A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Author Harper Lee offers a snapshot of small-town life in Alabama during the 1930s, including views about race and some information about events taking place in Europe leading up to world War II. Readers will also learn about 1930s gender roles, education, and divisions created by economic status.
Atticus Finch tells Scout, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
Positive Role Models
Atticus Finch, Jem and Scout's father, courageously defends Tom Robinson in a town where racial prejudice is firmly entrenched. He risks not only public disapproval but also his own safety to make sure Tom receives as fair a trial as possible. He imparts many lessons to his children verbally, but his actions speak loudest, teaching them empathy, and to judge people by their actions rather than by the color of their skin.
Violence & Scariness
A drunk breaks a kid's arm. A man is killed with a knife. Atticus and his children face down a lynch mob in the middle of the night. Town gossip includes a story about a man stabbing a family member with scissors. A rabid dog is shot in the street. The trial at the center of the story involves a man accused of raping and beating a woman. A prisoner is shot trying to escape.
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Frequent use of "damn," one "bastard," and one "son-of-a-bitch." The "N" word and "('N'-word)-lover" is used liberally by some residents of Maycomb as if it's perfectly commonplace, and by others as a weapon.
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Products & Purchases
Mr. Raymond drinks Coke (though others think it's liquor) and gives some to Dill. Jem eats a Tootsie Roll.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Mrs. Dubose is secretly addicted to morphine. A man named Dolphus Raymond is believed to be the town drunk, because he drinks something hidden in a paper bag, but it turns out to be a bottle of Coca-Cola. Bob Ewell is said to spend his relief checks on green whiskey, letting his children go hungry. Scout smells stale whiskey on a man's breath.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Harper Lee's 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird addresses the terrible impact of racism in America through a little girl's point of view. The story takes place in Depression-era Alabama, in the fictional town of Maycomb, which Lee patterned after her own hometown of Monroeville. The narrator, 6-year-old Scout Finch, and her brother Jem and their friend Dill play children's games, but they also have a clear view of the adults in their world. Their youth and innocence contrasts with the prejudice, cruelty, and poverty they often observe. There's some threatened and real violence in this Pulitzer Prize winner: A man breaks a child's arm; a rabid dog is shot and killed; there is a stabbing death; the children and their father, Atticus Finch, confront a lynch mob; and the court case at the center of the novel involves a Black man who's been accused of raping and beating a white woman. Some of this violence is whiskey-fueled, as well. Profanity includes "damn," "bastard," and "son-of-a-bitch." The "N" word and "('N'-word)-lover" is used liberally by some residents of Maycomb as if it's perfectly commonplace, and by others as a weapon. The children in the novel learn powerful lessons about the impact of poverty and prejudice, and the importance of empathy, and so will those who read this classic. The 1962 film version starring Gregory Peck is one of those rare films that truly does justice to the original book. The audiobook read by Sissy Spacek is also note-perfect.
Is It Any Good?
Told through the eyes of a child, Harper Lee's magnum opus may seem to take a simplistic point of view, but Scout's world is rich and complex. And the author doesn't stint when it comes to the realities Black people face in a racist society -- and the pressures that poverty puts on the Maycomb community. All of that said, Lee's story is about a White family and is told from a White perspective. The reader learns much about the history of the Finch family and very little about Tom Robinson's life other than what's revealed through Scout and her father. This is a beautifully written book, with important lessons to teach, but readers should also be encouraged to read great writing by Black Americans, such as Richard Wright and Toni Morrison.
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