Book Name: To Kill A Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
First Published: 1960
Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She studied at Monroe County High School, where she became interested in English literature. She then enrolled in Huntingdon College in Montgomery.
She is best known for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Similar to the book’s character Scout, the young Harper Lee was a tomboy who observed racism in her small town in Alabama. Her father was a lawyer who once defended two black men accused of killing a white man but the two black men were later executed. Dill was based on Lee’s friend Truman Capote.
She began her writing career with several long stories. With the help of the editor Tay Hohoff, she spent two and a half years rewriting the draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel was published on July 11, 1960 and quickly became a critically-acclaimed bestseller. In 1961, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and in 1999 was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in Library Journal’s poll.
Lee has done few interviews or public appearances since publishing To Kill a Mockingbird. She has not published another novel. She worked on a second novel, titled The Long Goodbye, but did not finish it. In the mid-1980s, she began writing a nonfiction book about an Alabama serial murderer but also filed it away unfinished. She was, however, satisfied with her book’s Oscar-winning screenplay adaptation by Horton Foote. During the filming, she became good friends with Gregory Peck, who won an Academy Award for portraying Atticus Finch.
On November 5, 2007, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. This is the highest award in the United States for civilians, awarded to people with outstanding contribution to culture, world peace, security, and national interests.
In a 2011 interview, Lee’s close friend, Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, shared what Lee told him as the reason why she never wrote again, “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”
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 see it through no matter what. – Harper Lee
Atticus Finch is a middle-aged lawyer and a widower who lives in Depression-era Maycomb, Alabama. He has two children, six-year-old Scout and her older brother Jem. The two children are terrified of their reclusive neighbor Arthur “Boo” Radley, yet they are also intrigued by him. Together with Dill, a boy who stays with his aunt in Maycomb during the summer, they obsess about Boo’s appearance and how they can lure him outside, despite Atticus’ warning to leave the man alone. The children sometimes find gifts in a tree near Boo’s house but never see him.
One day, Atticus takes on the case of a black man named Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping and beating up a white woman named Mayella Ewell. Most of the people of Maycomb believe that Tom is guilty and are beginning to resent the attorney for defending him. Scout and Jem are harassed at school because of their father’s actions. Their father tells them not to fight with the other children but it becomes hard for tomboy Scout and even the more levelheaded Jem to not lose their tempers.
Atticus stands up to a lynch mob out to kill Tom and the mob disperses after the children shame them. The lawyer does not want his children to attend the trial but they are able to, sitting in the area designated for black people. In the trial, Atticus is able to prove that Tom could not have beaten up and raped Mayella because of his crippled hand. It becomes clear that the lonely Mayella made advances toward Tom. Nevertheless, Tom is convicted, making Atticus’ two kids realize their town’s prejudice against people of color, even in a court where truth is supposed to win over bias. Soon after the trial, Tom gets shot and killed for attempting to escape while in prison. Tom’s conviction and his death shake the Finch family’s confidence in justice.
My first exposure to this novel was via required reading in secondary school. I was taken by the book, not only due to the literary themes, but because the story was told by a little girl that was not much younger than myself at the time. I was a tomboy like Scout and I could feel what she felt as events happened in the story. I also felt a great deal of admiration for Atticus Finch. In many ways, this character has become my role model for courage and justice. I have enjoyed seeing the Oscar winning film starring Gregory Peck and highly recommend seeing it if you have not done so.
Ms. Lee has been in the news as of late. She is an elderly woman that was in need of funds to pay for her medical care and was in a legal battle over the royalties from her single best-selling book in order to find the money to pay for her doctors. I understand she has had some success with her suit and I certainly wish her all the best and a peaceful life.