Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is frequently hailed as one of the best books of all time.
The novel became an instant bestseller when it was first published back in 1960, and it’s gone on to become an internationally recognized cult classic.
For years, the book has appeared on high school curriculums across the US and beyond, and for a good reason. The challenging themes of racial injustice spark lively and important debates in the classroom, introducing young readers to the harsh lived realities of many people of colour in the American South.
Like many of us, I was first introduced to Harper Lee’s classic when I was in school. But up until recently, my old copy has been sitting on my bookshelf, gathering dust. The last time I read it, I was around eighteen years old, and let’s just say that was a pretty long time ago.
And so, I decided to revisit To Kill a Mockingbird as a fully-fledged adult, and I have to say, I was pretty surprised.
Of course, the bare bones of the story haven’t changed, but my perceptions of some of the characters and their interweaving stories certainly have. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
Reading this tale through an adult lens, especially as an adult living in 2022, throws up new perspectives on this celebrated classic and makes for an unexpectedly fascinating read.
And as America continues to grapple with racial injustice, inequality, and division, To Kill a Mockingbird seems just as poignant as the day it was first published.
Why You Should Re-Read to Kill a Mockingbird as an Adult?
In this post, I’ll list five reasons why To Kill a Mockingbird is a great book to reread as an adult.
So, if you haven’t picked it up since high school, after finishing this post, you may want to dig out your old copy and give it another whirl.
5 Reasons to Re-Read “To Kill A Mockingbird” as an Adult
1. It’s Still Relevant Today
When Harper Lee’s book first hit the shelves in 1960, themes of racial injustice were at the core of American society. And while there have been many significant steps forward in the years that have followed, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go.
Racism, discrimination, and prejudice still prevail today, and this gut-wrenching story encourages us to address these deep-seated divisions rather than shy away from them.
Unfortunately, racist mindsets are still being taught to many children across the US and beyond, and books like this are an essential part of many people’s relearning.
“In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.”
Atticus Finch’s famous words all too often still ring true today. Racial bias continues to be an undeniable problem in the criminal justice system. African Americans are still six times more likely to serve time behind bars, and the figure is even greater when it comes to disproportionate levels of police brutality.
As Atticus reminds us, “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.”
So, if there was ever a time to check our own internal prejudices, that time is now.
2. It’s Surprisingly Funny
I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember chuckling much when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird. But this time around, I noticed an overarching tone of delightfully dry humor that I guess I must have missed as a teenager.
There are multiple giggle-worthy moments throughout the story, which is just as well, as the subject matter is pretty heavy, after all.
The book’s beloved narrator, Scout, is particularly dry-witted. Many of her lines left me quietly chuckling, like in chapter one, when she describes the Haverfords as “a name synonymous with jackass.”
Or in chapter six, when she recounts Mr.Avery’s habit of peeing openly outside the front porch. As Jem and Dill engage in their own urinating competition “to determine relative distances and respective prowess,” she quips that it “only made me feel left out again, as I was untalented in this area.”
On several occasions, Scout lightens the tone by accident, too, simply through her childish naivete. For example, when she inadvertently diffuses a lynch mob by cheerfully striking up a conversation with a classmate’s father, Mr. Cunningham.
Suddenly, Cunningham is snapped out of his mob mentality, proving that sometimes, the only one with the power to ease that kind of tension is a child.
3. It Teaches us Important Lessons on Division And Unity
To Kill a Mockingbird is packed with important life lessons about how we perceive others, which is one of the reasons this classic novel has appeared in school curriculums for decades.
Throughout most of the book, the children view their misunderstood neighbour, Boo Radley, as a “malevolent phantom.”
Jem describes him as “about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.”
In their ignorance, the children fear Boo Radley, seeing him as a terrifying villain. But their perspective changes entirely when they decide to step outside their comfort zones and find out the real truth behind this reclusive outcast.
Boo proves himself to be a friend rather than a foe, and they realize that all this time, they had completely misunderstood their neighbour.
This poignant lesson may have escaped many of us as teenagers, but re-reading To Kill a Mockingbird reminded me how vital this message is to us all.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, in our increasingly divided world, most of us hold some kind of prejudice, and it doesn’t always take the obvious form of things like racism or sexism. Prejudices can be subtle, such as our biases against people of a different political persuasion, or those who view the world in an unconventional way.
While the media and politicians would have us believe it’s “them vs. us,” the truth is, we all have much more in common than we think.
When we choose to reach out with kindness and try to understand each other, we might realize, just like Scout, Jem, and Dill, that our own Boo Radley is not the enemy after all.
4. It’s Controversial
Ever since the book was first published, To Kill a Mockingbird has been a source of major controversy across racial and political lines, particularly in fractured America.
The book’s unnerving themes of rape and violence and the frequent use of the n-word have sparked many heated debates about its suitability, especially in school curriculums.
Proponents of Harper Lee’s work say the book is quintessentially anti-racist, but others vehemently disagree, arguing that Atticus Finch’s character perpetuates the ‘white savior’ trope.
But whatever your opinion, in a time where book-banning is becoming increasingly prevalent, it’s more important than ever to keep these controversial works alive and available to anyone who wants to read them.
After all, banning books is censorship, and censorship is a direct threat to a major part of the First Amendment; freedom of speech.
So, if you need any more reason to give To Kill a Mockingbird another read, the fact that some people don’t want you to is as good an incentive as any.
5. Marvel at The Bits You Missed
If your only experience with Harper Lee’s classic was in high school English class, you might find that the book you thought you knew contains some pretty fascinating surprises when you read it through adult eyes.
One thing I personally missed (or at least don’t remember) the first time around is the underhanded backlash that Atticus Finch receives from his white neighbours for defending a black man in court.
Most of them know without a doubt that Tom Robinson is innocent, but even so, their deep-seated racism means they disapprove.
None of this comes as a shock to Atticus, who understands the sad truth that a good man like Tom will never be listened to simply because of the colour of his skin.
A couple of even more subtle elements of the story passed me by in my younger years. For example, it’s clear to me now that Boo Radley suffers from crippling agoraphobia. His illness left him a prisoner in his own home, and the only thing that could override his fear of leaving his house was his desire to save the children from immediate danger.
This time around, I was also surprised to learn that the Finch’s neighbour, Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, wasn’t just a mean, cantankerous old bag for the sake of it (although she was unforgivably racist). She was actually addicted to morphine and was bravely trying to wean herself off her dependency, which eventually led to her death.
There are numerous other character traits and plot devices that I don’t remember from reading To Kill a Mockingbird as a teenager, but I won’t list any more examples here, as it’s much more fun to go and discover them for yourself.
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most celebrated novels of all time, and it’s also one of the most controversial, too.
If you read this American classic in school and haven’t revisited it since; I highly recommend you give it a try.
Whatever your opinion of the book, reading it through adult eyes will challenge you in ways that it might not have done all those years ago.
Have you recently re-read To Kill a Mockingbird as an adult? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a comment in the box below!