An Uncompromising Initiatory Novel

In small town Alabama during the Great Depression, Atticus Finch raised his two children, Jem and Scout, alone. A man of integrity and rigor, this lawyer is appointed to defend a black man accused of having raped a white woman. He faces the death penalty. »

This summary appears on the back cover of a recent reissue of Harper Lee’s novel: To Kill a Mockingbird. As Isabelle Hausser writes in the afterword, it helps to understand the success of this book, published for the first time in 1960, success to the point of receiving the Pulitzer the following year. It even seems that Truman Capote, jealous, claimed to have written most of the novel. It is perhaps undermining its scope, or making a commercial appeal of bad quality (come and see what the Americans have been, come and see what they still are sometimes) to reduce it to a simple militant work for the civil rights. Faulkner had this ability, this genius, to start from the depths of the American South to reach universal themes. Without going so far as to compare Harper Lee to Faulkner, there is like this same capacity in the Mockingbird.

A story where, as an adult, Jean Louise Finch, or rather Scout, recalls some of her early years, more particularly those of the Great Depression, in Maycomb, a small town lost in this rural South where the American dream seems far away. , where a Black is not quite a human being and where it is fashionable to mock the speeches of “ the Lady of the Presidency in Washington ” (Eleanor Roosevelt), who dares to criticize the South.

However, we are not dealing only with an initiatory novel: certainly, we see Scout gradually losing his illusions and, with a marvelous humor, we attend his childhood games, sometimes innocent but which can also become cruel. (bringing out Boo Radley), to her childhood beliefs, on her first day of school, when she discovered the ” Dewey Decimal system “, which for her translates into bullying because she can already read. Scout discovers prejudices, or even sees her brother move away from her, no longer wanting to share her games or her secrets: simply growing up.

There are other characters in this novel, especially the father behind whom Scout tends to fade. A strange man, this Atticus, too strange, too different from the others to be honest; and yet, he is honest more than anything. A man of mysteries and secrets who, little by little, reveals himself, an old and weak man who, for a long time, makes his children ashamed because he is not athletic, unlike other parents. Phenomenal man, because devoid of any racist prejudice and who taught his children to respect each human being, regardless of the color of his skin. A man who is soon to be hated by his fellow citizens and despised by his family, because he takes up the defense of a black man. He certainly had no choice: he was appointed. But that he really wants to defend it, this is what the inhabitants of Maycomb cannot accept. So began what Scout later referred to as ” hard time. »

Realistic painting of a South that no longer exists? Indeed: more than forty years after its first publication, To Kill a Mockingbird , the only novel by this woman whom no one has met for forty years, is still fought in many regions of this same South, and some try to ban it from school libraries: it would be blasphemous, filthy.

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