To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill A Mockingbird was published in 1960 and despite Lee’s expectations it was an immediate success winning the Pulitzer Prize and fans the world over. It has been translated into more than 40 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies. Mockingbird has been prescribed reading for high schools around the world for generations despite campaigns to have it removed from the classroom and attempts to ban the book.
The blurb on the book cover describes it as:
“The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it. […] Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.”
Although Lee has said Mockingbird is not autobiographical (but rather an example of how an author “should write about what he knows and write truthfully” wiki) it has many parallels with her life. Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman Lee, was an attorney not unlike Atticus Finch who in 1919 defended two black men accused of murder. The men were apparently convicted, hanged, and mutilated and Lee’s father never tried a criminal case again. Mr. Lee also worked as the editor and publisher of the Monroeville newspaper. Like fictional Jem, Lee had a four year older brother named Edwin. Scout’s childhood friend Dill was based on Lee’s famous childhood friend Truman Capote who also lived next door to her in the Summers when his mother visited New York. The inspiration for the Radleys came from a family whose house down the street from the Lee’s was always boarded up and whose son got into some legal trouble and was subsequently kept at home for 24 years out of shame. The inspiration for Tom Robinson and his accusal of raping a young white woman is less clear but there was an incident which took place close to Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama where a black man, Walter Lett, was accused of raping a white woman. The story and trial were covered by Lee’s father’s newspaper and Lett was said to have been convicted and sentenced to death. However, there were later letters that claimed Lett had been falsely accused and his sentence was changed to life in prison.
Recently we heard that Harper Lee would have a second novel published. Great news since readers have wondered why Lee never published anything more after Mockingbird. Interestingly Lee has responded to this by saying:
“She found the publicity surrounding “To Kill a Mockingbird” overwhelming and that she had said all she had to say in that single work.”
The new novel, Go Set A Watchmen, was actually written before Mockingbird but the manuscript was thought lost. Alexandra Alter wrote a bit about the new novel in her NYT article:
“On Tuesday, Ms. Lee’s publisher announced its plans to release that novel, recently rediscovered, which Ms. Lee completed in the mid-1950s, before she wrote “To Kill A Mockingbird.” The 304-page book, “Go Set a Watchman,” takes place 20 years later in the same fictional town, Maycomb, Ala., and unfolds as Jean Louise Finch, or Scout, the feisty child heroine of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” returns to visit her father. The novel, which is scheduled for release this July, tackles the racial tensions brewing in the South in the 1950s and delves into the complex relationship between father and daughter.”
Readers and literary folk are thrilled to soon have another novel by Harper Lee to sink their teeth into and I too am interested to see how this new novel will compare. I read To Kill A Mockingbird as my setwork novel at school in Gr. 9 and remember it being one of the novels I most enjoyed at school. The details of what I enjoyed exactly are a bit fuzzy but whenever I think of Mockingbird a particular scene, that I obviously found quite vivid, of a rabid dog coming down the street always comes to mind.
There aren’t all that many reviews of Mockingbird compared with other classics and I have read on my travels through the internet that there has been little analysis of it as well. I’m not sure why that is but I think when you read the novel it becomes very clear why it is considered a classic and little needs to said about the depth and scope of the novel’s themes for you to appreciate them. I completely agree that the novel deals largely with the important theme of what’s right and wrong when the Guardian’s review noted:
“To Kill a Mockingbird focuses on that gut instinct of right and wrong, and distinguishes it from just following the law. Even the titular quote: “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” is in itself an allegory for this message.”
I definitely recommend this book to those who haven’t yet read it.