...wherein I join the bandwagon celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Scout, Jem, Atticus and everybody in the tired old town of Maycomb, Alabama.
Nelle Harper Lee was once said she’d like to be the Jane Austen of south Alabama. Not a bad ambition, and not a bad job she’s made of it.
The year 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee’s only novel won the Pulitzer in 1961, was adapted into an Oscar-winning film and continues to live a long and happy life on high school reading lists.
Equal parts pure joy and terrible pain, this novel resides in the town of Maycomb and all of its residents–not just the iconic Finch family. Harper Lee’s great gift lies in her creation of a town filled with pathos and mystery, of prejudice and wrongs, and the simple ability—or inability—to find empathy for our fellow man.
In Maycomb, everybody struggles: Tom Robinson for justice; Atticus to raise his children right; Jem to leave his boyhood (and not his pants) behind; Scout to keep her temper as the trial grips her town; Boo to be left in peace.
The book holds unforgettable moments (“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin.”) but also many smaller, equally telling ones, that I love:
Calpurnia, being prideful and polishing Scout’s patent leather shoes with a cold biscuit before taking the children to the First Purchase African M.E. Church.
Mrs. Dubose, cruel and insulting, forcing Jem to read to her every afternoon so she could kick her morphine addiction before she died.
Miss Maudie, whooping it up after her house burned down because the Finch children named their snowman a Morphodite.
Aunt Alexandra, carrying on the ladies’ circle tea, showing Scout the strength of a lady, despite her brother’s announcement that Tom Robinson had died.
And Dill, who has no home, no family, no town, but is adopted by the Finch children at first sight, and gives them the idea to make Boo Radley come out.
The sum total of a story can be judged in how well and completely an author brings to life her characters–all of them. Nelle Harper Lee, a tomboy girl from south Alabama, wrote one single novel, but her creation of Maycomb as a real, unforgettable place, makes her a master storyteller.
In 2007, President George W. Bush awarded Harper Lee the Presidential Medal of Honor.
“To Kill a Mockingbird has influenced the character of our country for the better. It’s been a gift to the entire world. As a model of good writing and humane sensibility, this book will be read and studied forever,” said the President.
Could not have put it better myself. Except to add, Thank you, Harper Lee.