Friday, June 25, 2010

To Kill a Classic

by Rachel

I read To Kill A Mockingbird twice as a high school student—once as an eleventh-grader in Australia, and then again the following year as a senior in the States. I was going to take an American literature course in college which examined the story further, but decided against it; I worried re-reading and overanalyzing the text would ruin the book for me. After reading it a couple of times and liking it, I’m thinking of taking it on once again this summer—as a reader this time, not as an overly analytical student.

Part of my decision to read To Kill A Mockingbird again comes from wanting to prove Allen Barra wrong, after reading his Wall Street Journal article. In this piece, Barra tells his readers that it’s time to “stop pretending that 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature.” He believes there’s no ambiguity in the text of the book; that its “bloodless liberal humanism” is dated, and declares Flannery O’Conner’s writing a far worthier subject for high-school readers.

Allen Barra may complain of the book lacking ambiguity, but I’ve got to admit how much I enjoyed this book—twice. Combining controversial and eye-opening themes of injustice, courage and innocence, with Harper Lee’s simple and elegant narrative style, I think To Kill A Mockingbird is an incredibly relevant piece of literature that I hope will continue to be read in schools for years to come.

Do you think To Kill A Mockingbird is worthy of praise? Or, do you think it’s time to give students something else to read? If you agree with Allen Barra’s thoughts on the book, what do you think should be next on the curriculum for high school kids to read?


  1. I do love To Kill a Mockingbird and it's worthy of all the praise it gets BUT I do feel that curriculum probably need updating. There are plenty of excellent contemporary novels but school books are still stuck in the past. Granted I'm not from America but the most modern novel I studied at my school in Ireland was The Outsiders ('67), the most modern poet was Sylvia Plath (60's) and the most modern play was Juno and the Paycock (1924!). I'm not saying these don't still have merit but if you want young people especially the ones who AREN'T readers to engage then we need to update our offerings and there is plenty to choose from!

  2. One of the most delightful parts of the 2009-10 school year for me was watching my 15-year-old daughter read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for the first time. Expertly drawn characters, great prose, and yes, subtlety--in Scout's observations and childlike voice--all make it a must-read. With a pub date of 1962, it's hardly "dated"! It truly qualifies as American literature, regional and lovely in its depiction of a community. Also: Without Atticus Finch, readers will be hard pressed to find a redeemable father figure in Southern lit.

  3. I love this book, it's a classic.

  4. Did this guy Barra really get paid to write an article saying a book written over 50 years ago is dated?
    Of course its dated. Time is a one way street. Things change. Things move on. If Mockingbird were written today as a contemporary work then come next centaury someone else might pretend to be intellectual and collect a nice wage packet for saying its dated. The question is does a reader want to visit story of its own time? The answer from this reader is yes.

    The fact that Mockingbird is still talked about and the fact that Barra can get paid to talk about it, is a proof that it is a classic. In a hundred years time Mockingbird will still be talked about and read, while Stigg Larsson will have been pulped for toilet tissue and forgotten. (sorry, just had to have another bash at my least favourite author)

  5. He believes there’s no ambiguity in the text of the book >>

    Standing up for what you believe in (and fighting for what you know is right) and LOSING lacks ambiguity?? Eh, what?

  6. To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it in high school, and revisited it again a few years ago on my own. The themes it explores are as relevant today as they were then, and the characters are vivid and engaging. It speaks to me every time I read it. If it's not on the curriculum when my daughter gets to high school, she will read it at home.

  7. Perhaps the important part today of "Mockingbird" is not the language but the theme. Does it not remain important to remember, or to learn, how it was in the South? (I don't live there now, but did live in Virginia.) Is the courage to go against the stream not a timeless feature in novels?

  8. I definitely think this is an extremely praise-worthy book that holds lessons just as relevant today as when it was first published. My only concern would be what else accompanies the curriculum. The voice of a white lawyer's child in the era is a valid voice and in this case beautifully written, but it is only one voice. In my nearly all-white high school, almost everything I ever read came from a white perspective. I would have gotten a tremendous amount of value from reading the perspectives of African-American characters as well.


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