To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee
Supervising an English literature exam the other day, I noticed that one of the set texts being studied by the candidates was To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee. It was many years since I had read the novel, and after scanning the first few pages, reminding myself of characters such as Scout and Jem, their father Atticus and housekeeper Calpurnia, I knew I had started something that I needed to finish.
What is most startling about the author and her novel is that, not only was this her only published piece of writing, but despite her refusal to promote herself and her book, it has sold nearly 40 million copies worldwide. In fact, when she had published it in 1960, she sincerely hoped that it would die a death….but the reality was, it took on a life of its own.
Although she denied it was autobiographical, there are too many coincidences with her own family history for this to be considered purely fiction. And the character of Atticus was firmly styled on her own father, who had also been a lawyer who had defended two Negroes who faced the death penalty.
The huge impact of the novel lies very much in the character of Atticus, a man who resolutely turns the other cheek, refuses to criticise anyone, and will even sacrifice his own well-being to defend the rights of others, especially the marginalised in society. Atticus has many a lesson to teach all of us.
If you haven’t read To kill a mockingbird, or it is many years since you have opened the covers, go back to it. A piece of fiction with huge moral impact.