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?