NOVEL: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, American (1926 – Present)
“Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’ That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. ‘Your father’s right,’ she said. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’
Imagine my surprise to learn that Harper Lee, the author of one of the greatest 20th century American classics, To Kill a Mockingbird, is to publish a new book, Go Set a Watchman, on July 14th, 2015. It has been 55 years since Lee wrote a novel about the racism she observed as a child in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Nelle Harper Lee was the youngest of four children. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father was a lawyer with the Alabama State Legislature. Lee’s father once defended two African-American men (a father and son) accused of killing a storekeeper: they were tried by a jury, found guilty, and hanged. Clearly, this event had an impact on Harper Lee, for she followed in her father’s footsteps, studying law at The University of Alabama. However, she did not complete her law degree but moved to New York, obtained a job with an airline, and started writing fiction in her spare time. She published To Kill a Mockingbird in July 1960. It became an immediate bestseller, and she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. After her success as a writer, she assisted Truman Capote, her childhood friend (whom she based the character Dill on in Mockingbird), in researching material for his book In Cold Blood. Lee never published another book, making the upcoming publication of Go Set a Watchman next Tuesday very exciting.
THE PLOT: To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story, set in Macomb County, Alabama, “a tired town,” where a Southern lawyer, Atticus Finch, defends Tom Robinson, an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman. The town is rife with racial tension, its citizens displaying open hatred towards Tom before and during the trial, some deciding he is guilty before he is even tried, others intending to lynch him. Their reasoning? How dare Tom Robinson have pity on Miss Ewell, a lonely white woman, or deign to kiss her! Of course, it is she who asks Tom into her house on several occasions to do odd jobs like “bustin’ up a chiffarobe.” She is the one who initiates the kiss, catching him totally off guard, and when her abusive father sees her through the window, she cries “rape!”
QUOTE: “The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in the court-room, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it–whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, or how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”
No town lawyer will take the court case, except Atticus Finch, a very noble man with a strong moral fiber. Atticus knows he will lose the case, and his compassionate defense costs him many friendships, but it also earns him the respect of his two children, Jem and Scout (the novel’s narrator). There is a wonderful subplot in the novel, where Jem and Scout try to make a reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley, “come out” of his house. When Mr. Ewell attacks the Finch children on Halloween night, Boo Radley comes to their rescue.
Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, is a masterpiece, one that will stand the test of time. She writes about childhood innocence, the miscarriage of justice, and an antiquated but rigorous caste system that poisons a whole community. Lee, when asked about writing another book, vowed she had said all she wanted to say. Now, I wait with bated breath for her new publication next week, wondering what she has left unsaid.
MOVIE: The 1962 movie, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch and Mary Badham as Scout, is a must see! Horton Foote wrote the screenplay; Elmer Bernstein wrote the music score. The movie won three Academy Awards.
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Carpe Librum!📚Seize the Book…and let the page-turning begin!
Sarah M. Fredericks © 2015