In honor of Harper Lee, who passed away at the age of 89, we look in our vault for some interesting facts about her famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
It was one of the biggest literary stories of 2015—Harper Lee’s long-lost follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird, written in the 1950s, would finally be published. But even though it’s a sequel, Lee wrote Go Set a Watchman first. It follows the grown-up protagonist Scout as she travels from New York to her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama, during which she tells the story of a Depression-era trial that rocked her small town: a black man was wrongly accused of rape, and Scout’s lawyer father, Atticus Finch, bravely defends him. The title was inspired by the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in the King James Bible: “For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” In Lee’s book, the “watchman” looking over the town is Atticus Finch. But Lee’s editor rejected the manuscript and urged her to write the story over from the point of view of six-year-old Scout. So Lee spent two years rewriting it, and she also wanted to call the new manuscript Go Set a Watchman…but her editor rejected that as well. He thought a Biblical title would turn off readers outside of the South. Lee renamed it Atticus, but that was turned down, too. So Lee took a line from the book, where Atticus tells his two kids, “It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” The title is symbolic of the destruction of innocence, a major theme throughout both novels.
Banned in Eden Valley
Required reading for schools across the nation, To Kill a Mockingbird delivers a strong message of racial tolerance. Nevertheless, Eden Valley removed it from schools in 1977, and was soon followed by schools in New York, Illinois, and Missouri. Protestors said the book’s violent depiction of a hate crime actually encouraged racism.
In 1961, when Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for To Kill a Mockingbird, she broke out in hives.
RIP Harper Lee
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” —Harper Lee