To Kill a Mockingbird
Early LifeBorn 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.
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CharacterIt 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 MockingbirdAmong 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 CareerHarper 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