What inspired Harper Lee to write To Kill a Mockingbird?
During the 1950s, Harper Lee pursued her goal of becoming a writer while working at other jobs in New York City. During this time, she published a story that she was encouraged to expand into a novel. Thanks to a gift from generous friend, she took one year to write full-time, and she completed the novel’s manuscript in 1957. On the advice of an agent, she reworked it considerably. During this period she also returned frequently to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, to spend time with her elderly father.
Lee apparently drew on several real events from the 1930s–1950s, including a similar case in her hometown, in creating the fictional case of Mayella Ewell falsely accusing Tom Robinson of rape. Another case, which gained national notoriety, was that of the “Scottsboro Boys,” who were nine African American men falsely accused of raping two white women. One point that Lee apparently mentioned later was that she wanted to discuss the type of case that did not garner so much attention but that did occur far too often.
Lee greatly admired her own father, A. C. Lee, who was an attorney and newspaper editor. This admiration is evident in the character of Atticus Finch. As a white woman who grew up in the 1930s, she wrote primarily about the lawyer’s family and the town’s white residents while exploring the effects of racism on the entire community. Writing during the last years of her father’s life, she also crafted a fictional tribute to him.
In the famous classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee tells a story of racial injustice in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. Although Lee insisted that the novel was not strictly autobiographical, she drew inspiration for the setting, characters, and themes from many aspects that surrounded her as she was growing up.
The town of Maycomb, for instance, is based on the small Southern town of Monroeville, Alabama, in which she was raised. Her father, like Atticus Finch in the novel, was a lawyer who once attempted unsuccessfully to defend an African American man and his son who had been accused of having committed a murder. Lee also likely derived inspiration for the story from the notorious Scottsboro Boys case in which nine black teenagers were accused, with scant evidence, of having raped two white women. Atticus Finch became an idealized version of her father—in fact, before she finalized the name To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel was titled Atticus.
Like Scout in the novel, Lee was somewhat of a tomboy. The famous author Truman Capote, Lee's childhood friend, was the inspiration for the character Dill. Other characters in the novel also parallel people that Lee grew up with or historical characters that she heard about in the news.
Harper Lee has always said that her novel is not an autobiography, but there are many similarities between her childhood and Scout Finch. Lee also had a childhood friendship with Truman Capote, another well-known author. During the summers in Monroeville, the two of them played games much like those of Scout, Jem, and Dill. Authors usually draw from their own experiences to write, and Lee does this as well with her famous novel.
Growing up in the South provided Lee with an education in racism. She witnessed the prejudice and injustices inflicted upon Southern blacks, and I'm sure this made enough of an impression on her that she felt the need to write about it. What happens to Tom Robinson is the pivotal event that teaches Scout and Jem difficult life lessons.