|Harper Collins has just reprinted the classic novel with its original jacket rendition.|
"Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer's day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flied in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men's stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum."The story was not only compelling but timely. It remains one of my favorite novels. With Mrs. Royce, one of many memorable teachers but one of my best English teaches along the way, we wrote short essays about the book, had vocabulary tests from it, discussed it in class and even had to write our first term papers on it. I felt so grown up delving into class discussions and thinking about what I was reading in a new way. Somewhere in a box from our move I still have that term paper, typed on onion skin, and the cover collage that I made from magazine bits and words. I haven't read the book since 1975 and think it's time for a reread, just as it is time for our oldest son to read it. In the same class we also read Carson McCuller's novel, A Member of the Wedding, and I remember being struck as a 12-year old girl by the power of the young female voices of Lee's Scout and McCuller's Frankie. They were what I needed to hear at the time. I had just moved to a new state and school, even though I had loved coming there in the summers to see my grandparents, at a very inward and insecure time for me. Reading this kind of fiction was empowering.
As was J.D. Salinger in his lifetime, Lee has been largely silent for many years in the public eye and never published anything after her only novel's release. Her sister was quoted as saying that Lee told her that she she couldn't possibly live up to her own, or everyone's, expectations with a second novel so why even try? The work has no doubt sustained her financially all of these years but you have to wonder if she just stopped writing or, as Salinger was witnessed doing after he stopped publishing, if she has kept writing for herself.
|Harper Lee, c. 1962, during movie filming.|
Among the powers of To Kill a Mockingbird is that it was written in a period in our history before the Civil Rights Act was even passed and when a person of color was still legally, and always immorally, discriminated against. That it was written by a white woman who seemed to understand racial injustice from a child's voice, that was no doubt the author's own, is even more extraordinary. When the book caused a great stir and was banned in many school districts, Lee wrote this response in a rare public letter to the editor: "Surely it is plain to the simplest intelligence that To Kill a Mockingbird spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct, Christian in its ethic, that is the heritage of all Southerners." ["Harper Lee Twits School Board In Virginia for Ban on Her Novel". The New York Times: p. 82. 1966-01-16.]
It is also a book about children and the loss of innocence––and the validation and the respect that we should have for children––as much as it is about race and Southern culture. A nation, and its readers, and hopefully generations of young readers in the years to come, will be forever grateful to Miss Harper Lee and her Pulitizer-prize winning magnum opus.
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1960