I was in the eighth grade, and it was on the list of required readings for my English class. That dreaded list. So I picked it up, a used copy with wrinkled, curled corners and a scent of a damp basement. Yeah, this was going to be a boring read, my 13-year-old self decided. That is until I opened the book and discovered the “tired old town” of Maycomb, guided by a vivacious Scout.
It was a time when folks were told that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. It was a world where friendship, courage and tolerance warred with prejudice, injustice and deceit. It was a story of doing what was right, even when courage compels one to walk the path alone. And it changed me.
On Monday, Nov. 5, 2007, Harper Lee, 80, was given the honor of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to American Literature. It is considered as the highest and most coveted civilian award to recognize Americans who have impacted science, the arts, literature and the cause of freedom. It is a laudation Ms. Lee rightly deserves.
It needs to be noted that this woman chose to speak out about honor, integrity and compassion during a time and in a place that rejected those notions. Through Atticus Finch, she conveyed that we indeed cannot truly understand another person’s life until we “climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
To me, what makes this novel relevant is the continuance of prejudice, injustice, bigotry, hatred. But more importantly, what makes this novel timeless is the resonance of hope, innocence, equality, and love that the characters demonstrated throughout the story and leaders have displayed throughout history.
I may not have fully grasped the whole concept of bigotry and injustice when I first read the book. But that was the innocence of youth, when the mockingbird in me was unharmed, unhurt, and I spent my days singing my heart out. Now that I’m grown, well, the mockingbird may be a little injured, a little wrinkled but still singing – louder than ever.