To Kill a Mockingbird To Kill a Mockingbird Early Life 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. Character 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 located. (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 and hard-working. (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. Writing Career 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 eccentrics.” 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 was also published in paperback by Popular Library.
In April, 1961, Miss Lee was awarded the Alabama Library Association Award. In May, 1961, she was the first woman since 1942 to win the $500.00 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In addition to its acclaim in the United States, To Kill A Mockingbird has received awards in foreign countries. For example, in Britain it was selected British Book Society Top Book of the Year. It remained on the British book lists as a top seller for many months.
Besides this, it has been translated into several foreign languages. This is an unusual amount of honor to be conferred on any novel; that an author’s first work should receive such recognition is truly extraordinary. Background Of The Novel Early South In order to appreciate To Kill A Mockingbird fully, the reader should be familiar with some of the background of its setting. The South in the colonial times grew into an area with large cotton plantations and small cities. Because of the necessity for cheap labor to pick and seed the cotton, Negro slavery took a strong hold there. At the outbreak of the American Revolution, there were over 500,000 slaves in this country, with by far the greatest number in the South.
As time passed, plantation owners formed a landed aristocracy. The Negroes, though slaves, gained a measure of economic security. On the perimeter of this were the poorer white farmers who either owned small pieces of land or worked as sharecroppers. Civil War With the invention of machines like the cotton gin, that could do the work of many men, the need for slaves began to decrease. The profitability of slavery also decreased, and plantation owners often treated Negroes with less kindness.
There were two extremes. A few Southerners gave their slaves freedom, while others totally disregarded them. The Civil War brought slavery to an end, but created other, worse problems. The carpetbaggers who streamed into the South for political and economic gain aggravated the wounds which the war had opened. The Negro was caught in the middle.
On the one hand, the Northerners claimed to be working for his benefit, but were really doing little. On the other, the Southerners began to take out their bitterness for the Yankees on the Negroes. The colored man represented two things to the Southerner. First, he was a slave who was now forcibly being given equal rights with his former master. Second, he was the symbol of defeat, and a reminder of what the North had done to the South. Therefore, he became an outcast, a scapegoat to be subjugated and mistreated.
Post Civil War As time passed and new methods for farming and cotton production were developed, many people in Southern rural areas became extremely poor. Some moved to the city; others stayed on the land to try to get whatever was possible out of it. Then, in 1929, the Great Depression hit the United States. The farmers seemed to suffer most because they depended entirely upon their land for a living. Their crops rotted, and they had little or no money for seed. But, in 1932, a new era was ushered into American political and economic life. With Franklin Roosevelt, the federal government began to take an active interest in the workingman.
Laws regulating farm production, labor unions, and social security became a part of the American way of life. A new social consciousness was arousing many people in the nation. Novel In Its Setting To Kill A Mockingbird is set against this background of 1930 Southern life. The Finches are a family who once had a large, successful plantation. Their ancestors had been aristocratic ladies and gentlemen of the South.
Now they have been reduced to gentile poverty. They are better off by far than the Cunninghams, for example, who have nothing but their land. Atticus Finch has his law career, and Alexandra is still able to make a living at Finch’s Landing. Actually, the extremes of poverty are illustrated in the Ewells and the Negroes. The Ewells are poor, but they don’t want to do anything about it.
The Negroes are poor because nobody will let them do anything about it. The Ewells won’t work even when they can. The Negroes will work, but the only jobs available to them are the menial, low-paying ones. Chapter 1 Scout (Jean Louise) Finch narrates the story, beginning with a brief family history. Simon Finch, a fur-trapping apothecary journeyed from England to Alabama, establishing the family which made its living from cotton on Simon’s homestead, Finch’s Landing. The Civil War left the family only its land, which was the source of family incomes until the twentieth century when Atticus Finch (Scout’s father) and his brother Jack left the land for careers in law and medicine.
Atticus settled in Maycomb, the county seat of Maycomb County, with a reasonably successful law practice about twenty miles from Finch’s Landing, where his sister Alexandra still lived. Scout describes Maycomb as a lethargic, hot, colorless, narrow-minded town where she lives with her father, brother Jem (four years older) and the family cook, Calpurnia. Scout’s mother had died when she was two. When she was five, Scout and Jem found a new friend, Dill Harris (“Goin’ on seven”), next door in Miss Rachel Haverford’s collard patch. Dill was Miss Rachel’s nephew from Meridian, Mississippi, who spent summers in Maycomb.
In the summertime, Jem, Scout and Dill usually played within the boundaries of Mrs. Henry Dubose’s house (two doors north) and the Radley place (three doors south). The Radley place fascinated the children, because it was a popular subject of gossip and superstition in Maycomb. Arthur Radley had gotten into trouble with the law when he was a boy. Instead of being sent to the state industrial school, his father took custody of him within their house. He was not seen again for fifteen years.
Many legends grew up about the Radley house and about what went on inside. Miss Stephanie Crawford, a neighborhood gossip, added fuel to the fire – a fire which included stories of crime, mutilation, curses and insanity. Dill was fascinated by these stories, and gave Scout and Jem the idea of making Boo Radley come out of seclusion. When Dill, always eager for some new adventure, dared Jem to run up to the house and touch it, Jem thought things over for a few days. Finally, filled with fear, he accepted the dare. He ran up, touched the house, and ran back. As the three children stared at the old house, they thought they saw an inside shutter move.
Comment Many themes and plot-themes emerge in Chapter 1. Great emphasis is placed on the world of Scout, Jem, and Dill – a small world bounded by a few houses and composed of only a few people. From the limited knowledge of this small childish world at the novel’s opening, Jem and Scout broaden with the passing of years and events. By the time the novel reaches its conclusion, they will have learned much more about human nature. Also, Miss Lee emphasizes the Radley family. They are the focal point for the development of numerous themes to come.
For example, when old Mr. Radley died, Calpurnia did something she had never been known to do before. She spoke evil about a white man when she said, “There goes the meanest man ever God blew breath into.” Finally, there are the themes relating to family and the Maycomb setting. They increase in importance from chapter to chapter. Chapters 2 and 3 Scout At School Dill returned to Mississippi at the end of the summer. Although she was looking forward to school more than anything in her life, Scout’s first day at school was a disappointment. When Miss Caroline tried to teach reading, Scout was bored.
Much to Miss Caroline’s dismay, Scout was already accomplished at reading and writing. She told Scout to tell her father not to teach her anything more, because it would interfere with her reading. Later, at lunch time, Walter Cunningham had no food with him. When the teacher tried to give him a quarter, the boy would not take it. Scout made the mistake of trying to explain the reason to Miss Caroline. The Cunninghams were poor country folks who had been hit hard by the Depression and were too proud to accept charity.
For her trouble, Scout got her fingers cracked. Thinking that Walter Cunningham was the cause of her difficulty, Scout tried to beat him up. Jem would not let her. Instead, he invited the boy to lunch at their house. That afternoon, Miss Caroline saw a cootie crawl out of Burris Ewell’s hair. She was shocked by this and told the boy to go home and wash his hair.
The boy really did not care, however, and became abusive, since he was in school only because the truant officer had made him come. He did not plan to return. That night Scout had a talk with her father. She said she hoped that Atticus would allow her to stay home from school like Burris Ewell. However, he explained to her that the Ewells were a different kind of people. They did not care about learning and had been a disgrace to Maycomb for generations.
Then Atticus made a bargain with his daughter. He told Scout that he would continue to read to her every night provided she would go back to school and promise not to tell her teacher about it. Comment These two chapters can be considered together for they contain the story of Scout’s first experience away from her narrow world at home. The reader must remember that although she was bright for her age, Scout was only six. Whatever she had learned thus far, she had learned at home from her father, her brother, Calpurnia, and a few neighbors. Therefore, she had much to learn from and about the rest of the world.
For example, Scout was a town girl and not a farm girl like many of the othe …