How Harper Lee Led Me to My Passion

Everybody has at least one thing in their life that just feels right to them, something that they are so passionate about that they know that’s what they were put on the Earth for. For me, this is literature. When I was young, all I did was read. Whenever I got home from school, I had a special spot in my living room where I would curl up in one of our big brown leather chairs and read until my mom forced me to put the book down and do my homework, or eat, or take a shower. I read and reread books again and again and whenever I had been especially good at home, my mom would treat me with a trip to (no, not Chuck E. Cheese) Borders. All throughout elementary and middle school, I read books like Little House on the Prairie, The Lightning Thief, and Harry Potter and every day I couldn’t wait to get to my English class to learn about books like The Giver and The Outsiders. When it came time for me to go to high school, I knew that I wanted to take Honors English. This turned out to be the best decision I could have made, as it was my first exposure to the classic literary canon. In addition, it brought me to my favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

When I received my summer reading assignment for Honors English 9, I was super excited to begin. Among the four books I had to read that summer (To Kill a Mockingbird, Sense and Sensibility, The Count of Monte Cristo, and The Old Man and The Sea), I decided to start with To Kill a Mockingbird because my grandma had a copy, which would save me a trip to my local public library. Upon reading the first few pages, though, I grew increasingly disappointed. I didn’t want to read about the Finch family history, which takes up one entire chapter by itself. I began to think to myself, “Oh god, this is gonna be a boring old book, isn’t it? I wonder how people like this so much?” It was tedious and I was uninterested. Interesting how such a bad start to a book can turn around so quickly, though.

A few weeks later and I couldn’t put the book down. I was actually sad when I finished it; it was the first piece of highly regarded classical literature that I had read and I ended up loving it. The thing that I specifically loved the most about this book was its characters: how they’re characterized, their relationships with each other, and the overall depth of each one. They are all unique in their own way. Specifically, I loved the dynamic that the protagonist, Scout Finch, and her older brother, Jem, have. I’ve always wanted an older brother so I found their relationship to be extremely intriguing; it was almost as if I was Scout and Jem was my older brother.

I’m the type of person who falls in love with different literary characters as I learn more about them. Reading To Kill a Mockingbird was an especially enjoyable experience for me because it allowed me to do this with Scout and Jem. At the beginning of the novel, they are young children who go on adventures with their neighbor and friend, Dill, trying to get the neighborhood creep, Boo Radley, out of his house (as he hasn’t been seen in quite a while). Reading this allowed me to think on my own childhood adventures, allowing me to compare myself with them and instantly like them. This fun and playful beginning also establishes their innocence, which, by the end of novel, is taken away from them through the experience of their father, Atticus, defending an African-American man named Tom Robinson (which was totally against the norm in their southern, racist town). This transition—one where Scout and Jem both grow up and exhibit strength of character, despite only being children—is what allowed me to appreciate Lee’s writing abilities and the story itself so much.

When I reached the ending of the book, I knew that it was my absolute favorite part. The trial of Tom Robinson and the search for Boo Radley was interesting, but god, I just love the ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but this is where Scout and Jem’s relationship shines through the most, in my opinion. They stick together and are protective of one another even when some really creepy stuff starts to happen after a Halloween party at their school. In the end, both characters have acted very bravely in spite of living in a place where racism is rampant and where Atticus is ostracized because of his differing views on this matter. Scout and Jem’s indifference to the color of people’s skin make them better people than any adult in this novel; funny how Lee wrote them as only being children, right?

I must say, Harper Lee really knew what she was doing as she characterized both Jem and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. As soon as I finished the novel, it just felt right to me. Though I initially judged the book, it ended up being my absolute favorite because of the relationship dynamics that Lee utilized throughout its entirety. Because of this novel, I know that literature is my passion and that I am meant to study and help improve similar works. Just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Kiersten Farstvedt

 

 

– Kiersten Farstvedt

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