Book Club: To Kill a Mockingbird

Hi everybody! I hope you're all having a wonderful week and have made your way through TKAM! Our first book club meeting is this Sunday at our house and I'll be serving fried chicken and collards. It goes with the theme right?

I have read this book a few times and it always reads just as well as the time before, if not better. As you'd expect, I feel like I've picked up on more of the themes, motifs, foreshadowing each time I've read this book. I'm increasingly impressed at how well thought out each character and lines of this book is. 

With the recent release of Harper Lee's second and only other book, "Go Set a Watchman," there has been much discussion around this classic novel. I find it very interesting that this book was actually written as a re-write to GSAW and ended up being published instead/first. TKAM chronicles the Finches earlier lives rather than them as adults like GSAW does. I will not be reading GSAW but have read several reviews in which people said that an older Atticus is portrayed as a racist and a bigot. It's almost as if Lee wrote TKAM as the idealist version of each of the characters and as in life, they grew out of their innocence and became worse versions of themselves. Are you planning on reading Lee's second book? Do you think it would ruin your image of Atticus or this book?

Back to TKAM...please don't feel obligated to read all of the discussion points but I wanted to give you a chance to read through my notes in case you were interested. ENJOY!

  • Early on it is mentioned that Atticus is related to nearly everyone in town. The idea that he's "family" with everyone in some way, shape, or form but they treat him so differently from themselves is intriguing. The whole idea of family is that you stick together, that you support one another-this does not happen except within the immediate Finch family. 
  • Maudie brings up several times that Atticus is the one person that the town can rely on to do the unpleasant jobs. It's very true and a great compliment but it is definitely a tough and thankless role. They respect him enough to do these jobs yet show him no respect.
  • I thought it was interesting that Scout describes her father's attitude towards her and Jem as an attitude of "courteous detachment,"-an interesting term for a child to use. Do you think he is detached? I think that he has a great relationship with them and although it is perceived as detachment, it was very much how you treat adults. Atticus's relationship with his children is very open, honest, and efficient. Rather than give "soft" answers, he is always very direct. He is excellent at making his children see things from another's perspective, to "step into someone else's shoes and walk around in them for a bit." He is very metaphoric in his teachings, which I'd say is a pretty Southern thing, but somehow still very to-the-point.
  • Atticus's parenting style is very much one that I will probably follow: speak like an adult and if you're not understood, then explain. If someone asks a difficult question, answer it-as long as you don't make it seem like a big deal, it's not perceived that way. What are your thoughts on this?
  • I was very proud of Atticus throughout the book for standing up for himself, for his children, and for others like Calpurnia and Tom Robinson. It is not easy to always do what is right but Atticus leads by example and shows that it can be done. His humility is captivating. He never expects thanks or praise. He shuns positive recognition when he thinks it's undeserved or unworthy of congratulations (ie. killing the crazy dog/being a great shot). He is an unexpected hero. He doesn't fit the archetype of the young, strong, good-looking man who saves the day. He is more relatable. He gives us all something to aspire to be and makes it seem that is possible to be the best version of oneself.
  • Did anyone else pick up on the fact that Atticus never went to school?! How could he be so smart and so understanding? Answer: he watched, he listened, he read. It's amazing what you learn when you're not trying.
  • Scout says that she just sat on Atticus's lap and automatically learned to read. It's obvious that he would have had to teach her, you don't learn letters, sounds and words without some guidance. This relates back to point that the children give their father no credit. They treat him like he's old and weak and detached but he's very far from any of those things. The children don't see that until very nearly the end of the book.
  • The children of Maycomb are so much more grown up than children today. Scout, along with the children in her first grade class understand "tribes" and the different groups of people that make up Maycomb County. They understand appropriate behavior and they're able to read when others are uncomfortable. It's ironic that kids now have iphones and ipads and laptops to play with before they can walk or talk sometimes but over the years, many people have lost the ability to connect-the ability to read each others' feelings and respond accordingly.
  • The term "buying cotton" as a euphemism for doing nothing was very appropriate for the time. This book is set during a time when the whole country was poor and crops were only worth the calories they could provide. Cash crops like cotton were useless if you had no money with which to buy them. This term was used to describe the occupation of the Radley men. Interesting phrase right?
  • After having read this book several times, you begin to read more into each line. The placement of the Radley house, at the end of the street, perpendicular to everyone else-it seems appropriate doesn't it? They were different, their behavior atypical of Maycomb, removed from everyone both physically and socially. The house itself as described as if it is human. When Mr. Radley locked Boo up initially, it's described as a time when "the house died."
  • Do you think Boo Radley was crazy when he got locked up for causing problems when he was younger or do you think he went crazy after being locked in that house for so many years? Was he crazy at all? Did you notice that his initial arrest was for something pretty trivial in today's terms. 
  • When the Finch kids think they see the blinds flick in the house, it keeps the reader intrigued. It's the behavior one would expect of a busybody neighbor or a child but when Scout rolls into the Radley yard and she thinks she hears someone laughing inside, it's not amusing is it? Did you feel that it was ominous?
  • When Scout likens reading to breathing, do you think that is how Harper Lee feels about reading/writing? I've never found any interviews where she mentions her favorite books authors so this point intrigued me. Do you feel the same?
  • After Tom Robinson's conviction, Scout's class discusses the concept of democracy. The hypocrisy of the response, "We are a democracy," jumps at the reader. Maycomb proved how non-democratic they really were when they convicted an obviously innocent man. 
  • The discussion between Jem and Scout that there are four types of people in this world shows how they were growing up over the course of the trial. Scout had enough gumption to stand up to Jem and say that there is only one type of people, and that we are all the same. She is very much like Atticus when it comes down to it. By this point in the story, Jem has become cynical.
  • Do you think that it was fair what Heck Tate did, keeping Boo Radley out of the spotlight for killing Mr. Ewell? Do you think it was really about the recognition or was it to settle something quickly as to not have Atticus involved?
Sorry for all the discussion points but I love this book and think that it has some very interesting ideas to discuss. I'd love to get your thoughts!

---------------After Meeting Thoughts---------------

After meeting with with the rest of the book club, we came up with some additional interesting points:

  • Was Boo Radley autistic or have some other learning disability that would been difficult to accomodate at that time? Would that have been a reason his father kept him out of the public eye, for his own protection?
  • We discussed who "The Mockingbird" was supposed to be also. Most first time readers automatically go to Tom Robinson however, we have decided that Harper Lee in fact wrote most of her characters to be a mockingbird in some way shape or form-a well-meaning individual who ends up on the difficult side of things. Atticus for example is a good father and a good man yet he finds himself up against half the town for doing something that is actually morally right.
  • We all loved that Calpurnia had an actual familial stance in the Finch household. She was allowed to discipline and teach Scout as if she were her own child and in fact, it seems as if Atticus appreciated and relied on that.
  • We took a vote and averaged the number on a scale of 1-10 how much we all liked the book; final score: 8.2

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