MEET THE AUTHOR: Harper Lee
Nellie Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, Alabama, a sleepy small town similar in many ways to Maycomb, the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird. Like Atticus Finch, the father of Scout, the narrator and protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s father was a lawyer. Among Lee’s childhood friends was the future novelist and essayist Truman Capote, from whom she drew inspiration for the character Dill. These personal details notwithstanding, Lee maintains that To Kill a Mockingbird was intended to portray not her own childhood home but rather a nonspecific Southern town. “People are people anywhere you put them,” she declared in a 1961 interview.
Lee began To Kill a Mockingbird in the mid-1950s, after moving to New York to become a writer. She completed the novel in 1957 and published it, with revisions, in 1960, just before the peak of the American civil rights movement. In the racially charged atmosphere of the early 1960s, the book became an enormous popular success, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and selling over fifteen million copies. Two years after the book’s publication, an Academy Award–winning film version of the novel, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, was produced. Meanwhile, the author herself had retreated from the public eye: she avoided interviews, declined to write the screenplay for the film version, and published only a few short pieces after 1961. To Kill a Mockingbird remains her sole published novel. Lee eventually returned to Monroeville and continues to live there.
Background for Understanding the Novel: The story you are about to read takes place in the 1930s in the small southern town of Maycomb, Alabama. The author has chosen a young girl, Scout, to narrate the story. This explains the feelings of fear and superstition that surround certain people and places in her neighborhood. You are going to see and feel things in this story as a child would, as Scout does. This is important to remember, since it helps explain why you will understand more than the narrator does, at times.
Point of View:
Point of view is the relationship of the narrator, or storyteller, to the events of the story. Since To Kill A Mockingbird is told by the character Scout, using words like I and we, it is told from the first-person point of view. The reader sees everything through Scout’s eyes and is given her perspective on events. In the language of literature, Scout would also be referred to as an example of an unreliable narrator—one who does not understand the full significance of the events she describes and comments on. She is not intentionally unreliable; her age and her incomplete understanding of the people and situations make her so.
Miss Caroline Fisher
Mr. Bob Ewell
Miss Maudie Atkinson
Dill (Charles Baker Harris)
Alexandra Hancock (Aunt Alexandra)
Miss Rachel Haverford
Mr. Heck Tate
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