How did Harper Lee contribute to American Literature?

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee's greatest contribution to American Literature has to be To Kill a Mockingbird.  The book's impact was felt then as it is today, echoed in reviews that the book received:  "A hundred pounds of sermons on tolerance, or an equal measure of invective deploring the lack of it, will weigh far less in the scale of enlightenment than a mere 18 ounces of a new fiction bearing the title To Kill a Mockingbird."  As she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, former President Bush spoke of Harper Lee's contribution to American Literature:

Forty-six years after winning the Pulitzer Prize, To Kill a Mockingbird still touches and inspires every reader. We're moved by the story of a man falsely accused -- with old prejudice massed against him, and an old sense of honor that rises to his defense. We learn that courage can be a solitary business. As the lawyer Atticus Finch tells his daughter, "before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."

Harper Lee's lasting contribution to American Literature was to construct a book that becomes a moral compass.  It is a work that tests the ethical being of the reader.  Harper Lee contributes an ethical dialogue to American Literature.  When we come across Atticus Finch, the reader must ask themselves if they would have the moral convictions that he possesses.  In a world of dishonor, Harper Lee's greatest contribution is to ask us as both individuals and a society if we possess the same type of transformative power to represent what can be in the face of what is.  This moral stance and the questioning of the reader if they could follow such an example is a great contribution to American Literature.

Another one of Harper Lee's contributions to American Literature is to develop a work that effectively confronts discrimination and prejudice.  Part of the reason why Harper Lee's work is such a standard in modern classrooms is because Harper Lee writes about empathy, a quality that is one of the last to develop in adolescents.  Her contribution to American Literature was to construct a work where empathy takes center stage.  It is in this regard where Harper Lee's contribution to American Literature is immense.

thewanderlust878 | Student

Harper Lee was an amazing woman. Her contributions to the American society in general in the mid-1900's are still highly viewed today. She is most known for her contributions to American Literature, however she also was a well-known airline reservation clerk. 

Her greatest novel to date is To Kill A Mockingbird, published in 1960. This novel received great critical attention when it was written and even up to today. 

The novel is about a court case in which a black man (Tom Robinson) is wrongly accused of raping a girl. The story is narrated from the point of view of Tom's lawyer's daughter, Scout. 

Perhaps the greatest reason as to why this novel is a great contribution to American literature is because it was written and published during the Civil Rights Movement, and the entire novel is about a black man who does not receive proper treatment from others because of the color of his skin. As a controversial topic, it is reasonable to see why it gained so much attention.