To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird
Born in Monroeville, Alabama, on April
28, 1926, Nelle Harper Lee is the youngest of three children of Amassa
Coleman Lee and Francis Lee. Before his death, Miss Lee's father and her
older sister, Alice, practiced law together in Monroeville. When one considers
the theme of honor that runs throughout Miss Lee's novel, it is perhaps
significant to note that her family is related to Confederate General Robert
E. Lee, a man especially noted for his devotion to that virtue.
Miss Lee received her early education in
the Monroeville public schools. Following this, she entered the University
of Alabama to study law. She left there to spend a year in England as an
exchange student. Returning to the university, she continued her studies,
but left in 1950 without having completed the requirements for her law
degree. She moved to New York and worked as an airline reservation clerk.
It is said that Miss Lee personally resembles
the tomboy she describes in the character of Scout. Her dark straight hair
is worn cut in a short style. Her main interests, she says, are "collecting
the memoirs of nineteenth century clergymen, golf, crime, and music." She
is a Whig in political thought and believes in "Catholic emancipation and
the repeal of the corn laws."
Sources Of To Kill A Mockingbird
Among the sources for Miss Lee's novel
are the following:
(1) National events: This novel focuses
on the role of the Negro in Southern life, a life with which Miss Lee has
been intimately associated. Although it does not deal with civil rights
as such - for example, the right to vote - it is greatly concerned with
the problem of human dignity - dignity based on individual merit, not racial
origin. The bigotry of the characters in this novel greatly resembles that
of the people in the South today, where the fictional Maycomb County is
(2) Specific Persons: Atticus Finch is
the principal character in this novel. He bears a close resemblance to
Harper Lee's father, whose middle name was Finch. In addition to both being
lawyers, they are similar in character and personality - humble, intelligent
(3) Personal Experience: Boo Radley's house
has an aura of fantasy, superstition, and curiosity for the Finch children.
There was a similar house in Harper Lee's childhood. Furthermore, Miss
Lee grew up amid the Negro prejudice and violence in Alabama. In addition,
she studied law and visited her father's law offices as a child, just as
Scout visits Atticus' office and briefly considers a career as a lawyer.
Harper Lee began to develop an interest
in writing at the age of seven. Her law studies proved to be good training
for a writing career: they promote logical thinking, and legal cases are
an excellent source of story ideas. After she came to New York, she approached
a literary agent with a manuscript of two essays and three short stories.
Miss Lee followed his suggestion that she expand one of the stories into
a novel. This eventually became To Kill A Mockingbird.
After the success of her first novel, Miss
Lee returned to Monroeville to begin work on a second one. She learned
quickly that privacy was not one of the prizes of a best-selling novelist.
"These southern people are southern people," she said, "and if they know
you are working at home, they think nothing of walking in for coffee."
Miss Lee also has said that her second novel will be about the South, for
she is convinced that her section of the country is "the refuge of genuine
Miss Lee thinks of herself as a journeyman
writer, and of writing as the most difficult work in the world. Her workday
begins at noon and continues until early evening. At the end of this time,
she may have completed a page or two. Before rewriting, she always allows
some time to elapse, for a fresh viewpoint on what she has done.
Besides her prize-winning novel, Miss Lee
has had several essays published. For example, "Christmas to Me" appeared
in the December, 1961, issue of McCalls, and "Love - In other Words" appeared
in the April 15, 1961, edition of Vogue. These essays display the same
easy, sympathetic style of her novel.
Success Of To Kill A Mockingbird
The success of Harper Lee's novel, To
Kill A Mockingbird, can be assessed from its appearance on the bestseller
lists for a period of over eighty weeks. Also the book was chosen as a
Literary Guild selection; a Book-of-the-Month book; and a Reader's Digest
Condensed Book. It