Harper Lee's Scout
About the Author
Harper Lee (1926-)
Harper Lee is an American writer, famous for her race relations novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. The book became an international bestseller and was adapted into screen in 1962. Lee was 34 when the work was published, and it has remained her only novel.
Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama. Her father was a former newspaper editor and proprietor, who had served as a state senator and practiced as a lawyer in Monroeville. Lee studied law at the University of Alabama from 1945 to 1949, and spent a year as an exchange student in Oxford University, Wellington Square. Six months before finishing her studies, she went to New York to pursue a literary career. During the 1950s, she worked as an airline reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines and British Overseas Airways. In 1959 Lee accompanied Truman Capote to Holcombe, Kansas, as a research assistant for Capote's classic 'non-fiction' novel In Cold Blood.
To Kill a Mockingbird was Lee's first novel. The book is set in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s. Atticus Finch, a lawyer and a father, defends a black man, Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping a poor white girl, Mayella Ewell. The setting and several of the characters are drawn from life – Finch was the maiden name of Lee's mother, and the character of Dill was drawn from Capote, Lee's childhood friend. The trial itself has parallels to the infamous Scottboro Trial, in which the charge was rape. In both, too, the defendants were African-American men and the accusers white women.
"But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States of the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal" (Lee).
Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson
The narrator of the novel is Finch's daughter, nicknamed Scout. She starts the story when she is six and relates many of her experiences, the usual interests of a child, and events which break the sheltered world of her childhood. Scout is an immensely intelligent and observant child; she sounds as though she could be 16. Her mother is dead, and she tries to keep pace with her older brother, Jem. He breaks his arm so badly that it heals shorter than the other. One day the children meet Dill, their new seven-year-old friend. They become interested in Boo Radley, a reclusive man in his thirties. During the humorous and sad events Scout and Jem learn a lesson in good and evil, and compassion and justice. As Scout's narrative goes on, the reader realizes that she will never kill a mockingbird or become a racist. Scout tells her story in her own language, which is obviously that of a child, but she also analyzes people and their actions from the viewpoint of an already grown-up, mature person. There a lot of variations of the formula "as I look back on it now" in her speech. Scout's narration does not turn the novel into a children's book but lends it innocent truthfulness and simplicity.
Although Harper Lee's first novel gained a huge success, Lee did not continue her literary career although she worked for years on a second novel and a book of nonfiction. She returned from New York to Monroeville, where she has lived with her sister Alice, avoiding interviews. In 2007, Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, by George Bush.
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