To Kill a Mockingbird (30172)

Harper Lee's classic American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, asks the reader to look at the same event from different perspectives more than once. During Tom Robinson's rape trial, we hear both Tom Robinson and Mayella Ewell's versions of their encounter; Mayella insists that Tom raped her, while Tom maintains that nothing inappropriate happened between them at all. The jury is asked to decide which of the two accounts is accurate, but the reader knows that the actual truth is irrelevant; this jury is not going to believe a black man's word over a white woman's, regardless of who is actually telling the truth.

Atticus Finch knows this. He knows the second he agrees to defend Tom Robinson that the case is a lost cause, but believes that fact makes the case all the more worth taking. One of the most famous and inspiring To Kill a Mockingbird quotes is "I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do." It's quotes like this that make Atticus Finch one of the most beloved literary characters of all time; his name is almost synonymous with character and integrity.

The other major event in To Kill a Mockingbird with conflicting points of view is the attack of Jem and Scout. They are attacked coming from the Halloween pageant; Scout is unable to clearly see the events happening around her due to her pork chop costume, and even when she and Jem are safely returned home and able to agree upon some major events (Jem was attacked by Mr. Ewell, there was a struggle, Mr. Ewell is now dead) there is some dispute as to who actually killed Mr. Ewell. Even after Scout figures out that it was Boo who came to their rescue, Atticus is reluctant to believe that Jem wasn't (unwillingly) responsible.

Lee seems to want to warn her readers that it is easy to make the wrong assumption if you have predetermined ideas or jump to conclusions before obtaining all of the facts. Film director Akira Kurosawa tackles this same notion in his classic film Rashomon, which shows multiple views of a brutal rape. Each point of view is different, and it's hard to decide whose is correct, until we see the actual events from the perspective of an omniscient narrator. At first, it seems like Kurosawa's message is that "perception is reality" and it's impossible to ever know the undisputed truth about any event, but by the end of the film, he acknowledges that even if no one involved can remember an event correctly, there is still a truth that exists, even if it's only theoretical.

Any To Kill a Mockingbird summary will most likely mention the following events: Scout and Jem's fascination with Boo, the arrival of Dill, the trial, and the attack and final "reveal" of the true Boo Radley. Each of the events is connected to theme of perception vs. reality and the notion that the truth may be elusive, but always worth seeking.