Maria Emerson: A Personal Take on To Kill a Mockingbird

By Maria Emerson, Technical Services Assistant at Western Theological Seminary

I don’t remember exactly when I fell in love with “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In the same way that there are times in your life when you meet someone who impacts you profoundly, there are times when a book does the same. TKAM was that book for me. What first caught my attention was the unforgettable and unique character of Scout Finch. Through my eyes, Scout was like me. I was a tomboy when I was younger — dresses were my enemy, I had short hair, I tagged after my older brother (sometimes to his annoyance), I read a lot, and I found it easier to be friends with boys than girls. There were differences of course. Scout was far more talkative than I was, and resolved things with her fists more than I did, but there were enough similarities to keep me intrigued from the beginning. Although I still love the character of Scout, the book has evolved for me as I have grown older.

Years after reading TKAM for the first time, I still find myself rereading it once a year. My copy of the book is worn and dog-earred, and clearly the most read book on my bookshelf. I have one small tattoo on my foot (to the surprise and horror of my parents), which is an outline of a mockingbird. Perhaps it is the tattoo that best explains my love for this timeless classic. I decided on a mockingbird because I wanted to be reminded of Lee’s novel every time I saw it. Why? Books have lessons in them, and TKAM has lessons that can always be drawn upon at any time in a person’s life.

One of the most prominent lessons in the story is trying to understand other people’s perspectives and actions by looking at life through their viewpoint. It ties into the theme of good prevailing over evil as the main characters look for and appreciate the good qualities of a person, while trying to understand their bad ones. One way this is illustrated is through Boo Radley, who is described as an intelligent, polite child, but  suffers at the hands of an abusive father. Because of events before Scout and her brother Jem’s time, and fueled by gossip around town, the children believe Boo to be harmful and scary. Of course, he turns out to be just the opposite.

One of my favorite’s scenes in the book happens at the very end, when Scout is falling asleep on Atticus’ lap while he reads a book about a ghost wrongfully accused of something. Scout mumbles “When they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things . . . Atticus, he was real nice. . . .” Her father responds with “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.” Boo is a perfect example of what happens when you try to really see and understand someone–you see the good that is always there.

I could go on for a long time about TKAM and its many themes, vibrant characters, and life lessons. Whenever people discover my love for this story and ask why, I find it hard to explain in a sentence or two exactly what it is. Although set in a specific location and time, its morals and lessons are everlasting. TKAM will always be my favorite book, and will always be a source of comfort for me.

My husband and I are currently expecting our first child this February; a little girl. Her name will be Scout. I hope my daughter grows up with the lessons of this novel embedded in how she approaches the world.

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