I had been wanting to re-read To Kill a Mockingbird for awhile, and finally took the initiative to do so this year when I heard its prequel, Go Set A Watchman,was coming out. (even though Go Set A Watchman technically takes place chronologically after To Kill a Mockingbird, I refer to it as a prequel because Mockingbird was fleshed out of parts from Watchman). I intended to read Watchman through the eyes of Mockingbird, so I could fully appreciate how Harper Lee transformed her writing from the former to the latter. Having read To Kill a Mockingbird multiple times throughout my life, I thought it would be fun to try an audiobook version of it this time. It was the perfect first pick; it’s not always easy to pay attention while listening to audio, but since I had already read the book, I knew I wouldn’t miss anything if I didn’t catch a few words here and there.
For those of you aren’t already familiar with To Kill A Mockingbird, the book takes place in early 1930s, Depression era, and centers around Scout, six years old at time, and her older brother Jem. Scout recounts her childhood adventures in her town Maycomb, Alabama. A central part of her childhood was the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Scout’s father, Atticus, is the lawyer that defends Tom, which causes much controversy in the town.
I didn’t think it was possible to enjoy To Kill a Mockingbird more, but I was. The audiobook was delightful for multiple reasons. One, the narration. Sissy Spacek was perfect fit for as narrator. I’m not familiar with previous acting jobs as much aside from her work in Bloodline, but I am eager to watch more of her work after listening to how fluidly she was able to switch between different characters’ voices. It takes a lot of talent for one person to able to help me simultaneously visualize the six-year-old person speaking and then suddenly allow me to envision a 50-year-old person. In addition to her natural transition between different character voices, Spacek’s pacing, smooth voice, and Southern accent kept in line with the overall book’s theme and feel. I didn’t feel like anything changed in how I visualized the characters, town, and character interactions from when I read it versus when I heard the story on audiobook.
Another reason I enjoyed the audiobook was I found myself better understanding certain characters and latching more to character’s statements when I heard them out loud rather than read them. I caught a few points through the audiobook that I had missed over the years. The main one was that Boo Radley’s father emotionally abused him. Boo was somewhat an anomaly in town; as a kid, he was in a gang of boys that the community thought was trouble. When the gang got in trouble with the law, Boo’s father essentially removed him from all society and secluded him in the house. Over the years, as Boo remained away from sight, the community thought he was a bad person because of the initial behavior and created stories over the years about Boo doing evil things. In my original reading, I thought Boo’s initial behavior warranted punishment. I didn’t think anything about the mode of punishment. The audiobook made me realize that Boo’s “gang” was nothing more than boys being boys, and that Boo’s father didn’t even given Boo a second chance. The other boys got a second chance by going to school, while Boo’s father kept him locked away. Sissy Spacek’s reading Atticus’ statement really hit in how sad Boo’s life was because of father’s strict treatment. Atticus, when talking about Boo, says “There were other ways of making people into ghosts.” Listening to this broke my heart about Boo. I finally connected the dots about how Boo’s parents treated him and realizing this plus knowing the ending of the book made me acutely feel Boo’s loneliness.
One other quote that hit me more through Spacek’s narration was when Atticus is talking to Scout about Tom Robinson’s trial. Atticus knew Tom had no chance in in the courtroom, when racial bias towards Tom was high. Atticus says to Scout: “Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.” My ears perked up more than when I read this. Spacek’s intonation made the quote more inspirational and motivating to taking chances despite the odds.
The biggest takeaway I had from listening to the audiobook was that the book contained multiple, relatable themes. When I have read the book, I have always thought the main theme was on racial issues, unfair treatment of black people, and the problem with the justice system. While that is still the central theme, the audiobook opened me to the other themes prevalent in the book: friendship, loneliness, misunderstanding people, and the dangers of listening to the community gossip.
I highly recommend listening To Kill A Mockingbird audiobook. I listened to the audiobook while reading Go Set A Watchman but the latter in no way impacted my experience with the audiobook and characters. I plan on reviewing Go Set A Watchman in a separate piece, so stay tuned for that piece.