The Day The Mockingbird Died

Harper Lee, author of the nearly ubiquitous modern American classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, died Friday, February 19, 2016. But, of course, you know this already – unless you live in a cave – without a cell phone.

This article is not meant to be an encyclopedia of facts, for that you can go to Wikipedia.  Still, I would like to throw out a few astounding facts.

If you went to High School any time since the 1960s, you could hardly escape without reading her iconic book, or at least, cheating and stealing the Cliff Notes. I missed out only because school seemed uninteresting and nefarious activities were the bigger draw at the time. I did read it later in life.

A 2008 survey of secondary books read by students grades 9–12 in the U.S. indicates the novel is the most widely read book in these grades. My granddaughter read Mockingbird when she was fifteen-years-old (now you know I’m an old codger), and she can engage anyone in a compelling debate on the merits of Harper Lee’s first and almost only book. It is her favorite book of all time, and she is a voracious reader.

Miss Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, was written in the mid-1950s and published in July 2015 as a “sequel” though it was later found to be Mockingbird’s first draft.

As an Indie Author, this next one kills me, not as funny haha, but WHY-NOT-ME (I know the answer shush): Harper Lee won a Pulitzer for her first book. Granted, she deserves it.

Mockingbird, since 1960 has sold at least a million copies a year.

And, if all that is not enough, read the following paragraph from Wikipedia on the novel’s contribution to the success of the Civil Rights movement. That alone makes Harper Lee’s image worthy to be inscribed on Mount Rushmore:

The novel is cited as a factor in the success of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, however, in that it “arrived at the right moment to help the South and the nation grapple with the racial tensions (of) the accelerating civil rights movement”. Its publication is so closely associated with the Civil Rights Movement that many studies of the book and biographies of Harper Lee include descriptions of important moments in the movement, despite the fact that she had no direct involvement in any of them. Civil Rights leader Andrew Young comments that part of the book’s effectiveness is that it “inspires hope in the midst of chaos and confusion” and by using racial epithets portrays the reality of the times in which it was set. Young views the novel as “an act of humanity” in showing the possibility of people rising above their prejudices. Alabama author Mark Childress compares it to the impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that is popularly implicated in starting the U.S. Civil War. Childress states the novel “gives white Southerners a way to understand the racism that they’ve been brought up with and to find another way. And most white people in the South were good people. Most white people in the South were not throwing bombs and causing havoc … I think the book really helped them come to understand what was wrong with the system in the way that any number of treatises could never do, because it was popular art, because it was told from a child’s point of view.”

I finished reading/listening to her second novel Go Set A Watchman (published fifty-five years after her first) on the same day she went off into eternity, and only learned the sad news of her death.

Parked outside of Starbucks, I was scrambling in the console for a napkin and a pen before looking online for a bit of text from Watchman (so I wouldn’t have to scribble or type it myself).

The text that HITS me after listening to Doctor Finch slap Jean Louise (Scout from Mockingbird) hard enough to draw blood:

I never struck a woman before in my life. Think I’ll go strike your aunt and see what happens. You just sit there for a while and be quiet.- Chapter 18

Now that’s a line that reaches up, grabs you by the shirt collar and slams your head into a wall.
Bravo to the author. I’m not advocating violence against women, but that’s a great line.
There’s a lot of controversy surrounding Lee’s second novel, and some people are whining that Atticus Finch, a pen and ink icon for good in the Twentieth Century, is discovered to be a racist (not a bigot but a racist–Read the book or get a dictionary). I saw a tweet saying that was a violation akin to Spielberg doing a sequel and having ET punch Elliot in the face. Perhaps.

Anyhow, Miss Harper Lee is a gift that will endure. As a writer or reader, you must, or I’ll slap YOU to see what happens, admire her for earning a Pulitzer on her first book changing our world for good then publishing another fifty-five years later before riding quietly off into the sunset.

May we enjoy her gifts for years to come.

I am in awe.

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