Engrossing first novel of rare excellence: A Blog Post About Researching Original Reviews of To Kill A Mockingbird

A number of years have past since I viewed the movie To Kill A Mockingbird. What memories I have of watching that story unfold in grainy black & white include a lingering sense of appreciation for the knowledge, elegantly restrained and borne with certain dignity, that Gregory Peck so aptly conveys. He was a good actor.

It’s come to my attention that many readers of the newly published Go Set A Watchman are very upset, shocked and pissed off actually, that the older version of Atticus Finch is a prejudiced old prick — what happened? Why did he change so drastically? Fiction lovers are overwrought. Lots of negative statements have been made.

I’m a bit puzzled over this, and wonder if many of these fans of the younger Atticus are confusing him with the Gregory Peck version. Did the movie skip over a few key details? Was the novel not as obvious in its portrayal as I perceived it to be?

In order to find those answers, I have been reading through To Kill A Mockingbird again … I will probably seek out a copy of the film in the coming week as well, but meanwhile, I am shuffling through book reviews published in the summer of 1960. The varied opinions of first readers of that book are quite interesting — and not all that varied. So far I’ve yet to find evidence that any of the original reviewers missed the complex subtleties of Harper Lee’s tale.

The Chicago Tribune’s review was published July 17, 1960, and is the earliest take on the book I’ve read, thus far. I thought these statements profound:

The style is bright and straightforward; the unaffected young narrator uses adult language to render the matter she deals with, but the point of view is cunningly restricted to that of a perceptive, independent child, who doesn’t always understand fully what’s happening, but who conveys completely, by implication, the weight and burden of the story.

This is in no way a sociological novel. It underlines no cause. It answers no questions. It offers no solutions. It proposes no programs. It is simply an excellent piece of storytelling, which on the way along suggests that there are in Maycomb, Ala., persons of good will in whom love and generous loyalty supersede law, and others in whom meanness — along with envy and fear — breeds lying persecution, under law.

Imagine the skill of such a writer — the ability to limit the perspective of the narrator, a child narrator, and still be able to convey “by implication, the weight and burden of the story”. Wow.

I left the book marveling over that skill and absolutely humbled and troubled by the burden of the story: Although I don’t recall if the term was ever employed, Atticus was a “gentleman” by his definition of the word; but was he really unfettered by the terrible prejudices portrayed by other characters in the story? I don’t think so. I think that’s one of the points the Tribune’s reviewer intended to make when describing Scout as a child “who doesn’t always understand fully what’s happening”.

Who’s reading along with me so far? I’ve just gotten to the part of the story in which Scout learns Atticus has that new controversial client.

2 thoughts on “Engrossing first novel of rare excellence: A Blog Post About Researching Original Reviews of To Kill A Mockingbird

  1. earthoak

    I’m enjoying your Mockingbird posts and need to catch up in my reading! Great find from the Tribune, how well articulated. I can’t remember if Atticus is described as a gentleman by narrator Scout, but I think he is by Jem. I’m going to get some chapters underway this evening.

    Liked by 1 person

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