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An Introduction to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

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An Introduction to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee. Born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama Youngest of four children 1957 – submitted manuscript for her novel; was urged to rewrite it Spent over two years reworking it

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harper lee
Harper Lee
  • Born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama
  • Youngest of four children
  • 1957 – submitted manuscript for her novel; was urged to rewrite it
  • Spent over two years reworking it
  • 1960 – To Kill a Mockingbird (her only novel) published
  • 1966 - was one of two persons named by President Johnson to the National Council of Arts
to kill a mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird
  • narrator  · Scout narrates the story herself, looking back in retrospect an unspecified number of years after the events of the novel take place.
  • point of view  · Scout narrates in the first person, telling what she saw and heard at the time and augmenting this narration with thoughts and assessments of her experiences in retrospect. Although she is by no means an omniscient narrator, she has matured considerably over the intervening years and often implicitly and humorously comments on the naïveté she displayed in her thoughts and actions as a young girl. Scout mostly tells of her own thoughts but also devotes considerable time to recounting and analyzing Jem’s thoughts and actions. It is this point of view that reveals the genre as memoir.
  • tone  · Childlike, humorous, nostalgic, innocent; as the novel progresses, increasingly dark, foreboding, and critical of society
  • tense  · Past
to kill a mockingbird cont
To Kill a Mockingbird Cont…
  • setting (time)  ·  1933–1935
  • setting (place)  · The fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama
  • protagonist  · Scout Finch
  • major conflict  · The childhood innocence with which Scout and Jem begin the novel is threatened by numerous incidents that expose the evil side of human nature, most notably the guilty verdict in Tom Robinson’s trial and the vengefulness of Bob Ewell. As the novel progresses, Scout and Jem struggle to maintain faith in the human capacity for good in light of these recurring instances of human evil.
  • (TKAM turns 50)
to kill a mockingbird cont1
To Kill a Mockingbird cont…
  • TKAM has a very controversial past and present. Due to its language content, themes of race, class, gender, and justice, it has been, and continues to be greatly censored in schools.
  • However, it remains one of the most popular and widely acclaimed books of all time.
  • (Harrison Ford)
authors cannot escape their lives
Authors cannot escape their lives:

Harper Lee’s childhood

Scout Finch’s childhood

Grew up in 1930s - rural southern Alabama town

Father - Atticus Finch - attorney who served in state legislature in Alabama

Older brother and young neighbor (Dill) are playmates

Scout reads before she enters school; reads Mobile Register newspaper in first grade

Six years old when the trial of Tom Robinson takes place

  • Grew up in 1930s - rural southern Alabama town
  • Father - Amasa Lee - attorney who served in state legislature in Alabama  
  • Older brother and young neighbor (Truman Capote) are playmates
  • Harper Lee - an avid reader  
  • Six years old when Scottsboro trials were meticulously covered in state and local newspapers






scottsboro trials the novel s setting in the 1930s
Scottsboro Trials - The Novel's Setting in the 1930s
  • There are many parallels between the trial of Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird and one of the most notorious series of trials in the nation's history ‚ the Scottsboro Trials. On March 25, 1931, a freight train was stopped in Paint Rock, a tiny community in Northern Alabama, and nine young African American men who had been riding the rails were arrested. As two white women - one underage - descended from the freight cars, they accused the men of raping them on the train. Within a month the first man was found guilty and sentenced to death. There followed a series of sensational trials condemning the other men solely on the testimony of the older woman, a known prostitute, who was attempting to avoid prosecution under the Mann Act, prohibiting taking a minor across state lines for immoral purposes, like prostitution. Although none of the accused were executed, a number remained on death row for many years. The case was not settled until 1976 with the pardon of the last of the Scottsboro defendants.
parallels between tom robinson s case and the scottsboro trials
Parallels between Tom Robinson’s Case and the Scottsboro Trials

The Scottsboro Trials

Tom Robinson’s Trial

Occurs in the 1930s

Takes place in southern Alabama

Begins with a charge of rape made by a white woman against an African American man

The poor white status of Mayella is a critical issue.

A central figure is Atticus, lawyer, legislator and member of the Alabama Bar, who defends an African American man.  

Atticus arouses anger in the communtiy in trying to defend Tom Robinson.  

The verdict is rendered by a jury of poor white residents of Old Sarum.  

The jury ignores evidence, for example, that Tom has a useless left arm.  

Attitudes about Southern women and poor whites complicate the trial of Tom

  • Took place in the 1930s
  • Took place in northern Alabama
  • Began with a charge of rape made by white women against African American men
  • The poor white status of the accusers was a critical issue.
  • A central figure was a heroic judge, a member of the Alabama Bar who overturned a guilty jury verdict against African American men.
  • This judge went against public sentiment in trying to protect the rights of the African American defendants.
  • The first juries failed to include any African Americans, a situation which causeed the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the guilty verdict.
  • The jury ignored evidence, for example, that the women suffered no injuries.
  • Attitudes about Southern women and poor whites complicated the trial.
social class in the novel
Social Class in the Novel

This is probably similar to how class structure existed during the 1930’s in the South. The wealthy, although fewest in number, were most powerful. The blacks, although great in number, were lowest on the class ladder, and thus, had the least privileges.

Examples of each social class:

Wealthy - Finches

Country Folk - Cunninghams

“White Trash” – Ewells

Black Community – Tom Robinson

living in a world of discrimination
Living in a World of Discrimination

Journal: What are you thinking/feeling as you view the following images?

A cafe near the tobacco market. (Signs: Separate doors for "White" and for "Colored.“) North Carolina, 1940

what can we learn from tkam
What can we learn from TKAM?
  • Handout/Reading: Everything I Need to Know I learned from Harper Lee:
  • Throughout the reading of this novel, you will see how author’s ideologies (beliefs and systems of belief) are woven in to the stories they tell.
as you read the novel
As you read the novel…
  • Continue to ask yourself how your own ideology plays out in your own lives, the decisions you make, and the stories you tell. By reading this novel, you will know from where Lee’s beliefs about race, gender, and class stem, and you will clearly see what it is she values and feels is worth standing up for. Now you need to decide for yourself what you believe, why you hold such beliefs, and what it is you feel is worth standing up for.
main characters
Main Characters
  • Scout (Jean Louise Finch) – six-year-old narrator of story
  • Jem (Jeremy Finch) – her older brother
  • Atticus Finch – Jem and Scout’s father, a prominent lawyer who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman
  • Arthur (Boo) Radley – a thirty-three-year-old recluse who lives next door
  • Charles Baker (Dill) Harris – Jem and Scout’s friend who comes to visit his aunt in Maycomb each summer
  • Tom Robinson – a respectable black man accused of raping a white woman
  • Calpurnia – the Finches’ black cook

"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, 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."