Author Harper Lee, who just turned 88 years old this past week, lived during the same time that To Kill a Mockingbird was set. The story was based on her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, and Scout is a representation of Lee's own tomboy childhood. Atticus is based on her lawyer father, and Dill is based on Lee's friend, Truman Persons, who visited Monroeville each summer (and later became a famous writer under the name Truman Capote).
The book is a highly realistic look at the Depression era Deep South. The characters are beautifully developed, show great depth, and are very believable. Lee adds just the right touch of Southern slang and regional dialect to her characters, and her detailed accounts of the slow life in the tiny Alabama town of Maycomb makes it come to life. It becomes kind of an Every Town of the South--one to which many Southerners who grew up during this time period can easily relate. The racism, gossip and eccentricities that her characters exhibit show many different sides to the town's inhabitants, and Lee's charming use of Scout as the narrator--from both her youthful outlook and from her adult retrospective--maintains an innocent feel that complements the primary theme of the novel.
Because it takes place during the Depression, times are hard, and nearly everyone is poor, as it was in most small, Southern towns during the 1930s. But life goes on in a simple way, a reminder for new readers how life was lived before TV, air conditioning, civil rights and computers.