Top 10 most important facts about “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is a modern American classic novel set in the Deep South. It is loosely based on Harper Lee’s own childhood in the south and the events in the book parallel events in her own life. The novel has a number of themes including childhood, loss of innocence, rape, courage and racial issues. The novel does not stop there, however, as it also comments on class and gender roles, particularly the expectations society at the time heaped on women and girls.
To Kill a Mockingbird is widely used as a taught text in American (and other) classrooms although it has generated controversy. Much loved in and outside of the US it has managed to gain this status without any significant analysis of its literary qualities. In a 50 year celebratory review of the book Mary McDonagh Murphy referred to To Kill a Mockingbird as an ‘astonishing phenomenon’ noting that it sold hundreds of thousands more copies than similarly loved American Classics of the same era. More than 30 Million copies and rising. It is the most widely read book in grades 9-12.
So here is our list of the top 10 most interesting and important facts about this phenomenally successful book
- To Kill a Mockingbird was voted the number one book to read before you die
To Kill a Mockingbird is popular around the world and it appears on many ‘top’ lists. In 2006 British librarians voted it the number one book every person should read before they die. The Bible was voted in at number two. The readers of the Library Journal called it the ‘Best Novel Of The20th Century’ and in 2008 it was voted the ‘Greatest Novel of All Time’ on Play.com. It has been described as America’s national novel and outsells copies of The Great Gatsby or Catcher in the Rye other staple, popular American classics from the same era.
- To Kill A Mockingbird was Harper Lee’s only novel
Harper Lee wrote short stories during her time at college, many with a theme of racial tensions and problems. After she left college she moved to New York and began writing about characters from her home town. She was childhood friends with the famous novelist Truman Capote and he introduced her to his agent. Following advice from her editor and with the financial support of friends (they clubbed together to give her a year’s worth of money as a Christmas present) she gave up work to concentrate on her writing.
The novel was published in 1960. While her editors were impressed with the manuscript they did not expect it to sell well. Harper Lee herself expected a ‘quick merciful death’ from the critics and a small amount of public encouragement. When the sales of the book took off (in many ways due to the Reader’s Digest including it in their Condensed Books 1960) Harper Lee found this almost as frightening as the idea of her book not taking off.
Harper Lee promoted the book in the years following publication and accepted a number of awards including the Pulitzer Prize, the Brotherhood Award, the Alabama Library Association Award and the Paperback of the Year Award. Shortly afterwards, however, Harper Lee started to worry that she was being treated as a celebrity and stopped taking interviews. The turn of the century has seen Harper Lee honored once again with the Presidential Medal of Freedom , the National Medal of Arts and a doctorate from Notre Dame. In a stunning burst of acclaim all graduates attended the ceremony with a copy of the book and held it in the air during a standing ovation as she was awarded her degree. She made several attempts to write again but was not satisfied with the results and has not published any other significant work.
There were rumors that Truman Capote was the real author of the book. He was good friends with Harper Lee and provided her with an introduction to his publishers. She worked closely with him on the publication of his novel In Cold Blood on the real life murder of the Clutter family. He wrote an extensive quote on the first edition, praising the character of the author which is often taken to mean that he was referring to himself. He did not make significant attempts to counter these suggestions and his father was even quoted as saying that he authored a significant amount of the book, a stance that was hotly disputed by Harper Lee’s family. However Capote’s own correspondence and editorial notes suggest that these rumors are unfounded.
- The Book is Written From the Perspective of Scout, a Young Girl
We see the events in the novel through Scout’s eyes. While she is narrating it sometime in the future she speaks with her childhood perspective for most of the time. This has led to criticism as the style is seen to be too advanced for a young girl. However Harper Lee uses this as a literary device, switching between the innocent (and often very funny) observations of child Scout and adult Scout’s more mature interpretation of what her childhood self understood was happening. Scout’s voice is able to question social conventions and prejudices in a way that an adult is not.
- Atticus Finch is the Lawyer’s Lawyer
Atticus may be fictional but he is seen by many in the legal profession as the epitome of the legal profession. Many leading lawyers have cited him as the reason why they chose their careers and he has been the subject of articles in law reviews. Atticus Finch has a monument in Monroeville (Harper Lee’s hometown) and Harper Lee herself is an honorary member of the Alabama Bar on the basis that, in creating Atticus, she created an exemplary lawyer.
Atticus goes beyond merely being a good lawyer. In a book where the majority of fathers abuse their children Atticus is an example of what men should be.
- To Kill a Mockingbird is Significantly Autobiographical
Harper Lee has, herself, said that the book is not in any way an autobiography although her good friend Truman Capote confirmed that it was all true. There are significant similarities between her early life and the subject matter portrayed in the book. Harper Lee’s father was a lawyer, he did defend some black men who were accused of a murder, he did not succeed and after they died he retired from the practice of criminal law. Harper Lee’s mother did not die in her infancy but was unwell and was therefore not a substantial influence in her life. Her brother was, like Jem, four years older than her.
Going beyond her own family there was a boarded up house in town where a disgraced son was hidden by his father, this formed the inspiration for Boo Radley (also used as an inspiration for Truman Capote in Other Voices, Other Rooms. During Harper Lee’s childhood there were a number of trials of black men for the rape of white women which served as the basis for Tom Robinson.