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10 things you should know about To Kill A Mockingbird

Last updated on: February 05, 2015 19:44 IST
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You probably know by now that the beloved classic by Harper Lee is soon set to have a sequel... 55 years after the first one was published.

For those of you who haven't read it, don't fret... we're here to help!

We do however recommend you head straight to the nearest bookstore and buy it or. if you're feeling particularly lazy, just buy it here at, (nudge, nudge) Rediff Books! :-)

But, for now, here's everything you need to know about To Kill A Mockingbird.

1. It was written by Harper Lee.

Yep! That's her in the picture here, many, many years ago!

That is also one of the very few photographs of the author because, not unlike the late American author J D Salinger, Harper Lee -- who is now 88 years old -- is a recluse.

Both knocked the ball out of the park with just one novel -- Salinger did it with Catcher In The Rye and Lee with To Kill A Mockingbird. (Salinger though, had published 13 short stories besides his novel.)

Salinger was and Lee is publicity shy.

Salinger stopped giving interviews in 1980, while Lee has consistently turned down interview requests since the mid-60s.

Of course, this wasn't always the case with Harper Lee.

Soon after the book's publication, she seemed to quite enjoy the popularity.

She was granting interviews, visiting schools and attending events in her honour.

When the book was in its 41st week on the bestseller list, Lee was informed that her debut novel had won the Pulitzer Prize, which left her stunned.

Slowly but surely, Harper Lee grew tired of the repetitive questions and felt her popularity bordered on the kind that celebrities sought.

And so, in 1964, she began turning down interviews and has remained a recluse ever since.

Photograph: Wikimedia Creative Commons

2. To Kill A Mockingbird is set from 1933 to 1935 in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama.

The protagonist of the story is the six-year-old Scout Finch who stays with her older brother, Jem, and their widowed father, Atticus, a middle-aged lawyer.

Scout and Jem are joined by Dill, a young fellow who joins his aunt every summer.

Their neighbour, the reclusive 'Boo' Radley, is a constant source of fascination and terror to the three children.

3. But wait! It isn't just about a bunch of kids playing around in Depression Era America.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, one of this generation's finest writers, describes the book as 'a very clear-eyed depiction of American tribalism in its three major manifestations: race, class and region.'

This is because To Kill A Mockingbird deals with some very serious issues -- rape and racial inequality.

Scout's father, Atticus Finch, is appointed to represent a black man accused of raping a white woman.

What's the big deal you ask?

Think of how we would treat a lawyer representing a man accused of mass murder today.

Get the picture?

Jem and Scout are taunted about their father being a 'nigger-lover' and the imprisoned black man, Tom, is almost lynched by a mob.

Even so, Atticus stands his ground and does the job assigned to him.

4. Atticus Finch, the complete man! :-)

Atticus Finch is one of the most admired and revered characters in world literature.

He has served as a moral hero to the readers of the book, not to mention lawyers around the world, and the man you aspire to be -- honest, forthright, intelligent and poised.

Should it be a surprise then than the novel was originally titled Atticus?

His most famous quote: 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'

5. Gregory Peck played Atticus Finch

If anyone had any doubts about the popularity of Atticus's character, this is Gregory Peck speaking about the role he immortalised on the silver screen:

'I know that one thing I am going to be remembered for... and it is probably going to be the lead line of my obit: Oscar for To Kill A Mockingbird.

'More people remind me about that, talk to me and write to me than any other film.'

Incidentally, Peck wasn't the first choice for the role. Universal Studio, which produced the film, had planned to cast Rock Hudson, star of the 1961 romantic comedy, Come September.

Harper Lee, though, had a high opinion of Gregory Peck.

In an interview that is part of the movie's special edition DVD, Peck recollects the time Lee told him on the sets of the film that he reminded her of her father, especially 'with that little paunch'. :-)

Photograph: Still from the movie adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird.

6. Remember Truman Capote? He was in the book too!

Okay, that is the picture of the biopic of the American author.

The real guy looked like this:

Capote who wrote the novella Breakfast At Tiffany's (that was later made into the classic movie starring Audrey Hepburn) and that seminal non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood, was Lee's best friend and is also a character in her book.

Remember Dill, who comes visiting his aunt in Maycomb?

That is Capote!

You see, long before Truman Capote became a literary star, he was just another boy who, during summers, lived with his aunts who were neighbours to the Lees!

The book itself has several autobiographical elements.

Lee's father, much like Atticus, was a lawyer and 'Boo' Radley was modelled on a young man who was kept by his father in a boarded up house down the road from the Lees and was never seen.

Jem was modelled on Lee's brother Edwin who, like his fictional counterpart, was four years her senior.

No points for guessing that Scout Finch was modelled on Harper Lee, the tomboy who was always up for a fight. :-)

Photographs: Poster of the film, Capote and Wikimedia Creative Commons

7. But did Harper Lee really write To Kill a Mockingbird?

What good is a classic without some controversy, right?

The most persistent rumour that has dogged this one is that it wasn't written by Harper Lee at all!

By some accounts, the source of this information is Pearl Belle, a literary critic, who claimed Capote implied to her that he'd written the book or had a great deal to do with its writing.

Being a recluse didn't help Harper Lee's cause and the rumour persisted.

However, a letter from Capote to his aunt dated July 9, 1959, that emerged a few years ago seems to have cleared the air.

In the letter, Capote writes that he had read a good part of the novel and liked it a great deal.

And he says nothing of being involved in its writing.

Incidentally, Lee aided Capote who spent four years writing what would be his most famous book, In Cold Blood.

However, if you read the two authors, you'd probably realise the stark difference in their writing styles... and the ridiculousness of the rumour.

8. It is more popular than the Bible!

The book has consistently has consistently figured in the World Book Day's lists of best novels ever written.

According to a poll conducted in Great Britain on World Book Day in 2010, the 50th year of the book's publication, To Kill A Mockingbird was ranked over the Bible in the list of the country's most favourite books.

In the same year, in another survey, British librarians ranked it as the number one book they would recommend.

In the 2014 World Book Day poll, it was number three among teen reads.

Readers of the American publishing house, Modern Library, have listed it as the fifth best book among the top 100.

9. But is it a good book for children to read?

To Kill A Mockingbird may have well been told from the point of view of a young girl but that hasn't stopped concerned people from objecting to the content of the book.

It has several racial slurs and profanity, not to forget mentions of rape.

All of this has led to several people asking if it should be part of classroom study in the first place.

Lee's reaction to a 1966 ban was probably the best.

In response to Hanover County School Board's order asking schools under its jurisdiction to dispose of all copies of her book, Lee sent a contribution of $10 to a local newspaper with a snarky request to enroll 'the Hanover County School Board in any first grade of its choice'.

Well played, Harper Lee, well played! :-)

Photograph: Still from the movie adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird

10. One book, 40 million copies (and counting)

Lee's publishers warned her that the book would not sell more than a few thousand copies.

The author herself was 'hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time... hoped someone would like it enough to give (her) encouragement'.

Needless to say, in more than half a century, with over 40 million copies sold and translations in more than 40 languages, Harper Lee must feel overwhelmed.

While we may never know for sure (she's a recluse, remember?), we cannot thank her enough for writing this wonderful book.

Thank you, Harper Lee, thank you so very much!

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