To Kill a Mockingbird has been described as both a “novel of strong contemporary national significance” and “pleasant undemanding reading”. With which description do you most agree with and why? Give examples from the text to support your answer.
One interesting thing to note about this discussion is the different understandings of what constitutes "demanding reading".
One the one hand, the prose is accessible to young readers and can be described as "undemanding" in terms of its reading level. One the other hand, some interpret the book as demanding because of its emotional and political content. The book, in this view, challenges readers to come to terms with injustice, prejudice, and unfair social judgment.
So, there is a thematic view that the book is demanding and a prose view that the book is not.
These are not the only two choices when reading this or any other novel, of course; however, those are the two choices you give, and I guess I could not use the word "undemanding" when describing this novel. It may seem that it just a "simple" story because it is told by a young girl and many of the characters are children. That is deceiving, though; the setting seems sleepy and quiet and even boring, but the undercurrent of racial tension and class disparity make it a story with serious and deep conflicts. No simple story, this one.
I disagree that it is undemanding. Any co-worker of mine, born and bred in the Deep South will tell you that the novel strikes a chord in one way or another. It is not undemanding, because the reader will necessitate to transport himself to the time and place of the story in order to understand what is going on. Only through the willingness of the reader to be an objective witness of the case will he or she be able to truly absorb and digest the powerful themes that the novel treats. There is no way to read To Kill a Mockingbird without taxing emotionally. It does demand from the reader to be willing to simply be open minded: That is a hard thing for many people to do.
I'm not sure one should have to choose between "pleasant and undemanding reading" and a novel "of strong contempary national significance." The novel is fairly easy reading, as others have noted. It is told from a child's perspective, so the vocabulary is not all that demanding. The characters are likeable and with Boo Radley, there is quite a bit of suspense. Even when the nastiness of the trial begins, the characters are bestowed with such grace that reading about the racial injustice is somehow pleasurable in a weird sort of way. Atticus Finch's courage is truly inspiring, and shows how even if one loses the fight, he can hold his head high because he did the right thing. Through Finch, we learn to try to understand the situations of others, not to judge, and to treat even those who don't deserve it with respect. The outcome of the trial, though predictable, is quite heartbreaking--an innocent black man goes to jail. But through this trial, we are able to see the kind, compassionate Atticus and the respect that he earns from the community.
I found the first part of the book to be more pleasant and the second part to be more "significant."
Int he first part of the novel, the focus is more on the kids as they interact with each other and as they deal with various people in the community. Although there is tension, there is nothing particularly dark going on and the book is pleasant enough to read.
When the focus switches over to the Tom Robinson trial, the book becomes much less pleasant to read. I did not like this part of the book at all even though I recognized its importance. It was not fun to read about the trial, the impact in had on Tom, or the subsequent violent acts committed by Bob Ewell.
So, I would argue that the first part of the book is lighter and more pleasant while the second part is less fun and more "significant."
I think both of your descriptive quotations accurately support the strengths and enduring popularity of To Kill a Mockingbird. It certainly fits my idea of "pleasant undemanding reading." I first enjoyed reading the novel as a young teenager and still find it enchanting four decades later. Harper Lee's excellent idea of using young Scout as the narrator gives the entire novel a touch of innocence that would not have been evident using an adult narrative; yet Scout's occasional shift to an adult perspective in narration keeps the novel from drifting into simple adolescent fiction. Lee infuses the story with large doses of humor, giving many of the chapters a lighthearted feel in spite of the serious implications that arise concerning the more serious themes of racism, rape and mental instability. Lee's characters are wholly believable, and they come alive in their realistic depictions of life in the Depression era Deep South. Several of the characters, particularly Atticus, Scout, and Boo Radley, are among the most memorable in all American literature. Like most good novels, TKAM is hard to put down, and when the end comes, it leaves the reader wishing to find out more about the futures of Jem, Scout, Dill, Atticus and Boo.