Our friend KM mentioned Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird recently. (See http://drkmchow.blogspot.com/2010/10/mockingbird.html) In this month’s Reader’s Digest, an article also celebrated the book’s 50th anniversary.
The story took place in Alabama during the Great Depression. A young white girl accused a black man called Tom Robinson for raping her. The court assigned Atticus, a middle-aged lawyer, to represent Tom. During the course, Atticus was under immense pressure from his neighbors and friends. They could not understand why he would agree to represent a black man. His children were also teased by their classmates as ‘nigger-lovers’. At one occasion, other townsmen nearly assaulted Atticus and Tom before the trial.
During the trial, Atticus unequivocally demonstrated that there was no evidence the rape ever occurred. On further questioning, it was clear that the shy and friendless white girl tried to seduce Tom. However, the girl’s father entered the house right at that time. To uphold their own reputation, they decided to make false allegation against Tom.
Despite overwhelming evidence, it was a time when a white person’s testimony was sufficient to condemn the blacks. Tom was convicted, and was later killed when he tried to escape from prison.
Although the novel touches on many serious topics, Lee cleverly used Atticus’ six-year old daughter as the narrator. Viewed from the eyes of a girl, the story had a degree of livelihood and humor. It is touching to see how Atticus was worried about his children and at the same time hoped they would understand why he was doing this.
Much has been said about courage and compassion in this story. To me, Atticus was remarkable for standing up to what is right when he did not have support from his peers. Fighting against enemies without considering their point of view is one thing. Respecting others’ points and at the same time upholding one’s own faith is integrity.