Harper Lee is a well-acclaimed and important US writer. Compared to others, the catalog of her works is comparatively modest, but her novels were capable of touching on the many central problems of American life. Not much is known about the author’s early life, as Lee was especially private about the details of her upbringing. However, friends and other people that knew her provided accounts that are used to this day. Born and raised in Monroeville, Alabama, along with her siblings, Lee has set sights on a law career from an early age. Lee’s upbringing was stable and prosperous, likely contributing to her ability to get a good education. Her father was a Lawyer, and a respected member of the local community (Shields, 2014). Hardworking, diligent, kind, and observant, Lee studied law at the University of Alabama, likely following in her footsteps. After an exchange program in England, however, young Lee decided to transition into a writing career instead.
This change kick-started the author’s writing career, and she singlehandedly became responsible for the artistic legacy Lee has today. The initial version of To Kill a Mockingbird has endured several rewrites, as the publishing agency did not see it as a finished piece of work (Shields, 2014). The finished piece was published in the 1960s, with the author’s efforts have seemingly paid off (Shields, 2014). The novel was acclaimed worldwide, quickly becoming a literal classic. In some parts of the US, the publication was seen as controversial, and Lee’s work was even banned. However, the public perception shifted and in the world of today, it is regarded very highly. Despite being known for only writing a single book, in actuality, Lee published other works as well. She authored several short articles close to the release of the “Mockingbird”, published in journals such as vogue. In addition, she also published a sequel to her hit book in 2015, finding similar acclaim among the public (“Harper Lee before ‘To kill a mockingbird’,” 2016). Both her life and career were prosperous and stable.
As many, including the author herself, have noted, To Kill a Mockingbird is in large part an autobiographical book. A major part of Lee’s experiences, encounters, and friends can be found in this work, and her early life in Alabama likely had an immense impact on the finished work. Firstly, the book’s plot is also set in Alabama and follows the life of a tomboy girl called Scout. As noted in biographical works, this character was based on Lee herself (Shields, 2014). An important character in the book’s narrative, Atticus Finch, was based on Lee’s father as well. The man was involved in a defense trial, which Lee came to learn much about (Shields, 2014). This real-life case was about a storekeeper being allegedly killed by two black men. Similarly, Atticus Finch from the “Mockingbird” takes it upon himself to defend a black man in court. Similar cases were also recorded in Alabama at the time, which could have served as an influence on Lee’s fictional trial (Jassim, 2019). The attitudes of the people around her at that time most probably made an unforgettable impact on Lee.
In addition, her longtime friend and another writer, Truman Capote, also appears in the book as a side character named Dill. Lee took the many events and experiences of her childhood and used them to tell a compelling, engaging, and thought-provoking story. This method of portraying and discussing reality likely helped many people have a better understanding of America’s vices.
Harper Lee before ‘To kill a mockingbird’. (2016). Time.
Jassim, I. (2019). The Influence of Fathers on Family and Society : A Study in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son. Imam Ja’afar Sadiq University.
Shields, C. J. (2014). I am scout: The biography of Harper Lee. Henry Holt and Company (BYR).