Friday, April 28, 2006

Shout Out!

I would be remiss if I were to miss giving a Shout-out today to the author of my favorite book; To Kill a Mockingbird.

Today is Harpee Lee’s 80th birthday, and in honor of that, I present to you a little bio of her life, and a brief analysis of her famed novel. To see a snippet of her novel, go on over to my Poetry and Literature blog.

Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28 1926 in Monroeville Alabama, the youngest of four children of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Finch Lee. She attended Huntingdon College, studied law at University of Alabama (while attending there she wrote for several student publications and also spent a year as editor of the campus humor magazine, "Rammer-Jammer") She didn’t finish her law degree but did stud one year at Oxford University before moving to New York in 1950, where she got a job as a reservation clerk with an airline. She gave up her job, moved into a tiny NYC apartment and concentrated on her writing.

In 1957 Miss Lee submitted a manuscript to the J. B. Lippincott Company that contained a series of short stories about life in the South. Told that her novel consisted of a series of short stories strung together and thusly was hard to understand, she was told to re-write it, which she did for the next two and a half years with the help of her editor, Tay Hohoff.

In 1960 To Kill a Mockingbird was published.

It was Lee’s only book and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961 and, in 1999, was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a poll conducted by the Library Journal (which is a trade publication for librarians that was founded by Melvil Dewey, who you may know as the father of the Dewey decimal system)

In 1959 Ms. Lee accompanied her good friend Truman Capote to Holcombe, KS to work as a research assistant for one of Capote's novels. That novel, published in 1966, was In Cold Blood, and it has dedications to Jack Dunphy and Harper Lee.

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930’s with many of the settings and characters being drawn from Lee’s life; Finch was the maiden name of Lee's mother and the character of Dill was drawn from Capote, Lee's childhood friend. The novel can, at it’s core, be seen as a coming-of-age story that it told from the point of view of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, the young daughter of Atticus Finch, an educated lawyer in a small fictional town in the South. Throughout the novel Scout is accompanied by her brother Jem and their mutual friend Dill (who was modeled after Lee’s good friend Truman Capote)

The title of the book is taken from Atticus's advice to his children about firing their air rifles at birds, stating in the book: "Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird". While the blue jay is a common bird, and is often perceived as a bully and a pest, mockingbirds do nothing but “sing their hearts out for us.”

Metaphorically, several of the book's characters can be seen as "mockingbirds" (Tom Robinson and Boo Radley), because they are constantly attacked despite having nothing but goodness in them, therefore the mockingbird represents innocence, and to kill one is to metaphorically kill innocence.

During the humorous and sad events of the novel, Scout and Jem learn a lesson in good and evil, and compassion and justice. As Scout's narrative goes on, the reader begins to realize that Scout will never kill a mockingbird and, more importantly, become racist. While Scout tells her story in her own language, she also analyzes people and their actions from the viewpoint of an already grown-up, mature person.

Part of the story’s emphasis is that children are born with an instinct for justice and absorb prejudices in the socialization process.

According to today's The Writer's Almanac, the novel sells about a million copies every year, and has sold over thirty million copies since its publication. In 1963, a scant three years after its publication, it was being taught in 8% of U.S. public middle schools and high schools. Today that figure is closer to 80%, with William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" & "Macbeth" and Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn"being the only novels that are read by more high school students.

If you haven't read the book (or seen the equally impressive movie starring Gregory Peck), pick up a copy and read/watch it. You WILL NOT be dissapointed.