It has been nearly 55 years since the publication of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” a novel by Monroeville, Ala., author Harper Lee. The book has become a standard in classrooms throughout the country. Sadly, it still raises questions and criticisms that the story’s themes are not “politically correct.” Set in Alabama in the 1930s, the book was published in 1960, in a time before the Civil Rights Act, and before the Voting Rights Act. Jim Crow laws were still in place, segregating schools and public places. Yet the story shines a light on the irrationality of racism, during a time when its roots were still very firmly in place.
The novel went on to win a Pulitizer Prize, and in 1962 was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck as one of the central characters, lawyer Atticus Finch, who takes on the challenge of defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. For the world into which Harper Lee delivered her masterpiece, it isn’t hard to understand why such subject matter would raise eyebrows and, in some cases, spark outrage. Overlooking the message of the book, some decreed it inappropriate reading material for school children. That’s an absurdity!
In 1966, Harper Lee addressed some of these criticisms in a letter to a Virginia school board that called for banning the novel. In her book’s defense, she called on another great work of literature, George Orwell’s “1984,” which is set in a then-future world where “thought police” seek to control what the population believes and understands by tightly regulating what they may read and watch. She speaks of “doublethink,” a concept in the novel where those loyal to the controlling party develop the ability to accept contrary opinions at the same time. Ms. Lee wrote in her letter to the school board:
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. To hear that the novel is ‘immoral’ has made me count the years between now and 1984, for I have yet to come across a better example of doublethink.
In June, “To Kill a Mockingbird” was finally released as an e-book and a digital audiobook, after Ms. Lee refused for years to give permission for the work to enter the digital age. The award-winning novel is the only published work by Harper Lee, who is now 88. The e-book, together with an audiobook narrated by Sissy Spacek, was released July 8 by HarperCollins. In a statement, it seems Harper Lee has made peace with the digital distribution of her work, saying:
I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that Mockingbird has survived this long. This is Mockingbird for a new generation.
I have been a long-time fan of Harper Lee, known to her friends as Nelle, and I consider her only novel to be a true treasure. I have read her book several times and have an original edition. I intend to read the book again!
Sources: al.com, NPR
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