I have an essay to write for my IB English class. The prompt is "What is it about To Kill a Mockingbird which still speaks powerfully to us today?"
I was just wondering what, in a nutshell, everyone else thinks the answer to this prompt might be.
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The main thing that stands out to me is the strength of character of Atticus. He stands up for what is right. He makes sure that his children understand that one needs to do the right and moral thing simply because it is right and moral. He is steadfast in his belief that it does not matter that a majority of people do not agree with him; he knows that in order to live with himself he has to do everything he can for the innocent man, Tom. Atticus knows right is not determined by a popular vote. It takes courage to stand by your convictions. This is what speaks to me, forty years after my first reading of this book.
The courage of Atticus is what speaks to us today. It seems very easy to be courageous when there is nothing at stake, when times are good. When times are challenging, when situations become complex, and when there is pressure on individuals, doing the right thing does acquire a level of courage. Atticus' ability to stand up for what is right, and facing all sorts of pressure for doing so, is what speaks in this book today. The need for courage and for individuals who can represent courage is what speaks today.
The timelessness of To Kill a Mockingbird hinges on many things. One of those being the acceptance of differences. Multiple characters in the book are excluded from functioning in the normal events of society because of their differences and how society looks at those. Boo Radley, Mayella Ewell, and Tom Robinson are but a few. Another thing that makes it stand out is the absolute childlike faith of right and wrong-- acceptance based only on content of character and not color of skin, or economic issues, or emotional perspectives.
There definitely is no right/wrong answer to this prompt! I personally think the experience of growing up is more or less the same from generation to generation, so Scout, Jem, and Dill's coming of age/loss of innocence speaks to pretty much everyone. Every time I "witness" Jem's reaction to the Tom Robinson verdict, I am reminded of what it felt like to realize that people are not perfect, and that they do not always do what is right or nice.
I agree that the single strongest element of relevance today is the character of Atticus Finch. He is one of the most admired creations in all of modern fiction and his moral strength of character is one that anyone should be happy to use as a role model. What a great world it would be today if more people tried to live life as Atticus Finch.
As others have stated, there really is no wrong answer to your question. In addition to Atticus's obvious sense of honor and courage, I think that the ability of a child to see the truth about human nature is another factor in the novel's timelessness.
Much like the novels of Charles Dickens, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is replete with memorable characters from whom young readers learn moral lessons: Calpurnia, who treats everyone considerately and fairly, Miss Maudie, who has an aversion to hypocrisy, Mrs. DuBose, who displays personal courage, Aunt Alexandra, who is too consumed with social prestige, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley, two innocents whose flaws are that they are too humane, Mr. Cunningham and Walter, who have dignity albeit poor, Jem, Scout, and Dill, who are often just typical children, and, finally, Atticus, who represents the Transcendental hero in his respect for the individual and for justice.
What a great question and I regret I am not able to teach it to my seniors today (it's a British lit. class). TKaM is timeless because EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON can relate to it. First, Atticus is a ever constant reminder of 'doing what's right even if it's not the popular thing to do'. Second, Scout, Jem, and Dill are characters people of all characters can learn from. Students identify with their childhood antics, their loss of innocence, and their learned lessons. Third, discrimination and racism still exist today and are hot topics. The novel brings a story set in the 1930s to relevance in every decade since. Why? It's still happening and it's still a bone of contention for many people. Fourth, Boo Radley. This, coupled with the story's other plot, teaches people a tremendous lesson: people aren't what they seem and everyone deserves a chance.
WE LOVE SCOUT!
We love her naivete, we love her honesty, we love her growth! I know most people cite the bravery of Atticus as the reason they love the novel, but for me, it's Scout.
We love TKAM even after all these years because Scout helps us stroll down our own personal memory lanes and remember what if felt like to learn important lessons in life, both painful and joyful.
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