Ever since I read To Kill A Mockingbird sometime in junior high (I think), it became one of my favorite books. I had always wished that Harper Lee had written more. Though I admit I haven't read her recently released book, Go Tell a Watchman. I will some day, but part of me doesn't want to for fear of becoming disillusioned with her if I don't like it. I want the story to be as god as the first one, but I've heard mixed reviews.
Nonetheless, Harper Lee holds a place in my heart--at least her first book does. Harper Lee was famously a recluse for most of her life. When doing research in college I wrote about my other favorite southern writer--Flannery O'Conner--because there wasn't as much out there on Harper Lee. Still, To Kill A Mockingbird will remain one of my favorite stories for many lessons.
Growing up in an all-white town (most of the time--there were occasional families who would move through town that brought some color and non-northern-European culture to our community), To Kill a Mockingbird taught me the value of humanizing the marginalized.
Justice, compassion, and mercy were big themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Through the careful guidance of Atticus Finch, his children Jem and Scout learned to empathize with those who were seen as outsiders in their community--whether an elderly lady, a shy recluse, or a person of color. While others spread rumors and fear, Jem and Scout learn that those people are people.
Intimately tied in to justice, compassion, and mercy is the lesson to do the right thing, even when it is unpopular. Atticus Finch wins our respect in the story as he takes on the legal case for a wrongfully accused black man who doesn't stand a chance of a fair trial. Putting his life in danger at times, Atticus goes against the popular consensus to do what is right.
And now, at my stage in life, I can appreciate how Atticus, as a single parent, raises his two children. He manages career and family. He treats them with respect, allowing them to be children, but encouraging them to be responsible and respectful. He expects the best from them and for them. He doesn't avoid difficult issues with them. He goes the extra mile.
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those rare books that I keep coming back to, reading it again and again. Harper Lee teaches without teaching, preaches with out preaching, and opens ones eyes to life as it should be. For that I am eternally grateful for her quiet, but poignant life.