Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, was penned by famous American novelist Harper Lee. Was her novel influenced by the surroundings of her upbringing?
Harper Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama. Monroeville was not only where she was born, but where she spent the entirety of her youth, with her mother and father, and four siblings.
Born and raised in the deep south, it’s easy to see the parallels between Lee’s upbringing and her Pulitzer Prize winner, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s personal life throughout her early years mirrored much of what her characters were witness to.
Growing up Around Complicated Issues
Harper Lee, born Nelle Harper Lee, came to adopt the pen name of Harper Lee far later in her life. The parents decided on the middle name of Harper, to honor a pediatrician that had saved the life of Louise, Lee’s sister.
Lee found herself born in an incredibly complicated time. In 1920s Alabama, already a state with a complex history of issues surrounding it, just because her hometown of Monroeville was relatively small, she would not be insulated or protected from the issues and racial tensions that were present in those times.
Realizing the kind of outdated and prejudiced views that Lee was likely subjected to over the years does a lot to inform us about the kind of effect her childhood upbringing had on her and the novels she wrote. A lot of these issues are mirrored in the fictional town of Maycomb in Lee’s aforementioned now-classic novel, in addition to some of her father’s cases as a lawyer.
It appears that Lee had always been something of an outsider as she grew up. Gifted with a talent for storytelling and fanciful imaginings, traits that sooner saw her separated from her peers rather than endeared to them, she thankfully found friendship in fellow soon-to-be writer Truman Capote.
Just as it was in To Kill a Mockingbird, Capote brought to life by the character of Dill, lived near Lee for small periods at a time when his mother was away. The two quickly became good friends, finding solace in their mutual love of books and the written word.
Lee’s choice of companions and the long-lasting friendship that she had successfully struck up with Capote said a lot about her character, clearly having a fondness for like-minded, imaginative individuals.
Relationship With her Parents
By all accounts, Lee’s relationship with her parents was relatively stable. If you consider To Kill a Mockingbird to have a somewhat autobiographical spin to it, then her relationship with her father in particular was a strong one.
Her father Amasa Coleman Lee was, among other things, a lawyer and newspaper editor. During Lee’s youth, she observed her father having to deal with multiple cases, both professionally and as the editor of the newspaper, that appeared near-identical to those in her novel.
These ended tragically for those involved, situations created by the injustices and tensions present at the time. One of them swore Lee’s father off ever dealing with another criminal case again, the other he was an observer of during his time as a newspaper editor.
We can see both of these cases, and the effect they had on Lee, from their portrayal in her novel. In the novel, we can see the broad strokes of the man she saw her father as in the form of Atticus Finch, a lawyer who acts as the moral compass of the story.
The troubles that the character Finch has to deal with mirror mimic her father’s experiences so closely that it’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion to say they were the inspiration for her writing. This is especially true of the character Tom Robinson, who goes through an almost identical ordeal to a case that took place in Monroeville with a man named Walter Lett.
Not only her novels won multiple accolades, but Lee herself. In her later years, as she moved back to her hometown and final resting place of Monroeville, Lee would go on to accept multiple awards.
Cementing her legacy, and the importance of her hometown: Not just an award from a single president, but two.