This sample Harper Lee Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
In her first and only novel to date, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), Harper Lee achieved immediate popular acclaim, winning the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for literature. Although occasionally faulted as melodramatic, To Kill a Mockingbird is widely regarded as one of the most sensitive and revealing portraits of the American South in contemporary literature.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Southern Childhood Influences Novel
Although Lee stresses that To Kill a Mockingbird is not autobiographical, she allows that a writer ”should write about what he knows and write truthfully.” The time period and setting of the novel obviously originate in the author’s experience as the youngest of three children born to lawyer Amasa Coleman Lee (related to Robert E. Lee) and Frances Finch Lee. The family lived in the sleepy little town of Monroeville, Alabama. After graduating from Monroeville’s public schools, Lee spent a year (1944—1945) at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, and then attended the University of Alabama for four years (19451949), including a year as an exchange student at Oxford University. She left the University of Alabama in 1950, six months short of a law degree, to pursue a writing career in New York City.
Growing up in the pre-Civil Rights South, Lee saw a segregated and harsh cultural attitude toward African Americans. The Jim Crow laws that governed the South in the 1940s and 50s separated most aspects of society by race, from restaurants and stores to schools and hotels. Black Americans were prohibited from entering any establishment dubbed ”Whites Only,” and the culture was generally aggressive towards them, exhibiting vigilante methods such as Ku Klux Klan tactics and many lynching’s. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s finally led the federal government to intervene to eliminate institutional segregation.
Success of Only Novel Stands Alone
Harper Lee became interested in writing at the age of seven. While she was a student at the University of Alabama, her satires, editorial columns, and reviews appeared in campus publications.
Living in New York in the early 1950s, and supporting herself by working as an airline reservations clerk, she approached a literary agent with the manuscripts of two essays and three short stories. The agent encouraged her to expand one of the stories into a novel that later became To Kill a Mockingbird.
With the financial help of friends, she gave up her job and moved into a cold-water flat where she devoted herself to her writing. Although her father became ill and she was forced to divide her time between New York and Monroeville, she continued to work on her novel. She submitted a manuscript to Lippincott in 1957. While editors criticized the book’s structure, suggesting it seemed to be a series of short stories strung together, they recognized the novel’s promise and encouraged Lee to rewrite it. With the help of her editor, Tay Hohoff, Lee reworked the material, and To Kill a Mockingbird was finally published in July 1960, to great success. The novel has been made into a film and continues to be taught in classrooms as an American classic.
The reading public and the critics have been eagerly awaiting more of Lee’s writing. In the early 1960s, several short pieces about personal experiences and an article discussing different types of love, ”Love—In Other Words” (1961), appeared in popular magazines; none of her work has been published since. Lee still continues to write, however. Although she travels extensively, Monroeville, where her sister Alice Lee practices law, remains home. Whether or not Lee adds to her body of published work, her contribution to American literature is an important one. To Kill a Mockingbird, a regional novel with a universal message, combines popular appeal with literary excellence, assuring Lee’s place in American letters.
Works in Literary Context
A regional novel portrays the distinct characteristics of a specific place, often a small town full of odd and interesting characters. To Kill a Mockingbird is about a young girl’s coming of age in an era of social and political change. Jean Louise Finch (also known as Scout)—To Kill a Mockingbird’s narrator—lives with her brother, Jem, and widowed father, Atticus, in the small fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the 1930s. During the course of the book, readers come to know the residents of Maycomb—good and bad—as well as the misunderstandings and long-held beliefs that lead to the book’s tragic climax. The novel’s colorful characters include the independent Scout, as well as Scout s brother Jem and mischievous Dill Harris, whose antics and wild plans often get the trio into ”worlds of trouble.” Calpurnia, the Finch s black housekeeper, helps keep the children in line; she also exposes them to the black community via a trip to her church for Sunday services. Arthur ”Boo” Radley, perhaps the most tragic figure in the tale, is the town recluse. As the novel progresses, Scout, Jem, and Dill come to see Boo as less of a scary, shadowy figure, and more of a feeling human being. Through all the book s turmoil, Atticus Finch remains the voice of reason and restraint. While obviously disturbed and dismayed by the nature of Tom Robinson s trial, the lawyer nevertheless takes great pains to explain to his children why his participation, as well as their understanding, is necessary.
Novel of Racial Prejudice
Racism appears as a constant theme in American fiction, but especially in Southern literary tradition. With the South s history of slavery, the relationship between the black and white communities has been one writers have focused on regularly. To Kill a Mockingbird shows how Scout and her elder brother, Jem, learn about fighting prejudice and upholding human dignity through the example of their father Atticus, who takes on the legal defense of a black man who has been falsely charged with raping a white woman. Lee s story of the events surrounding the trial has been admired for its portrayal of Southern life during the 1930s, not only for its piercing examination of the causes and effects of racism, but because it created a model of tolerance and courage in the character of Atticus Finch. Edgar H. Shuster asserts:
The achievement of Harper Lee is not that she has written another novel about race prejudice, but rather that she has placed race prejudice in a perspective which allows us to see it as an aspect of a larger thing; as something that arises from phantom contacts, from fear and lack of knowledge; and finally as something that disappears with the kind of knowledge or ”education” that one gains through learning what people are really like when you ”finally see them.
Works in Critical Context
When To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, it brought its young first-time author a startling amount of attention and notoriety. The work was an instant sensation, becoming a best-seller and winning the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Initial critical response to Lee’s story was mixed. Following the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, some reviewers dismissed the narrative voice of Scout as unconvincing for a girl not yet ten years of age. Harding LeMay, writing in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review, praises the author’s ”grace of writing and honorable decency of intent. ”Miss Lee s problem has been to tell the story she wants to tell and yet stay within the consciousness of a child, and she hasn’t consistently solved it,” observes Granville Hicks in Saturday Review. However, subsequent critics have recognized Lee s rendering of a child s perspective through an adult s evaluation as among the most technically expert in contemporary literature. R. A. Dave claims that in the novel ”there is a complete cohesion of art and morality. And therein lies [To Kid a Mockingbird’s] success. [Lee] is a remarkable storyteller. The reader just glides through the novel abounding in humor and pathos, hopes and fears, love and hatred, humanity and brutality . . . According to commentators, Lee adroitly exposes the turbulence underlying Southern society and psychology while presenting the possibility of its elimination through the understanding of individuals.
- Bloom, Harold, ed. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Chelsea House, 1998.
- Dave, R. A. ” To Ki/7 a Mockingbird: Harper Lee’s Tragic Vision.” In Naik, M.K., ed. Indian Studies in American Fiction. New York: Macmillan, 1974.
- Johnson, Claudia Durst. To Kill a Mockingbird: Threatening Boundaries. New York: Twayne, 1994.
- Harding, LeMay. ”Children Play: Adults Betray. New York Herald Tribune Book Review (July 10, 1960): 5.
- Hicks, Granville. ”Three at the Outset.” Saturday Review (July 23, 1960): 15-16.
- Lubet, Steven. ”Reconstructing Atticus Finch. Michigan Law Review 97 (1999): 1339-1362.
- Shackelford, Dean. ”The Female Voice in To Kill a Mockingbird: Narrative Strategies in Film and Novel.” Mississippi Quarterly 50 (Winter 1996-97): 101-113.
- Schuster, Edgar H. ”Discovering Theme and Structure in the Novel.” The English Journal 52 (1963): 506-511.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.