Harper Lee (USA. 1926)
Her novel To Kill a Mockingbird was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. It was adapted into screen in 1962. The book is set in Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s. Atticus Finch, a lawyer and a father, defends a black man, Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping a poor white girl, Mayella Ewell. The setting and several of the characters are drawn from life - Finch was the maiden name of Lee's mother and the character of Dill was drawn from Capote, Lee's childhood friend. The trial itself has parallels to the infamous "Scottboro Trial," in which the charge was rape. In both, too, the defendants were African-American men and the accusers white women.
But the novel and the movie have special power in the depiction of childhood.
Watch the title sequence:
Simple reality is so nonviolent... It's symbolic roles that mess things up!
The narrator is Finch's daughter, nicknamed Scout, an immensely intelligent and observant child. She starts the story when she is six and relates many of her experiences, usual interests of a child, and events which break the sheltered world of childhood. Her mother is dead and she tries to keep pace with her older brother Jem. He breaks his arm so badly that it heals shorter than the other. One day the children meet Dill, their new seven-year-old friend. They become interested in Boo Radley, a recluse man in his thirties. However, he is not the frightening person as they first had imagined. During the humorous and sad events Scout and Jem learn a lesson in good and evil, and compassion and justice. As Scout's narrative goes on, the reader realizes that she will never kill a mockingbird or become a racist. Scout tells her story in her own language which is obviously that of a child, but she also analyzes people and their actions from the viewpoint of an already grown-up, mature person.
The first plot tells the story of Boo Radley, who is generally considered deranged, and the second concerns Tom Robinson. A jury of twelve white men believe two whites and refuse to look past the color of man's skin and convict Robinson of a crime, rape, he did not commit. Atticus, assigned to defend Tom, loses in court. Tom tries to escape and is shot dead. Bob Ewell, Mayella's father, is obviously guilty of beating her for making sexual advances toward Tom. Bob attacks Jem and Scout because Atticus has exposed his daughter and him as liars. The children are saved by Boo Radley, who stabs Bob Ewell to death. Atticus and Calpurnia, the black cook, slowly became the moral centre of the book. They are portrayed as pillars of society who do not share society's prejudices. The story emphasizes that the children are born with an instinct for justice and absorb prejudices in the socialization process. Tom becomes a scapegoat of society's prejudice and violence. - "Mr. Finch, there's just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to 'em. Even then, they ain't worth the bullet it takes to shoot 'em. Ewell 'as one of 'em."
Quotes by Atticus Finch:
"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what."
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view."
"There's something in our world that makes men lose their heads--they couldn't be fair if they tried."
"Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open."
To Kill a Mockingbird was made into a film in 1962. It won three Oscars: for Best Direction, Set Decoration, and Actor.
Listen to a mockingbird! "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."
From a 1963 interview
REPORTER: Have you seen the movie?
MISS LEE: Yes. Six times. (It was soon learned that she feels the film did justice to the book, and though she did not have script approval, she enjoyed the celluloid treatment with "unbridled pleasure.")