Harper Lee was an American author, well-known for her best-selling novel To Kill A Mockingbird, which helped to give a voice to disenfranchised African American people in the South as they struggled for equality.
Harper Lee was born Nelle Harper Lee and raised in Monroeville, Alabama. One of her closest childhood friends was Truman Capote, author of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. She based many of the characters in her best-selling novel To Kill A Mockingbird on people and observations from her childhood. Her father, Frances Cunningham, was a lawyer and served in the Alabama State Legislature, just like Atticus Finch. She based her character Charles Baker Harris (Dill) on Capote. Scout was loosely based on her own childhood version of herself.
To Kill A Mockingbird focused not only on Scout’s maturity and journeys through the perils of childhood, but also on the pervading attitudes of prejudice in the South. The novel’s release in 1960 coincided with the spark set off in the Civil Rights Movement in 1955 with the grisly death of Emmett Till, an African American teenager who whistled at a white woman. It also drew inspiration from the Scottsboro Trials where nine African American teenagers were falsely accused of rape by two white women. The novel shone a light on the injustices being perpetrated on African Americans in the South through the innocence of a child’s eyes, perhaps making the injustices more heinous. Guided by the sage advice of Atticus, Scout learns to empathize with those around her and to question any law that is an injustice to other human beings.
The original manuscript for To Kill A Mockingbird was locked away by Lee’s publisher until 2015. While it is not as well-written as the final draft, it portrays Scout as a grown woman and Atticus as a man of questionable prejudice, like the other Southern white men of his time. The evolution of the novel is interesting to compare, and the manuscript was published under the title Go Set A Watchman shortly before Lee's death in 2016.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
“It’s never an insult to be called what someone thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”
“Before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
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