“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”
Harper Lee, the writer, famous for her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961, has passed away at age 89.
Her death was confirmed Friday by the City Hall in Monroeville, Alabama, where she lived.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” 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.”Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Descendent from Robert E. Lee, the Southern Civil War general, 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. She worked as an Airline reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines and British Overseas Airways during the 1950s. In 1959 Lee accompanied Truman Capote to Holcombe, Kansas, as a research assistant for Capote’s classic ‘non-fiction’ novel In Cold Blood (1966).
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.
“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.” (Finch defending Tom Robinson)
The narrator is Finch’s daughter, nicknamed Scout, an immensely intelligent and observant child. She starts the story when she is six and relates many of her experiences, usual interests of a child and collisions with the reality which intrudes into the sheltered world of childhood. 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. During the humorous and sad events Scout and Jem learn a lesson in good and evil and justice. As Scout’s narrative goes on, the reader realize that one watches a personality in the making. Scout tells her story in her own language which is obviously that of a child, but she also analyzes the events from the viewpoint of an already grown-up, mature person. We know that she will not grow to become a stiff society lady and she will never kill a mockingbird or wrong a weak person.
The first plot tells the story of Boo Radley, who is generally considered deranged, and the second concerns Tom Robinson. A jury of twelve white men refuse to look past the color of man’s skin and convict Robinson of a crime he did not commit. Atticus, assigned to defend Tom, loses is court. Bob Ewell, Mayella’s father, is obviously guilty of beating her for making sexual advances toward Tom. Bob attacks Jem and Scout because Atticus has exposed his daughter and him as liars. The children are saved by Boo Radley. Atticus and Calpurnia, the black cook, slowly became the moral centre of the book. They are portrayed as pillars of society who do not share society’s prejudices.
The story emphasizes that the children are born with an instinct for justice and absorb prejudices in the socialization process. Tom becomes a scapegoat of society’s prejudice and violence. – “Mr. Finch, there’s just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to ’em. Even then, they ain’t worth the bullet it takes to shoot ’em. Ewell ‘as one of ’em.”
After completing To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee accompanied Truman Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, to assist him in researching what they thought would be an article on a small town’s response to the murder of a farmer and his family. Capote expanded the material into his best-selling book, In Cold Blood, published in 1966.
Although her first novel gained a huge success, Lee did not continue her career as a writer. She returned from New York to Monroeville, where she lived avoiding interviews.