On July 11, 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was published. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of this beautiful novel. I have made no secret of the fact that it is my favorite novel. Ever. The author is Nelle Harper Lee who is from Monroeville, Alabama (Maycomb in the novel.) It is the only book Harper Lee ever published. She won the Pulitzer Prize. It has never been out of print, has sold more than 30 million copies, has been translated into more than 40 languages, has been voted by librarians across the country as the best novel of the 20th century and routinely appears on every best books ever written list.
Harper Lee based the character of Atticus Finch on her father, who was a lawyer in Monroeville. The character Dill was based on her childhood friend, Truman Capote. (She later helped him do the research for his book In Cold Blood.) The story is timeless. It is a coming-of-age story set in a small southern town – seen through the eyes of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. The characters are richly written: Scout and her brother Jem, Dill, Calpurnia, Tom Robinson, Mayella Ewell, Boo Radley, Atticus.
I suppose everyone knows the story. I just know that the issues of racial prejudice and inequality, the fear people feel about those who are ‘different’ from themselves, class differences and intolerance still resonate as much today as the day the book was written. Every time I read it, I am struck anew about how little things have changed. Some will insist that the world is very different now – that things are much better. Yes, in some ways; but I when I look around our world today and read the newspaper or watch the nightly news, I see a world where all of this still occurs. Every day. Everywhere. Will we never learn?
At heart, To Kill a Mockingbird is about love. The love of a father for his children. The love they have for him. And the love Boo Radley has for Scout and Jem.
If you haven’t read it, you must. I plan on reading it again in honor of this anniversary. Will you join me?
If you asked me who I would like to meet most in this world, it would be Harper Lee. She has shunned all public appearances since mid 1960’s. Occasionally she appears – briefly – and then retreats to her very private life. I admire her for that. And I admire her for writing the perfect novel. She never wrote another. And why should she? It would be almost impossible to top her masterpiece. She has said as much.
I have an autographed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. I cherish it. I suppose that is as close as I will ever get to Harper Lee. Somehow, it is enough.
Thank you, Harper Lee, for this, the most perfect of stories. I am a richer person for having read it. Hopefully, I am a better person, too.