Letters About Literature National Winners 2008
Honorable Mentions, Level 2: Daniel Le
Dear Ms. Lee,
I have only begun to appreciate the power of your work To Kill a Mockingbird. Even on my first reading, I was enthralled by this moral drama of good and evil set in the "deep" South during the Great Depression. I was most indignant when the verdict went against Tom Robinson, but I did not immediately relate it to any personal experience. At a family gathering, however, a chance discussion about your book unleashed a torrent of passionate personal stories from my usually reticent and reserved family. Clearly, your historical fiction about social injustice and discrimination struck a chord. My grandfather recounted how he silently endured racial epithets for years and how he had to pay blackmail to a white city inspector to keep his laundry open. My dad will never forget how his family was treated when they attempted to rent apartments in Manhattan's Upper West Side in the 1960s. Speaking perfect English, he had no problem getting appointments to see the apartments on the phone. When he went with my grandparents to see the apartments, however, he was told pointedly, "We don't rent to your kind."
As long as hatred, racism, and discrimination exist in our imperfect world, your book will serve as a stark reminder that we all have to speak out against injustices and work cooperatively to improve the lives of those less privileged. To Kill a Mockingbird sharply raised my awareness of the pervasiveness of racism and how it clouds judgment. I am challenged to reflect on my own prejudices and ignorance. Boo Radley made me realize that the mentally disabled, though shunned by society, share our ideals and values. While the real world may not always concur with Boo's black-and-white sense of good and bad, there is something precious about his simple goodness and childlike beliefs.
Your book taught me much about the nature of humankind as well. The court's verdict in the trial of Tom Robinson meant that even with convincing evidence, one of the most credible, honest, black men was not fit to lick the shoes of the lowest white. This led me to conclude that racism, in various forms, flourishes among people who need to put down others for no legitimate reason other than petty gratification. On the other hand, it showed me how trial and tribulation brings families closer. Aunt Alexandria, who appears to be a rather detached, unkind character, murmurs to Atticus after the case, "I'm sorry, brother."
I see a part of myself in Jem Finch. His naiveté about the intense racism and evil that existed in Maycomb reminded me of my own ignorance. Jem is upset about the conviction of Tom Robinson, repeatedly saying, "It ain't right... How could they do it, how could they?" He does not realize the destructive power of racism. Even after reading the book multiple times, I am still stunned at the jury's conviction of Tom Robinson with the evidence for acquittal staring them in the face. In addition, Jem's arrogance and "know-it-all" attitude helped me acknowledge that I have a similar character flaw and need to ameliorate this trait before my friends find me insufferable.
Despite the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we are inundated every day with heart-wrenching stories of inequality and prejudice. Your book reminds us that good coexists with evil, giving us hope for a more equitable future. Thank you for writing this timeless classic.