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What influenced Harper Lee to write the novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

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margey | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 20, 2009 at 10:01 AM via web

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What influenced Harper Lee to write the novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

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ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 20, 2009 at 12:53 PM (Answer #2)

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Harper Lee has always claimed that her novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" was not autobiographical. However, there are a number of similarities to Lee's life and the life of Scout and Atticus Finch. Lee's father was a southern lawyer, like Atticus. According to childhood friends, Lee was a tomboy like Scout. And Lee had a special friend like Dill because every summer the boy who would become the celebrated author Truman Capote used to visit. Many believe that Lee was influenced by what influences many writers and that was her own personal experience. In addition, Lee wanted to say something about the civil rights movement which was at its height in 1960 when the book was published. Even though the setting of the book is in the 1930's, the novel has much to say about the fair treatment of all people, especially African-Americans.Lee addresses prejudice and tolerance and especially the courage it takes to make societal change. These ideas, combined with her personal experiences, probably influenced Lee to write her Pulitzer prize winning novel.

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litchick2011 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted January 20, 2009 at 12:53 PM (Answer #3)

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According to several sources, including the most recent autobiography of Harper Lee entitled Mockingbird, one could argue that there are several models on which the incidents in To Kill a Mockingbird and the character of Tom Robinson are based. When Lee was 10 years old, a white woman near Monroeville falsely accused a black man named Walter Lett of raping her. The story and the trial were covered by her father's newspaper, and Lett was convicted and sentenced to death. After a series of letters appeared claiming Lett had been falsely accused, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He died in prison of tuberculosis in 1937. The plot of the novel may have also been influenced by the notorious case of the "Scottsboro Boys" in which nine black men (many of whom were teenagers at the time) were falsely convicted of raping two white women on very poor, circumstancial evidence. However, in 2005 Lee stated that she had in mind something less sensational, although the Scottsboro case served "the same purpose" as the trial of Tom Robinson did in the novel, which was to expose the long standing prejudices of the South.

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billybobberkey | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted January 22, 2009 at 4:37 PM (Answer #4)

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 Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird  was loosely based on her own life. the Tom Robinson case was similar to the  scottsboro case that went to court in her home town of Monroeville, ALabama. if you notice in the book,TOm stands before a all white jury . In the Scottsboro case, all nine men were standing before a  all white jury .  they were unfairly   convicted.Only one of the nine  escaped with only a 1-2 in prison .

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krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted August 18, 2009 at 11:17 PM (Answer #5)

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I will give my view on this topic based only on the information available in the novel itself. I will not use any additional information available on Lee Harper.

As it appears to me the central purpose of the novel is to highlight the injustice of racial discrimination that existed during late 1930's in places like Maycomb. This has been done in a way that does not label anyone as a villain. Also, the novel is full of moral advice, primarily given through behavior and talks of Atticus.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted April 17, 2010 at 7:12 PM (Answer #6)

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While we can use historical criticism to speculate on why Harper Lee wrote the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, unless she tells us, we cannot truly know. Another form of literary criticism could just as easily provide another interpretation of this novel.

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hadjartahax | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted October 30, 2012 at 9:04 PM (Answer #7)

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Many things influenced her, here are some main things:

Harper Lee’s mother was Frances Cunningham Finch. Lee uses all three of her mother’s names for characters in To Kill a Mockingbird.

When Lee was in nursery, she met a boy called Truman Streckfus. Lee and Truman got very close and the two bonded instantly. Lee based her character of Dill, the oddly articulate child fabulist, on her good friend Truman.

Monroeville, the town where Harper Lee lived in, was a small town, similar in many ways to Maycomb, Alabama, the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird. Both had stately courthouses, neighbors who knew everyone's business, and a mysterious, reclusive resident who fascinated and terrified local children. Lee has stated that Mockingbird was not an autobiographical novel, but that she borrowed scenes and characters from her childhood to flesh out Maycomb's landscape. Lee got a lot or insperation from her town.

Harper Lee's father was a lawyer like Scout's father. Lee's Father once defended two black men, a father and son, who were accused of murdering a white store clerk. Like Atticus Finch, he was unable to secure an acquittal for his defendants and the two men were hanged. Soon after, he left criminal law to become a title lawyer.

These are the main things I know, I hope ot helped.

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