The story is set in 1930s Maycomb, Alabama, and is told by Scout Finch. In it, she looks back to her childhood, between the ages of six and nine years. A lively, intelligent and fiercely loyal child, she has one older brother called Jem, whose main interest is football. Despite an age difference of nearly four years, the siblings are clearly very close. Their mother died when Scout was two and they have been brought up by their father, Atticus – who proves to be a man you can’t help admiring. Calpurnia, their housekeeper, seems to have been a great help to Atticus in raising the children. At times, Scout seems to have seen her as something of an adversary, though they become much closer as time goes on. Among their neighbours are the mysterious Radleys – Mr. Arthur, better known as Boo Radley, hasn’t been seen outside for many years. He has become something of a legend that inspires a certain amount of fear among the children. Another neighbour, Miss Maudie, is an entirely different proposition – a very likeable character, she proves to be a very good friend to the children and one of Maycomb’s more admirable residents.
Another of the children’s friends in Chet Baker Harris, a boy from Mississippi who is better known as Dill. He spends his summer with his Aunt Rachel, another of Scout’s neighbours. Dill is the driving force behind one of the book’s major themes : the quest to make Boo Radley come outside. The other theme, however, is a lot more serious – it deals with a court case where a black man has been charged with raping a white woman, on very flimsy evidence. The attitude of many of the townsfolk to the man in question, and to the black community in general, confuse the children greatly. The consequences of these attitudes have a direct impact on the Finch family, given that Atticus has been appointed the defence attorney.
I tend to be very suspicious of a book if it’s referred to as a ‘classic’ – too many of those I’ve read (or been forced to read) have been far too tedious. “To Kill a Mockingbird”, however, is what a classic should be – superbly written, with an excellent story and featuring characters you genuinely care about.