To revive a mockingbird: Remembering Harper Lee

Harper Lee once wrote, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s garden, 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.”

Much like the mockingbird, Lee did not infringe on peoples’ rights, did not succumb to social injustices and did nothing but write her heart out to promote a more humane and prosperous society. Although it should be a sin to lose such a revolutionary writer, Lee died on Feb. 19. What didn’t die, however, are her few but significant contributions to the world.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is published (1960)
Many students had to read the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in high school. The story revolves around Scout Finch and her father, Atticus, who live in a small town in Alabama in the 1930s. Atticus is a lawyer who defends a black man who was falsely accused of raping a white woman.

This novel doesn’t just promote the change of a corrupt social system, but it also shows that the best way to do so is through education and integration. The main characters learn to question societal beliefs and to understand individuals by learning of their pasts and character traits. “To Kill a Mockingbird” also displays the expectations of women in the 1930s. The girls, specifically Scout, learn society’s expectations for femininity and that any behavior outside of those expectations is unacceptable.

Film adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird is released (1962)
The film adaptation of the novel is perhaps just as significant as the novel itself. Gregory Peck, who played Atticus Finch, eventually won an Oscar for Best Actor. Though Lee herself described Peck as the “perfect embodiment of Finch,” it’s noticeable that the emphasis on the definition of femininity is not present. Because movies have time limits, it’s easy to see that the director focused on the social injustices about race rather than the ones about gender.

Along with Peck’s win, the film also won Best Writing Based on Material from Another Medium and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration. “To Kill a Mockingbird” received five other Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Black-and-White Cinematography and Best Music.

“Go Set a Watchman” is published (2015)
Although the novel was published 55 years after “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Lee actually wrote “Go Set a Watchman” before its predecessor was published. The story takes place 20 years after the first novel left off when Scout is 26 years old and has returned to Alabama to spend time with Atticus, who has become more racist with age. Set in the 1950s, Lee continues the depiction of social injustices and brings political tensions to light as Scout uncovers truths about her family, her town and her closest friend.

“Go Set a Watchman” was the winner of the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Fiction in 2015, beating competitors “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry,” by Fredrik Backman and Henning Koch, “Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff and “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara.

As of July 2015, the novel sold over a million copies.

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