Study Guide

Harper Lee

Harper Lee Analysis

Discussion Topics (Masterpieces of American Literature)

What does To Kill a Mockingbird gain from being narrated retrospectively? What qualities are lost in this type of narration?

How does Harper Lee develop the character of Boo Radley?

What principles of plot construction does Lee master most thoroughly in her novel?

Does the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird magnify the character of Atticus Finch beyond his status in the novel?

Harper Lee Other literary forms (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to the novel that made her famous, Harper Lee wrote for magazines, including Vogue and McCall’s.

Harper Lee Achievements (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Based entirely on her first and only novel, Harper Lee’s success has been phenomenal. According to a survey of reading habits conducted in 1991 by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, researchers found that her novel To Kill a Mockingbird was “most often cited as making a difference in people’s lives, second only to the Bible.” In 1999, Lee’s novel was voted Best Novel of the Century in a poll conducted by Library Journal.

In 1961, To Kill a Mockingbird won a Pulitzer Prize in fiction, the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Alabama Library Association Award, and the British Book Society Award. By 1962 it had become a Literary Guild selection and a Book-of-the-Month Club choice, it had won the Bestsellers’ Magazine Paperback of the Year award, and it was featured in the Reader’s Digest series of condensed books. In the same year, Lee was given an honorary doctorate by Mount Holyoke College. She received another honorary doctorate, in 1990, from the University of Alabama, and another from the University of Notre Dame, in 2006. In 2007, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to American literature.

Initially enjoying seventy-three weeks on the national best-seller lists, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into at least ten languages. A motion-picture adaptation of the novel, starring Gregory Peck, was released in 1962 and won several Academy Awards. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Lee to the National Council on the Arts in 1966, on which she served for five years. In 1970, playwright Christopher Sergel published a stage version of the novel titled Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: A Full-Length Play, with Dramatic Publications. The play was professionally performed on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Harper Lee Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Betts, Doris. Introduction to Southern Women Writers: The New Generation, edited by Tonette Bond Inge. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1990.

Bloom, Harold, ed. To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999. Part of the Modern Critical Interpretations series, this volume includes a number of critical essays concerning the novel.

Johnson, Claudia Durst. To Kill a Mockingbird: Threatening Boundaries. New York: Twayne, 1994. A thesis regarding Lee’s feelings about the South.

Johnson, Claudia. “The Secret Courts of Men’s Hearts: Code and Law in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” Studies in American Fiction 19, no. 2 (Autumn, 1991): 129-139.

Johnson, Claudia Durst. Understanding “To Kill a Mockingbird”: A Casebook to Issues, Sources and Historical Documents. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Useful for those doing in-depth studies of the novel.

Moates, Marianne M. A Bridge of Childhood: Truman Capote’s Southern Years. New York: Holt, 1989. Clearly shows Capote as character Dill Harris, reiterating childhood episodes which Lee used in the book.

Petry, Alice Hall. On Harper Lee: Essays and Reflections. Knoxville: Tennessee University, 2007. This volume offers eleven original essays on To Kill a Mockingbird, covering topics such as racism, social class, and religion. The durability and popularity of the novel are also discussed, along with Lee’s characterization and ability to create humor and humanity in the text.

O’Neill, Terry. Readings on “To Kill a Mockingbird.” San Diego, Calif.: Greenhaven Press, 2000. A collection of essays useful for students.

Shields, Carol. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. This biography tells of the events that led to Harper’s writing of To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as her decision to shun the spotlight that shone on her after its publication.