The book tells us what we want to believe about ourselves as a nation.Because the story is set in the Jim Crow South, it’s nothing short of heroic that Atticus is so determined that Tom Robinson—a black man who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman—gets a fair trial.On Halloween night, Ewell does attack them with intent to murder, but Boo Radley—the neighbor who seemed so terrifying—comes to their rescue, and Ewell is the one who ends up dead.
Nuggets of unimpeachable wisdom drop regularly from his lips, making nearly every occasion a teaching moment.
“Atticus speaks in snatches of dialogue,” said Allen Barra in a 2010 essay in is precisely this ability to tap into an American civic religion.
That doesn’t come as a surprise, not in this novel where there is never any real confusion about what’s right or wrong, good or bad, and who is innocent or guilty.
“It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are reading a children’s book,” said Flannery O’Connor, who had no patience for moral simplification.
He was as different from Harper Lee as a bear is from a berry.
One reviewer called “that rare literary phenomenon, a Southern novel with no mildew on its magnolia leaves.Faulkner and other writers of the Southern Renaissance wrote from deep inside the culture and mythology of a place that might as well have been a separate nation, but the famed “tragic sense” of Southern literature—the very thing that gave Southern literature its power and authenticity—is absent from , all about the pranks and high jinks of a bunch of loveable kids.Lee sounds like a bemused anthropologist as she leads the reader through the folkways of her fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, circa 1935.Funny, happy, and written with unspectacular precision.” In my eyes, that was exactly what was wrong with it.To an 18-year-old under the spell of the South, the book seemed like a sugarcoated myth.He wasn’t Tom to them, he was an escaping prisoner.” Always a great one for looking at things from someone else’s point of view, Atticus empathizes with the guard, not with Tom.Less than two pages later, Scout has settled on her response to Tom’s death: “If Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I.” Thus the tragedy at the core of the novel is neatly wrapped up in a little pair of lessons. For more than 50 years I have felt slightly churlish for not liking the book as much as most Alabamians, and most Americans, did and do.The story of Scout, Boo Radley, and the noble, crusading Atticus might have started as a novel, but it has long since moved up into a more elevated category—cultural touchstone, American classic, national treasure. My problem with this book dates back to 1961, when I had a summer job in an oil field in south Alabama, not far from Monroeville, the small town that was in the first flush of its reputation as the home of Harper Lee and the setting for My job consisted mostly of clearing brush, but some nights I was stationed at a pump house where I had to read the gauges once an hour; the rest of the time I kept myself awake by reading Southern writers. Keep in mind that, 50-plus years ago, this label , now little more than a marketing category, was charged with electricity.As for Atticus Finch, he is an American archetype, a just man who by sheer force of character (and with a little help from his eight-year-old daughter) can stare down a lynch mob.The qualities that he encourages in his children—fairness, integrity, responsibility, empathy—are bedrock American virtues.