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There were some major hurdles in the way of my reading this book. Top of the list was the shocking revelation that almost everyone’s childhood idol, Atticus Finch, was toppled off the pedestal he was placed on, courtesy To Kill a Mockingbird. Having read this in numerous online articles, I procrastinated a fair bit before mustering the courage to read the book.
Once I started reading, my first impression was that this book lacked the breezy narrative of To Kill a Mockingbird. Whether it is deliberately done, to create a distinction between the narrative of an 8 year old Scout in Mockingbird and a grown up Jean Louise here, I leave it to you to decide.
Scout is now Jean Louise, who lives in New York and is visiting her hometown of Maycomb. Atticus is an arthritis ridden 72 years old, Jem is dead and Jean Louise is in a relationship with her childhood friend Hank. The upside is that Jean Louise is still as irreverent and feisty as Scout was – not really caring about societal expectations of young Southern ladies. More than halfway through the book, she comes across Atticus and Hank sitting in a meeting of a very right wing, negro hating citizens’ council.
Scout, pretty much like the reader, is shocked at this betrayal by the one person who she held as the upholder of equality and justice, the person who taught her, “every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscience”. She wonders if she has been living in a dream world and the part where her uncle asks her to look in the mirror and tell him what she saw, is an attempt to depict her conflict. Her confrontation with Atticus is bound to rattle the reader. Replace the word negro with any other downtrodden social category, and it could well be a question of whether an average person would feel the same level of discomfort at unbridled intermingling of classes of people. The book references the US Supreme Court’s decision outlawing segregation of public schools.
It’s never a pleasant feeling to see your heroes fall- to know your idols are made of nothing but clay. I will still retain the image of my hero Atticus / Gregory Peck, and continue to think of To Kill a Mockingbird as one of my favourite books.
“I am a lawyer by training and a full on book lover from as far back as I can remember. I live in Gurgaon, India with my husband and twin boys. Every year, I resolve to finish reading the books I have before buying new ones, and every single year my resolution fails”….Sapna Khajuria