to learn in college.
First off, racism in the South. I can now officially say I live in the Deep South and I am still fascinated with the divide between races here. I didn't really experience that growing up in Texas, while it is a Southern state, I wouldn't consider it the Deep South. To think that only a few short years earlier our country had such a divide between the races seems appalling and unjust, but the proof is in the history lessons. The way Atticus so boldly represents Tom Robinson is admirable, especially given the time. I loved Atticus. I loved the name Atticus. I loved what Atticus stood for. He was a good man. He fought hard for the underdog! (Side note: in college I had a cat I named Atticus!)
The coming of age aspect was melancholy for me. I suppose there comes a time in every young child's life where they realize they are no longer a child and must put away their toys and start acting like a grown up. I particularly like how Scout had to have tea with the "ladies" of the neighborhood and how she always wanted to be out playing with her friend Dill. Growing up sucks, but everyone gets older...
And then there is Boo Radley. Ahh, Boo! Probably one of the kindest (next to Atticus) and mysterious persons in the entire book. So many rumors swirl around him and ultimately he turns out to be a reclusive guy who generally looks out for those kids. I particularly like when he puts the blanket over Scout's shoulders during the fire and she doesn't realize until later it was him. I had a Boo Radley on my street growing up. His name was Ronald and we called him Ronald McDonald (yeah, we were jerks). I believe he actually had Downs Syndrome but his mom never would let him play with us, therefore creating a mystery around his presence.
Ultimately this book is about justice, kindness and friendship. Being kind to others, doing the right thing for the innocent, and keeping your friends close. Scout and Dill are said to be based on Harper Lee's and Truman Capote's friendship. I actually just learned that bit of interesting history fairly recently. Dill was ever curious and always egging Scout on to do the craziest of shenanigans, and she would!
One of my most vivid memories of reading this book in class with that English teacher is when some stupid jock mouthed off with some racist remark and I spoke up with how I didn't agree with him. My teacher asked me to expand on what I was saying and then said, "Well, it just looks like we have a racist in our class". Justice for the underdog, right there!
I absolutely adore this book and have read it many times, but I actually don't own a copy of it myself. I need to go buy myself a copy so I can read it a couple hundred more times. It definitely makes my monkey heart go a-flutter!
What is YOUR most influential book you have ever read? Tell me in the comments!