To Kill a Mockingbird: an Influential Story

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Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been an enormous success since its publication in 1960. Besides becoming a Literary Guild Selection Choice and a Book Society Choice it also won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 (Johnson 8). By 1982 over 15,000,000 copies of the book were sold. In a survey of lifetime reading habits taken in 1991 To Kill a Mockingbird was cited as making the biggest difference in a person’s life, second only to the bible. Since its publication the book has made a major impact on people and the culture as a whole (13-14). The similarity of Harper Lee’s life and the Scottsboro Trial to the events in the book are part of the reason the book has been so successful. Along with this is her use of symbolism which is used throughout the story to convey problems of racism in the south during the early twentieth century (Smykowski 1).

To Kill a Mockingbird takes place during the great depression in the 1930’s and is about the lives of two children living in the small town of Maycomb County, Alabama (Johnson 31). Atticus Finch, the father of Jem and Scout is a well respected lawyer. Unlike most people in town Atticus knows the difference between right and wrong and he respects people regardless of their race, gender, sex or class. Although he does not abide by the strict roles society has set for him he is still well respected within Maycomb County (Bernard 63). Jeremy Atticus Finch, also known as Jem is the older brother to Bouchard 2

Jean Louise Finch or more commonly knows as Scout (65). It is the adult Scout who narrates the story and tells it through her perspective from when she was a child (Johnson 34).
During the first summer when the story takes place Scout and Jem meet Dill who stays with his aunt for the summer. The three children become both fascinated and scared of their neighbor Boo Radley. Arthur Radley is the mysterious neighbor who was unfairly punished when he was young after getting in minor trouble with the police. After this incident his father locked him in the house preventing him from becoming a normal member of the community. Several times throughout the novel Boo Radley makes kind gestures to the children but he is not seen until the end (Bernard 70).

As the novel continues Atticus is assigned to defend a black man named Tom Robinson who had been accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white women. Mayella Ewell is the daughter of an uneducated ignorant racist man named Bob Ewell. It is known that he is a drunk who physically and sexually abuses his daughter. His complete lack of parenting has led Mayella to live a horrible life. Like her father she is uneducated and forced to stay at home to watch her siblings. Because of the Ewell’s low social class they realize the only opportunity for power in society is to abuse a black man (61). Unlike the Ewell’s, Tom Robinson is a kind and hardworking person (71).

Additional characters include Calpurnia, the Finch’s black house keeper and Miss Maudie their open-minded neighbor. Like Atticus, Calpurnia and Miss Maudie believe in racial equality unlike many characters in the story. Aunt Alexandra is Jem and Scouts aunt and is very proud of her families heritage. She is one of many in the town that Bouchard 3

adhere to the old fashion social codes that separate people by race, class and gender. She believes that there should be no interaction between the different social groups. Similarly, Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose also believes in separation between the social classes (Bernard 57-60).

Nelle Harper Lee was born in 1926 and was the youngest of Amasa Lee and Frances Finch Cunningham Lee’s four children. As a child Harper Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama in an environment much like the one portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird. Growing up Harper Lee admired her father above everyone else. Amas Lee was an attorney and respected for his knowledge and formal manner. After graduating college Harper Lee attended the University of...
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