If you were in elementary school from the early 1960s to the present, you have certainly read Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  I recall reading the book and then watching the movie in my classroom in the sixth grade. 

The Civil Rights Movement was already in progress when Harper Lee’s only novel  was first published in 1960.  This story of an African-American man falsely accused of raping a white woman was set during the Great Depression in the 1930s in the fictional town of  Maycomb, Alabama.  During this time, America was watching closely the infamous Scottsboro Trials, in which two white women accused nine young black men of rape. These trials may influenced Harper Lee as she crafted this novel.

Many critics have pointed out the similarities between her and Scout, and her childhood friend, Truman Capote, and Dill.   Harper Lee herself has said that she did not intend the book to be an autobiography.   She simply wrote what she knew and felt from her childhood.   It’s also her only book: she never published another novel, and, within a few years of To Kill A Mockingbird‘s publication, she went into seclusion.    

If you have only one novel you absolutely must write, you could not do much better than this novel.   Awarded the Pulitzer Prize, it’s never been out of print, and has long been a staple of  middle and high school  English classes. The novel has become an iconic example of a book that can make its readers into more sensitive and better people.

Interestingly enough, this novel often appears on the American Library Association’s list of banned books due to its use of profanity.  It has also been accused by some critics for its representation of African-Americans as simple folk who need whites to protect them.  Some see the novel as a powerful statement against racism,  and others see it as reproducing racism in a less obvious form.  I think myself that critics need to consider the time and society in which a novel was written before applying today’s standards of behavior to characters portrayed in a different society from our own, and set several decades ago. 

You can find Harper Lee’s novel in printed and recorded form at your Alameda County Libraries.  You can also find the movie version of “To Kill a Mockingbird”  in the library: 

To kill a mockingbird / Harper Lee

New York : Perennial, 2002       Fiction LEE,H

To kill a mockingbird [sound recording] / by Harper Lee

Prince Frederick, MD : Recorded Books, p2006, p1988, c1960     CDB Fiction LEE,H

To kill a mockingbird [videorecording] / screenplay by Horton Foote ; produced by Alan J. Pakula ; directed by Robert Mulligan ; a Universal International presentation of a Pakula-Mulligan, Brentwood Productions picture

Universal City, CA : Universal, [2005]         DVD Fiction TO