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In the rare interviews that Nelle Harper Lee has given concerning To Kill a Mockingbird, she has alway claimed that her story was not autobiographical. Nevertheless, most critics would disagree. Born in 1926, Lee is only slightly older than Scout, the character with so many similarities to the author. Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama--a small, Southern Alabama town so like the fictitious Maycomb. Her father, Amasa Lee, was a lawyer and a member of the Alabama legislature during the 1930s, as was Atticus. Lee's mother, Frances, was born with the maiden name of Finch. Lee was known in her youth as "a rough 'n' tough tomboy" who loved to read, just like Scout. Before becoming a writer, Lee attended law school at the University of Alabama--Atticus's alma mater--but dropped out just six months shy of graduating. Scout, too, had thoughts of following in her father's footsteps before telling her story in TKAM. Lee's best friend as a child was Truman Persons, who came to visit in Monroeville each summer and lived next door to the Lees. Persons later changed his name to Capote and became a world-renowned author. The character of Dill, the small and imaginative storyteller, is based on the diminutive Capote.
In addition to the parallels already drawn between the characters and setting of To Kill a Mockingbird and the real life of Harper Lee, there are a few other similarities that can be mentioned.
During the trial of Tom Robinson, Scout observes that she knows something "as a lawyer's child." Harper Lee herself grew up in the courtroom. Lee's good friend Truman Capote once said,
“Her father was a lawyer, and she and I used to go to trials all the time as children. We went to the trials instead of going to the movies."
In Monroeville, Alabama, where Lee grew up, there was a man who was similar to Boo Radley because he was a mysterious recluse who frightened the local children. His name was Son Boulware. According to Truman Capote,
“He was a real man, and he lived just down the road from us. We used to go and get those things out of the trees."
Purportedly, this man became involved in some legal trouble as a youth and, out of shame, the father kept him in their house, which was boarded up for twenty-four years. He died in 1952, having been forgotten by the town.
Although Harper Lee's mother died when she was around twenty-five years old, Mrs. Lee, née Finch, was prone to a nervous condition that caused her to be mentally and emotionally absent in the children's lives. So, like Atticus, Amasa Coleman Lee did most of the parenting.
Scout's brother was four years older than her, just as Jem is in the novel. Also, there was an African American housekeeper who came to the Lee household each day in the same manner as Calpurnia works for the Finches.
Tom Robinson's character was shaped from a real-life man named Walter Lett, who was accused of rape by a white woman, Naomi Lowery, who lived near Monroeville when Harper Lee was ten years old.
Harper Lee was a tomboy, similar to Scout. In fact, many initial readers believed that the book was written by a man, and thus became more popular.
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