Tributes have been pouring in for Harper Lee, who has died at the age of 89. I hope she will always be remembered for penning To Kill a Mockingbird, a great American novel if ever there was one.
For me, the soul of To Kill a Mockingbird is Atticus, who showed us what empathy for all human beings, regardless of whether we agree with, like, or identify with them, looks like. Atticus represents the ideal of American justice, meaning equal treatment under the law for all. This doesn’t mean we all need to be exactly the same or live exactly the same way or believe exactly the same things. For Atticus (and how beautiful if for all of us) it does mean having one standard of treatment grounded in respect, love, and belief that all human lives are of equal value.
This is, I believe, the ultimate American ideal.
Though Americans may disagree about the extent to which we’ve achieved this, perhaps we can agree that it is a tragically difficult ideal to realize, as history (and Atticus) reveal. Yet it’s the ideal worth striving and fighting for, whatever the cost.
I hope posterity will remember Harper Lee for giving us the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird.
When I first reread the novel for the Gilmore Girls reading challenge in April of 2015, I shared a few of my favorite moments. They’re favorites because they provide, I believe, powerful inspiration for living. So here they are again:
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”
“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”
“People in their right minds never take pride in their talents.”
“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.”
“When you and Jem are grown, maybe you’ll look back on this with some compassion and some feeling that I didn’t let you down.”
“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”
“[B]efore I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”