Jem decided there was no point in quibbling, and was silent. When Atticus went inside the house to retrieve a file he had forgotten to take to work that morning, Jem finally realized that he had been done in by the oldest lawyer's trick on record. He waited a respectful distance from the front steps, watched Atticus leave the house and walk toward town. When Atticus was out of earshot Jem yelled after him: "I thought I wanted to be a lawyer but I ain't so sure now!"
I haven't read To Kill a Mockinbird since high school; then, I thought it was a good book. When Brittany was reading the book, she told me I needed to re-read it because I would fall in love. I expected her to be right--what I didn't expect, though, was how right she would be. Reading this book, now, was a religious experience and nearly brought me to tears multiple times. On some occasions I would have to stop reading because the writing was so beautiful that I needed to let the feeling linger before I moved on. So, yes, I loved this book.
Despite having a plethora of reactions to this book, I want to focus on a question that readers of this blog will (surely) have an opinion about: What is the difference between a great book and a good book. Here's what I've come up with:
First, To Kill a Mockingbird is universal in a way that even good books are not. Lee accomplishes this using Scout's innocence. By filtering the narration through Scout's ostensible innocence, the novel's narrator is relatable. It's easy for any reader to envision viewing the world the way Scout does. However, I write "ostensible innocence" because there's an illusion here: the narrator is writing through the eyes of an innocent young girl, but often uses diction or conclusory, reflective statements to remind the reader that this is a narrator remembering back. For example, when Atticus tells Scout to go to bed after she'd been listening to a long conversation between him and Uncle Jack: "I scurried to my room went to bed . . . . But I never figured out how Atticus knew I was listening, and it was not until many years later that I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said." So, at the same time that Scout is relatable, the reader benefits from Scout's hindsight ruminations.
Second: Lee's writing is remarkably beautiful. I use the adverb because the writing here is beautiful in way that surpasses other writers.. Consider this line, describing the childrens' performances of plays during the summer, "But by the end of August our repertoire was vapid from countless reproductions, and it was then that Dill gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out." I have never seen "vapid" used in this context and I love it.
We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe--some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity than others, some ladies make better cakes than others--some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men.
But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal--there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court . . . Our courts have faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.This passage, beautiful in its own right, also reflects a motif spread throughout the novel: the inequality of the world contrasted by the idealism of equality. We see it again when Miss Maudie describes Atticus's talent with guns: "If your father's anything, he's civilized in his heart. Marksmanship's a gift of God, a talent--oh, you have to practice to make it perfect, but shootin's different from playing the piano or the like. I think maybe he put his gun down when he realized God had given him an unfair advantage over most living things."
Finally, Atticus is himself a character that makes the book remarkably good. Atticus is presented as heroic, and it's easy to accept it whole-heartedly. I love this image, captured by the movie:
I also love this introduction of Atticus in the beginning: "His first two clients were the last two persons hanged in Maycomb County jail. Atticus had urged them to accept the state's generosity in allowing them to plead Guilty to second-degree murder and escape with their lives, but they were Haverfords, in Maycomb County a name synonymous with jackass." Notably, even in this early description of Atticus, he's the voice of reason.
Anyway, this review's too long and reeks of someone trying to say too much without focus. So, my question, friends: what makes a great novel? And, is To Kill a Mockingbird a great novel?