First of all, I'm so sorry that I haven't written this post before now. I tried to announce it on various forms of social media (facebook, twitter, and Instagram) that the next pick for the Read Great Books literature challenge was going to be Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, but I'm sure some of you missed it and now it's becoming crunch time.
Originally, I ordered the Read Great Books literature challenge chronologically to when they were written. But in anticipation of Harper Lee's new novel Go Set A Watchman, I realized most of us would want to read (and therefore discuss) To Kill A Mockingbird first. So I've re-shuffled the order, but the overall book list remains the same.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee was published in 1960, winning the Pulitzer prize that year and becoming the American classic that almost every high school student is required to read. The story is told from the perspective 10-year-old Scout Finch, and her observations of her widowed father, Atticus Finch, in a southern community where racial relations are strained, to put it mildly.
The novel in set in the 1930's and was originally titled Atticus, as most of the story revolves around the narrator's lawyer father and his representation of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Harper Lee's own father was an attorney, who in 1919 defended two black men charged with murder. After their convictions and subsequent deaths, Lee's father never tried another criminal case.
Not all of the themes examined in To Kill A Mockingbird are racial. The first half of the book centers on the reclusive and mysterious neighbor Boo Radley, the subject of the neighborhood kids' fascination. There are also class and gender questions presented in the novel, and also hints at mental illness.
To Kill A Mockingbird was a huge hit upon publication, and Harper Lee participated in the press and accolades that surrounded it, purportedly astounded by the success and the months and years that it stayed on the Best Seller lists. However, around 1964 Lee stopped giving interviews and started to retreat from all of the attention. She has also staunchly refused to add an introduction to the novel during any of its numerous reprints, in 1995 writing:
"Introductions inhibit pleasure, they kill the joy of anticipation, they frustrate curiosity. The only good thing about Introductions is that in some cases they delay the dose to come. Mockingbird still says what it has to say; it has managed to survive the years without preamble."
In 1962, a highly successful movie adaption of To Kill A Mockingbird was released starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, and future generations would forever picture this beloved character in his likeness. The movie grossed more than $20 million with just a $2 million budget. It was nominated for 8 Oscars, winning three, including Best Actor for Peck.
When the news came out that a sequel manuscript had been discovered and would be reprinted after more than 50 years, literary fans around the globe cheered and then paused. Go Set A Watchman is told from an adult Scout's reflections on the Alabama childhood she paints in To Kill A Mockingbird, and while that in itself was intriguing, there were concerns that the manuscript was authentic, and if it was obtained in an ethical manner. Lee herself has said that Watchman was written before Mockingbird, but that it was rejected. All these facts makes me a little wary, and should temper our expectations. Though obviously I pre-ordered it.
We'll be discussing To Kill A Mockingbird here on THURSDAY, JULY 9 at 5pm/8pm. There will be amazon gift card giveaways and interesting thoughts from fellow readers. Join us!