When I was fourteen years old in 1961, I read To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it because I heard some teachers talking about how it should probably not be in the school's library because it was so controversial. My mother bought me a copy.
At that time in my life, it was the most stimulating reading that I had ever done. I read it by chapters and labeled each chapter as I went. In my adolescent mind, it was scary, sad, infuriating, fun, and thought provoking.
The cast of characters were unforgettable. The Finches, Calpurnia, Dill, Mrs. DuBose, the Ewells, Boo, and all the other minor characters work their way into the reader's heart and mind.
My first small town in Oklahoma had few black people in it. In 1956, the black students were integrated into the school and it was my first real encounter with racism. No one treated them badly that I knew about, but they were certainly isolated. It did not impact my fifth grade world, so I did not think much about them.
When I read "...Mockingbird," I realized that ignoring someone is prejudiced in itself. Unfortunately, by that time, the three students in my class had all dropped out of school. Sad, but true.
There are so many lessons to learn in the book. Probably the first time, I had ever cried about an animal was the shooting of the rabid dog. It stuck in my mind for years. Now, I am such an animal fanatic...it may have been that poor dog walking down the streets of Maycomb.
Through Scout's intuitive mind and constant questions, a lifetime of knowledge can be gained. One of the things that I first learned was "walk a mile in my shoes." That was a lesson I passed along to my daughter and my students.
Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell's shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that's something I'll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I'd rather it be me than that houseful of children out there. You understand?"
The character of Boo was so intriguing to me. What a perfect example of what people do to someone that is different or that is misunderstood! Boo was a good guy...rumors, innuendos, appearances, abuse---all of these things had ruined Boo's life.
Tom Robinson's trial made me want to be a lawyer and defend those who needed someone to stand up for them. Atticus was my hero. Stalwart, understanding, larger than life, all-knowing---where are the men like that? I wanted to marry Atticus, but I never found someone who could walk in his shoes.
Atticus's closing speech to the jury was phenomenal. Even at my young age, I knew that this was great writing. I copied it down on paper...and at one time could quote a good part of it.
There are always families like the Ewells. In my town, we had a family that everyone made fun of and talked about. They lived near the town dump and could often be seen rummaging around in it. The oldest girl got pregnant by her brother everyone said. No one would have anything to do with them. How sad they were!
I wanted Harper Lee to write a sequel to the book. I wanted to know more...what happened to all of these wonderful characters.
This was a book that changed my life, and I am sure there were many more just like me.