To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee)

To Kill a Mockingbird 
Harper Lee, 1961
HarperCollins
323 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061120084


Summary
At the age of eight, Scout Finch is an entrenched free-thinker. She can accept her father's warning that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, because mockingbirds harm no one and give great pleasure. The benefits said to be gained from going to school and keeping her temper elude her.

The place of this enchanting, intensely moving story is Maycomb, Alabama. The time is the Depression, but Scout and her brother, Jem, are seldom depressed. They have appalling gifts for entertaining themselves—appalling, that is, to almost everyone except their wise lawyer father, Atticus.

Atticus is a man of unfaltering good will and humor, and partly because of this, the children become involved in some disturbing adult mysteries: fascinating Boo Radley, who never leaves his house; the terrible temper of Mrs. Dubose down the street; the fine distinctions that make the Finch family "quality"; the forces that cause the people of Maycomb to show compassion in one crisis and unreasoning cruelty in another.

Also because Atticus is what he is, and because he lives where he does, he and his children are plunged into a conflict that indelibly marks their lives—and gives Scout some basis for thinking she knows just about as much about the world as she needs to. (From Barnes and Noble.)



Author Bio
Birth—April 28, 1926
Where—Monroeville, Alabama, USA
Education—B.A. (later studied law), University of Alabama
Awards—Pulitzer Prize, 1961; Presidential Medal of Freedom,
   2007
Currently—Monroevill, Alabama; New York City


Harper Lee, known to friends and family as Nelle, was born in the small southwestern Alabama town of Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926, the youngest of four children. Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who also served on the state legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and a precocious reader, and enjoyed the friendship of her schoolmate and neighbor, the young Truman Capote.

While pursuing a law degree at the University of Alabama, she wrote for several student publications and spent a year as editor of the campus humor magazine, Ramma-Jamma. Though she did not complete the law degree, she pursued studies for a summer in Oxford, England, before moving to New York in 1950, where she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines and BOAC in New York City. Lee continued working as a reservation clerk until the late 50s, when she resolved to devote herself to writing.

She lived a frugal lifestyle, traveling between her cold-water-only apartment in New York to her family home in Alabama to care for her ailing father. Having written several long stories, Harper Lee located an agent in November 1956. The following month at the East 50th townhouse of her friends writer Michael Brown and Joy Williams Brown, she received a gift of a year's wages with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." Within a year, she had a first draft. Working closely with J. B. Lippincott & Co. editor Tay Hohoff, she completed To Kill a Mockingbird in the summer of 1959.

Published July 11, 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was an immediate bestseller and won her great critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. It remains a bestseller today, with over 30 million copies in print. In 1999, it was voted "Best Novel of the Century" in a poll conducted by the Library Journal.

After completing To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee accompanied Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, to assist him in researching what they thought would be an article on a small town's response to the murder of a farmer and his family. Capote expanded the material into his best-selling book, In Cold Blood (1966). The experiences of Capote and Lee in Holcomb were depicted in two different films, Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006).

Lee said of the 1962 Academy Award–winning screenplay adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird by Horton Foote: "If the integrity of a film adaptation can be measured by the degree to which the novelist's intent is preserved, Mr. Foote's sceen-play should be studied as a classic." She also became a close friend of Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, the father of the novel's narrator, Scout. She remains close to the actor's family. Peck's grandson, Harper Peck Voll, is named after her.

In June 1966, Lee was one of two persons named by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the National Council on the Arts. On May 21, 2006, she accepted an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. To honor her, the graduating seniors were given copies of Mockingbird before the ceremony and held them up when she received her degree. In a letter published in Oprah Winfrey's magazine O (May 2006), Lee wrote about her early love of books as a child and her steadfast dedication to the written word: "Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books." In 2007 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
(Older books have few, if any, mainstream press reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)


All the magic and truth that might seem deceptive or exaggerated in a factural account of a small town unfold beautifully in To Kill a Mockingbird.... Harper Lee...is clearly working hard to create a pointed story for the reader. Here is a story teller justifying the novel as a form that transcends time and place.... Miss Lee's characters are people to cherish in this winning first novel by a fresh writer with something significant to say, South and North.
Herbert Mitgang - New York Times (7/13/1960)



Discussion Questions
1. How do Scout, Jem, and Dill characterize Boo Radley at the beginning of the book? In what way did Boo's past history of violence foreshadow his method of protecting Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell? Does this repetition of aggression make him more or less of a sympathetic character?

2. In Scout's account of her childhood, her father Atticus reigns supreme. How would you characterize his abilities as a single parent? How would you describe his treatment of Calpurnia and Tom Robinson vis a vis his treatment of his white neighbors and colleagues? How would you typify his views on race and class in the larger context of his community and his peers?

3. The title of Lee's book is alluded to when Atticus gives his children air rifles and tells them that they can shoot all the bluejays they want, but "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." At the end of the novel, Scout likens the "sin" of naming Boo as Bob Ewell's killer to "shootin' a mockingbird." Do you think that Boo is the only innocent, or mockingbird, in this novel?

4. Scout ages two years—from six to eight—over the course of Lee's novel, which is narrated from her perspective as an adult. Did you find the account her narrator provides believable? Were there incidents or observations in the book that seemed unusually "knowing" for such a young child? What event or episode in Scout's story do you feel truly captures her personality?

5. To Kill a Mockingbird has been challenged repeatedly by the political left and right, who have sought to remove it from libraries for its portrayal of conflict between children and adults; ungrammatical speech; references to sex, the supernatural, and witchcraft; and unfavorable presentation of blacks. Which elements of the book-if any-do you think touch on controversial issues in our contemporary culture? Did you find any of those elements especially troubling, persuasive, or insightful?

6. Jem describes to Scout the four "folks" or classes of people in Maycomb County: "our kind of folks don't like the Cunninghams, the Cunninghams don't like the Ewells, and the Ewells hate and despise the colored folks." What do you think of the ways in which Lee explores race and class in 1930s Alabama? What significance, if any, do you think these characterizations have for people living in other parts of the world?

7. One of the chief criticisms of To Kill a Mockingbird is that the two central storylines—Scout, Jem, and Dill's fascination with Boo Radley and the trial between Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson—are not sufficiently connected in the novel. Do you think that Lee is successful in incorporating these different stories? Were you surprised at the way in which these story lines were resolved? Why or why not?

8. By the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, the book's first sentence: "When he was thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow," has been explained and resolved. What did you think of the events that followed the Halloween pageant? Did you think that Bob Ewell was capable of injuring Scout or Jem? How did you feel about Boo Radley's last-minute intervention?

9. What elements of this book did you find especially memorable, humorous, or inspiring? Are there individual characters whose beliefs, acts, or motives especially impressed or surprised you? Did any events in this book cause you to reconsider your childhood memories or experiences in a new light?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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