Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is infamous, not only because it’s a Pulitzer-Prize winning novel. We remember it as the story of Scout, a young girl who experiences the brutal realities of racism, violence and injustice.
The atmospheric setting of Old South in the 1930’s is the dramatic stage as Lee builds her brilliant coming-of-tale legend–it offers a universal appeal, not only because Scout is such an enduring and unforgettable character, but because Atticus is a man of character and courage (we learn to look up to him just as his daughter does).
In one sense, we could see the tale as a throwback, a historical piece of literature that lets us feel some solace that it’s “not that bad.” But, more recent events in American history have shown that this world is still not the just and equitable place that we wish it were. As we read (and re-read this modern morality lesson), we cringe. Have we really come as far as we’d dared imagine?
Where’s the Hope?
A guilty man is proven innocent, but still found guilty. The outsider goes back to his seclusion. Justice appears to be not just blind, but unfair and just wrong-headed. The outlook is bleak and foreboding. Yet, we take away an almost-inextricable sense of hope.
It’s ok that Boo goes back to his cave. It’s what he wanted. It’s not ok that Tom Robinson is found “guilty.”
Even with the harsh and very unsettling realities of the novel, Harper Lee manages to leave us with a sense of hope. Maybe it’s we, the readers, who must put our own sense of hope for the future on the face of the novel — to really see the depth of what Scout represents (even against all the insurmountable odds).