Nicole Tracy | Literary Columnist
The New York Times reported on Friday that Harper Lee, who was born in 1927, had passed away in Monroeville, Alabama at the age of 89. Lee was best known for her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The book was adapted into a movie of the same name in 1962, and starred Gregory Peck as the center of the film in the role of Atticus Finch
In July 2015, she released a follow up of sorts to Mockingbird, called Go Set a Watchman. (Note: Go Set a Watchman was reviewed for The Nashville News on July 20, 2015.)
To Kill a Mockingbird was both beloved and reviled, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and also found itself being placed on the American Library Association’s list of frequently challenged books “for its use of racial epithets, adult themes such as sexual intercourse, rape, and incest, profanity” and many other reasons in a similar vein to the above mentioned complaints.
To which, yes, all of the above statements about the content of To Kill a Mockingbird are true. The book does contain those above mentioned items in the storyline. The complaints about that leave out so much of the story that is good, namely the compassionate character that the book revolves around, namely Atticus Finch.
In 1995, To Kill a Mockingbird was one of the many pieces of assigned literature I was required to read as a part of my 11th grade English class at Nashville High School. One of the many reasons I grew to love the story of To Kill a Mockingbird was Atticus.The story was set in the deep South, in an era of racial segregation and inequality,and Atticus treated his client, Tom Robinson, with the same fairness and respect that he would have anyone else in the town of Maycomb, Alabama, should they have found themselves in the same situation. In the time before the Civil Rights movement, the above would have been mostly unheard of.
Race simply didn’t matter to Atticus, and he passed that outlook down to his children, Scout and Jem. As a student in high school, the main lesson I took from the story was that the color of a person’s skin didn’t matter, and that everyone deserves to be treated fairly. I’m sure there were other things I was supposed to take from the novel as well, but that was the one lesson that stood out so vividly in my mind, and is the reason I will always hold To Kill a Mockingbird as one of my favorite books of all time.
For further reading on the life of Harper Lee, The New York Times piece by William Grimes can be found online at their website, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/20/arts/harper-lee-dies.html. The American Library Association’s website about banned books and reasons why can be accessed at www.ala.org/bbooks.
Both of Harper Lee’s novels, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Go Set a Watchman are available at the Howard County Public Library. Copies are limited, so if one is available, ask at the front desk to be put on a waiting list for it.