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Haper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

3 December 2011 No Comment
Haper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird

Haper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was instantly successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a classic of modern American literature. The plot and characters are loosely based on the author’s observations of her family and neighbors, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.

The novel is renowned for its warmth and humor, despite dealing with the serious issues of rape and racial inequality. The narrator’s father, Atticus Finch, has served as a moral hero for many readers and as a model of integrity for lawyers. One critic explains the novel’s impact by writing, “In the twentieth century, To Kill a Mockingbird is probably the most widely read book dealing with race in America, and its protagonist, Atticus Finch, the most enduring fictional image of racial heroism.”

As a Southern Gothic novel and a Bildungsroman, the primary themes of To Kill a Mockingbird involve racial injustice and the destruction of innocence. Scholars have noted that Lee also addresses issues of class, courage, compassion, and gender roles in the American Deep South. The book is widely taught in schools in English-speaking countries with lessons that emphasize tolerance and decry prejudice. Despite its themes, To Kill a Mockingbird has been subject to campaigns for removal from public classrooms, often challenged for its use of racial epithets. Scholars also note the black characters in the novel are not fully explored, and some black readers receive it ambivalently, although it has an often profound effect on many white readers.

Reception to the novel varied widely upon publication. Literary analysis of it is considerably sparse compared to the number of copies sold and its use in education. Author Mary McDonough Murphy, who collected individual impressions of the book by several authors and public figures, calls To Kill a Mockingbird “an astonishing phenomenon”. In 2006, British librarians ranked the book ahead of the Bible as one “every adult should read before they die”. It was adapted into an Oscar-winning filmin 1962 by director Robert Mulligan, with a screenplay by Horton Foote. Since 1990, a play based on the novel has been performed annually in Harper Lee’s hometown ofMonroeville, Alabama. To date, it is Lee’s only published novel, and although she continues to respond to the book’s impact, she has refused any personal publicity for herself or the novel since 1964.

Plot summary

The story takes place during three years of the Great Depression in the fictional “tired old town” of Maycomb, Alabama. It focuses on six-year-old Scout Finch, who lives with her older brother Jem and their widowed father Atticus, a middle-aged lawyer. Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill who visits Maycomb to stay with his aunt each summer. The three children are terrified of, and fascinated by, their neighbor, thereclusive “Boo” Radley. The adults of Maycomb are hesitant to talk about Boo and, for many years, few have seen him. The children feed each other’s imagination with rumors about his appearance and reasons for remaining hidden, and they fantasize about how to get him out of his house. Following two summers of friendship with Dill, Scout and Jem find that someone is leaving them small gifts in a tree outside the Radley place. Several times, the mysterious Boo makes gestures of affection to the children, but, to their disappointment, never appears in person.

Atticus is appointed by the court to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who has been accused of raping a young white woman, Mayella Ewell. Although many of Maycomb’s citizens disapprove, Atticus agrees to defend Tom to the best of his ability. Other children taunt Jem and Scout for Atticus’ actions, calling him a “nigger-lover”. Scout is tempted to stand up for her father’s honor by fighting, even though he has told her not to. For his part, Atticus faces a group of men intent on lynching Tom. This danger is averted when Scout, Jem, and Dill shame the mob into dispersing by forcing them to view the situation from Atticus’ and Tom’s points of view.

Because Atticus does not want them to be present at Tom Robinson’s trial, Scout, Jem, and Dill watch in secret from the colored balcony. Atticus establishes that the accusers—Mayella and her father, Bob Ewell, the town drunk—are lying. It also becomes clear that the friendless Mayella was making sexual advances towards Tom and her father caught her and beat her badly. Despite significant evidence of Tom’s innocence, the jury convicts him. Jem’s faith in justice is badly shaken, as is Atticus’, when a hopeless Tom is shot and killed while trying to escape from prison.

Humiliated by the trial, Bob Ewell vows revenge. He spits in Atticus’ face on the street, tries to break into the presiding judge’s house, and menaces Tom Robinson’s widow. Finally, he attacks the defenseless Jem and Scout as they walk home on a dark night from the school Halloween pageant. Jem’s arm is broken in the struggle, but amid the confusion, someone comes to the children’s rescue. The mysterious man carries Jem home, where Scout realizes that he is Boo Radley.

Maycomb’s sheriff arrives and discovers that Bob Ewell has been killed in the struggle. The sheriff argues with Atticus about the prudence and ethics of holding Jem or Boo responsible. Atticus eventually accepts the sheriff’s story that Ewell simply fell on his own knife. Boo asks Scout to walk him home, and after she says goodbye to him at his front door, he disappears again. While standing on the Radley porch, Scout imagines life from Boo’s perspective and regrets that they never repaid him for the gifts he had given them. [Source]

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