Although this book was written before Harper Lee's world famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird, it takes place after the events described in that. Jean Louise Finch (Scout) is now a grown-up girl of 26, she has left Maycomb, Alabama and lives in New York.
Once a year, Jean Louise returns home for a two-week visit - that's where the book starts. In this visit, she is confronted with things that shock her deeply. In her father Atticus's documents, she finds a pamphlet referring to the "Black Plague". Jean Louise follows her father and her childhood friend to the Citizens' Council meeting where Atticus introduces a man who delivers a deeply racist speech. Jean Louise is horrified and feels betrayed by her father - who had always taught her that all people should have the same rights, but now seem to represent an entirely different point of view. Jean Louise and Atticus talk about the issue in his office, and to Jean Louise's horrification, Atticus admits openly he doesn't believe black people are ready to receive full civil rights, including the right to vote, as white. Jean Louise is raging because of her father's betrayal, feels lost and alone, curses at her father, returns home and starts packing her things to leave Maycomb forever.
When she is about to leave, her uncle Jack arrives and slaps her in the face - bringing her back to reality. He tells her she has always been idolizing her father, believing that his opinions would always be the same as hers. He tells her she should begin seeing Atticus as a man of flesh and blood, and that Atticus was attempting just that in their earlier conversation.
She returns to Atticus's office and apologizes - but Atticus tells her he is very proud of her. He had always hoped she would grown up to stand up for her own ideas of write and wrong. Jack or Atticus (I fail to remember) tells her persons like her are needed to make significant changes in the world's ideas of racial equality.
Harper Lee shows a variety of emotions and ideas on the post-war racial issues and puts those into the historical context an incredibly accurate way. The fact that this is still highly topical today (with the refugee crises everywhere in the world, the attacks on black people by police officers etc.) made me connect to the story very deeply. Beautifully written.
To me, the best books are those that leave you with a tear in the eye when you turn the last page (with a sigh): this book did that to me.
The story is set during the great depression of the 1930s in a 'tired old town' in the southern State of Alabama, where the black Americans are not yet seen as full people. The book is told through the eyes of a young girl named Scout and stretches over two years, starting when she's six. She has a brother, Jem, that is four year older than she is. Throughout the book, Jem becomes a grown-up, struggling with himself as much as with the world around him. They live with their father Atticus, a lawyer, who has taught them moral above all other things. When Atticus defends the black Tom Robinson in a trial and - of course, the accused one is a black - loses the case, Scout and Jem cannot understand the unfairness of the way blacks are treated. Though the story is not even as much about black versus white people, more about good versus bad people. And even though it's clear there are people that do bad things, Atticus teaches his children one may not hate another, and one can only understand another persons actions ‘if you slip into his skin and walk around in it’. These are greatly important moralistic lessons – which made me think: ‘Am I doing it that way? Or should I change something in the way I approach others?’
Harper Lee did a great job in how she conveys these morals; she managed not to sound pedantic. Probably this is because the readers sees and hears things through the mind of the young Scout, who is in the middle of learning to understand everything she sees happening.
But apart from all the moral, the book also just is a great story. Scout is a little Miss Know-it-all, more a lad then a girl, and she adores her big brother. They and their friend Dill (who reminded me of Tom Sawyer, actually: the best-hearted boy in the world, and always ready for adventures) are intrigued by their mysterious neighbor Arthur ('Boo') Radley, who has been hiding in his house forever. It takes a long time and lots of attempts of seeing a glimpse of him before they realize there's nothing so creepy about him, and that he is probably just hiding inside because he does not want to be a part of the people. Tom Robinsons trial is really interesting - I had hoped so much he would win - and chapter 28 is so exciting that I had to hold my breath.
The main quote in this book (and it's full of very insightful quotes) is, I think, when Scout says: 'I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks'. This is the reason why I agree to all the people saying that everyone should read this book before they die. Though it may be quite naive to think that a book, this or another, has the power change people - at least it gives one something to think about.