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Book Review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those classic novels that everyone knows the name of, but not necessarily the story.

Set in the 1930s, a time when discrimination was accepted, Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, is called on to represent a black man charged with the beating and rape of a white woman.

In the lead up to and during the trial, Atticus articulates many sentiments which are particularly relevant to us as law students. As he attempts to explain to his young children the importance and relevance of justice, Atticus reminds us of how simple the notion of fairness really can be.

Since Atticus does such a brilliant job of explaining his ideals, I won’t attempt a summary. Instead, I present to you my favourite Atticus quotes, or, as I like to call them, Finch’s Four Rules of Fairness:

1. "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

2. "The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

3. "The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.”

4. “It’s not okay to hate anybody.”

Perhaps inspired by Atticus’ words of wisdom, Scout and her brother, Jem, spend much of their childhood attempting to unravel the mystery of their neighbour Boo Radley, a man condemned as malicious and feared throughout the county. They soon discover that, much like Frankenstein’s monster, Boo is more misunderstood than he is evil.

And while To Kill a Mockingbird is primarily a coming of age story for our protagonist, Scout, it is the events of the story’s court case that really make the novel stand out, especially to those interested in law. Though not all ends as expected, Atticus demonstrates to his children, the county, and to us, that it is the pursuit of justice that makes the law so powerful and so important.

This was a joy to read in between exam preparation and repeats of The West Wing. And since exams are now over for most of us, if you’re finding it impossible to switch your law brain off, To Kill a Mockingbird offers just enough legal repartee, while also proving to be a thoroughly entertaining read – once you remember how to read rather than scan, that is.

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