Article by: Gitika Bose
Harper Lee is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century for her Pulitzer Prize winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Though she recently passed away at the age of 89 on February 19, she will live on through her work which will continue to remain a classic in modern American literature. The “richly textured novel,” as described by a review in Common Sense Media, examines racism from the perspectives of two children, Jem and Scout Finch. It is set during the Great Depression-era in Alabama and focuses on father Atticus Finch taking the case to defend a “black man [who] goes on trial for the rape of a white woman,” (Common Sense Media, To Kill a Mockingbird).
Most great novels elicit emotion within a reader, and junior Melissa Dy believes that this novel successfully allows “the reader to empathize with the protagonists, thus making clear the injustices that were prevalent in this setting at this point in history.” She explains, “It helped readers to see things from a different point of view and from a different angle.”
Lee does this through her characters by revealing the discrimination against race, gender, and class that existed at the time. According to Time magazine, “Much of white America viewed the coming together of the races as immoral, dangerous, even ungodly.” In the novel, we soon learn that the man accused of rape is convicted based on the color of his skin. In the novel, Atticus explains that “in [their] courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins” (251-252). Thus the readers encounter the injustice present in society.
The setting of the novel reveals many similarities with the life of Harper Lee, suggesting that the novel, though not autobiographical, was inspired by her life. She was born in Alabama and her father, like Scout’s in the novel, was a lawyer. The Civil Rights Movement was in motion before the release of the novel and was successful during that decade.
To Kill a Mockingbird is appreciated as an improvement of Go Set a Watchman, another novel by Harper Lee, written before To Kill a Mockingbird was published. Go Set a Watchman was published only recently as a sequel to the first novel. Still set amidst political turmoil, the novel revolves around the return of Scout to see her aging father. While many critics claimed it was a good book and had the potential to be considered great, the Atlantic claims it “lacked the soaring arc-of-history premise that her first novel boasted.”
To Kill a Mockingbird created an impact on the larger audience, constantly inspiring and encouraging justice in society. For that, Harper Lee will always be remembered.
The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
Grimes, William. “Harper Lee, Author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ Dies at 89.”The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
“To Kill a Mockingbird – Book Review.” To Kill a Mockingbird Book Review. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.
“To Kill a Mockingbird: Discrimination Against Race, Gender, and Class.” The Artifice. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.