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  • Writer's pictureAlltold Staff

An American Classic

Updated: Mar 5, 2019

Harper Lee’s first novel, To Kill a Mockingbird was released July 11, 1960 and sold over forty million copies and quickly became a beloved American classic. The novel takes place in small-town Alabama and tells the story of lawyer, Atticus Finch. Told from the perspective of “Scout”, or Jean Louise Finch, the novel shows the innocence and confusion of children growing up in the Depression era, following the society’s Jim Crow Laws. The novel also focuses on differing general roles and civil rights. Despite being published half a century ago, “To Kill a Mockingbird” continues to be studied by high school and college students and prints over a million copies each year.

Excitement rose among Lee’s fans as they waited patiently for the release of a second novel. However, for over half a century a second work was never published and Lee took on a new title as a “literary recluse”. To the world’s surprise, in July of 2015, Go Set a Watchman hit the shelves, selling over two million copies. The novel was first shown to editors in 1957, but was originally rejected. Even today, rumors fly as to if Lee’s mental and physical health was well enough to consent for the release of the novel. The world tells the story of Atticus and Scout twenty years prior to their last appearance in To Kill a Mockingbird. Go Set a Watchman included several quotes where Atticus expresses his conservative views on race and civil rights, contrasting to Lee’s earlier novel.

Harper Lee made an appearance at Notre Dame’s 161’st commencement ceremony in 2006. Lee accepted an offer from Father Jenkins to receive an honorary doctor of humane letter degree from the institution, saying “Notre Dame is the symbol of all that is of good report in American Education… To be honored by such an institution for which I have such respect makes me feel humbled indeed, and enormously proud… if you look out your window on a clear night, you may see an old lady jumping over the moon.” After walking across the stage and receiving the diploma, 2,800 graduates stood and held a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird high above their heads to express their love for the author who “helped shape their social consciousness and love of literature” (Dr. Jenkins after learning of Lee’s passing).

Whether your sophomore English teacher required you to read To Kill a Mockingbird or if you were first in line at Barnes and Nobles to receive your copy of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee has influenced us all. Her American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, tells the story of justice and race in a small southern town; however, everyone who reads the novel can relate the situation in one way or another. At the age of 89, Harper Lee took her last breath and died peacefully, in her sleep on February 19th.

“Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

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