“Literature adds to reality; it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides”. This quote expressed by renowned author C.S Lewis, explains the purpose of good literature is not purely to entertain, but also to enhance our everyday life through our actions, motives and thoughts. Literary classics are also timeless and enjoyed by multiple generations due to the relevancy of the themes and discourses to our current society whilst appealing universally.
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Although the supreme definition of what is deemed to be “classic” is fervently deliberated, in the context of literature and novels there are certain characteristics and values that must be upheld to be referred to as classic literature. Literary classics stand the test of time by proving it’s pertinency throughout generations whilst still being a representation of when the text was written. This ostensibly excludes books that were published in the recent past from being classified as a classic, but it is argued that the time period which the literary piece was written should not affect if a literary piece is considered a classic. Another feature classic literature has is a certain universal appeal which allows a variety of readers of different backgrounds and experiences to resonate and be touched by the writing as it employs common themes as well as artistic quality which allows readers to be inspired and appreciate the literature.
To Kill A Mockingbird indubitably stands the test of time as demonstrated through the theme of prejudice. Although Harper Lee mainly centralised a racial prejudice discourse around the black inferiority to the white people during the 1930’s in America, this can be mirrored by instances in our modern society where different forms of prejudice against individuals and groups subsists.A clear example of this is the prejudice against the disabled – an ongoing issue in our society. The stereotypes that many in society consciously or subconsciously hold towards the disabled, is that they are unintelligent, repulsive or violent. Because of these prejudice claims and beliefs against the disabled demographic, many educational, economic and social opportunities are denied due to fear, embarrassment and apparent concerns and pity society has. “Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit’ em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” expressed by the virtuous Atticus to his daughter Scout, by whom the events are narrated, is a potent and momentous quote which resonates throughout the novel. Effective symbolism is employed by Lee, portraying the mockingbird as the victims of prejudice extensively in the novel, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley. Both characters are misunderstood and demonised by the majority of the Maycomb township, representing those who face rejection by society. This proves timelessness due to the human condition, the inevitability of prejudice and presumption throughout all generations, and positions the reader to feel guilty as the same issues that occurred in history, are still apparent at present with and without our knowledge.
Another characteristic of classic literature that To Kill A Mockingbird displays is the certain universal appeal it possesses. Similar themes that are experienced and understood by a variety of readers are used in order to evoke a connection between the readers and the writing. The universal theme of the conflict or coexistence between good and evil is repeatedly exhibited in the novel through the characters and their actions. Readers are unquestionably appalled when Mayella Ewell blatantly lies in court that Tom Robinson had raped her and will see this scene as the evil versus the good as Tom’s innocence to these accusations is transparent. However, the clouded truth that is behind Mayella’s wickedness, the sad secret that she is being misused by her own father who is coercing her into lying about the situation, is revealed. This revelation results in the readers empathising with the character they perceived to be evil and taking away from this a lesson that was previously mentioned by Atticus “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,”. This metaphor unveils to readers that the terms good and evil cannot be labelled easily without comprehending and considering all perspectives the circumstance holds and empathising with them by seeing the scenario through their viewpoint. In this way, a moral lesson can be learnt by the readers by connecting with the characters, further authenticating its position as a classic.
Furthermore, To Kill A Mockingbird portrays artistic qualities; another characteristic of classic literature. Harper Lee has written in first person in the perspective of Scout Finch who is a child witnessing the events the novel entails. Through this, the style of writing explains everything that Scout thinks about and encounters because as a child there is a mentality to know the reasoning behind everything, therefore new discourses such as racism, social standing and financial stability are introduced slowly throughout the book, allowing the readers to learn with the author and draw deeper connections with the character as she learns life lessons. Lee also utilises figurative language devices for instance, similes in quotes such as “She was horrible. Her face was the colour of a dirty pillowcase, and the corner of her mouth glistened with wet, which inched like a glacier down the deep grooves enclosing her chin” are examples of how the child in the novel sees the world while, allowing the reader to also see what she sees through the imagery her writing offers.
Harper Lee’s magnificently constructed piece, To Kill A Mockingbird captures many important discourses such as prejudice and the conflict between good and evil that stay significant to this day, clearly verifying its ability to transcend time and touch us to our core through the artistically composed retell. As it has become clarity that this novel is undoubtedly classic literature, let us continue the night discovering and indulging in more of our favourite books at this year’s Brisbane Writer’s Festival. Thank you very much and enjoy the rest of your night.