The author is gone, but what she contributed to the landscape of American culture will not soon be forgotten. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, my favorite. Even the name of my blog is inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird. My family quotes the book and the movie on a regular basis. And so I couldn’t let Ms. Lee’s passing go by without taking a moment to thank her for her gift of a book.
Using a child’s lens to showcase the tired Alabama town, the social injustice is clear. Atticus Finch, who chooses to defend an upstanding African American man in a racist town, is a cultural hero—a character we all aspire to imitate. We want to be good and just and honorable. Like Atticus, we want to dignify people even if it’s hard. And we want to be treated with dignity. I’ve written before about how good, enduring stories reflect truth, and this book is no different. The timeless truths Mockingbird presents are consistent with the goodness of God, who tells us to love Him with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Atticus isn’t a perfect human, immune to the pressures of society. But he chooses to love his neighbors, from Boo Radley to Tom Robinson. The decision Atticus makes to take Tom’s case is difficult, but his commitment to civility, to integrity, to justice, and to love compels him to make the hard choice.
The book’s message that we should take time to look at something from another’s point of view is as good advice today as it was when Atticus said it to Scout on the front porch. In a world increasingly divided, increasingly tolerant of incivility and brashly worded opinions, increasingly accusatory and blame-shifting, increasingly offended and abused, increasingly afraid and defensive, we need to remember to take a step back and really think about who shares this world with us. People have names, families, and feelings—even people we don’t like, even people who aren’t like us. People who are at a disadvantage need those of us with any advantage to use our power to promote justice, to help them, to love them.
Like Atticus, we won’t always win every battle for what is right, good, true, or just, but that doesn’t make the work less valuable or necessary. Every effort at civility, kindness, and compassion makes a dent in a hard, judgmental, and oppressive world. I’m not so optimistic as to believe we’ll always agree on every point, and I’m guilty of my fair share of incivility. But when we do disagree or disappoint, can we respond to each other without invoking hatred and bitterness? Considering another’s point of view doesn’t make us weak, it makes us stronger.
Sadly, Atticus isn’t real, even though I wish he was. But his character has inspired me to be a more thoughtful, considerate parent, a more invested citizen, and a braver person. For this, I thank Harper Lee. Her great American novel is literature that calls us up, that challenges us to be better, that gives us a glimpse of our best and worst selves in the same picture. Is it true that, perhaps, we’ve all silenced a mockingbird in some way? And yet many still sing.
I’m thankful for the power of story, especially Harper Lee’s magnum opus. If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. Psalm 33:5