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Mockingbird: wrong makes anti-racist right

To Kill a Mockingbird

Millions of people all over the world have read the book ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. The classic novel by Harper Lee offers insightful moral lessons about racial justice and respect. It tells the story of a young girl named Scout and her father, Atticus Finch, a lawyer.

He defends a Black man wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. In the end, an all-white jury sentences that black man – Tom Robinson – to death.

The quintessential themes of race, sex and power set in the cauldron of race hate, set in the deep American South in the 1930’s, remains a world wide best seller. Published fifty-years ago, on July 11th 1960, just at the period when the civil rights movement in the United States was gaining real strength.

The book gets its title from something one the central characters in the book Atticus Finch says he was told by his father who gave him a gun as a young boy.

Atticus Finch:

“I remember when my daddy first gave me that gun, he told me that I should never point at anything in the house, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted, if I could hit them. But remember, it was a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

Killing them is a sin, he explains, because they don’t hurt anyone, they just make music.

To Kill a Mockingbird‘ exposed the way institutional racism works. How a seemingly fair and outwardly neutral process can produce profound injustices when infected by racism and prejudice. The book became a world wide sensation translated into more than forty languages and has sold over forty million copies winning a Pulitzer Prize.

It’s a wonderful book to read and literally simmers with Southern heat and racial tension. The book illustrates the Jim Crow racism of America and the way in which prejudice transform a small town and its justice system into a legalised lynch mob.

However, it’s the human drama of the lead characters in the book and a young child’s struggle to understand why this Black man is denied justice that makes the book compelling. To the daughter of Atticus Finch the treatment of Tom Robinson make no sense. Her view of the world shaped by her father’s strong sense of justice and fairness struggles to understand why the universal principles of justice and fairness do not apply to Tom Robinson.

The story takes place in a town that Harper Lee called Maycomb. Now a famous visiting destination for literary tourists, the town attracts thousand s of visitors annually, which is ironic given the book is based on real people Harper Lee knew in the town. Today the town is an anti- racist Mecca for literary progressives world wide.

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