To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Harper Lee

Nelle Harper Lee was the youngest of four children born to Amasa Lee and Frances Finch Lee. She earned a law degree from the University of Alabama in 1949 and spent a year in Oxford, England, but moved to New York in 1950 to focus on writing. She published To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, which became an immediate and immense success—it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961 and was voted “Best Novel of the Century” by a Library Journal poll in 1999. After 1960, Lee retreated from public life to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Aside from a few essays, she published nothing else until 2015. At that point, her publisher released Go Set a Watchman, which Lee wrote initially as a first draft of Mockingbird. Its publication was controversial, as some believed Lee’s publisher took advantage of her old age to release the book (though an investigation by the State of Alabama found no evidence of this). Lee died in her sleep in 2016 at age 89, having received numerous honorary degrees, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Medal of Arts.
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Historical Context of To Kill a Mockingbird

In 1931, nine black teenage boys were accused of rape by two white girls. The trials of the boys lasted six years, with convictions, reversals, and numerous retrials. These trials were given the name The Scottsboro Trials, made national headlines, and drastically intensified the debate about race and racism in America. Ultimately, after six years of trials in which the boys were kept in jail, and despite the fact that one of the girls ultimately changed her testimony and claimed that no rape had actually occurred, five of the nine were convicted of rape. These cases are said to have inspired To Kill a Mockingbird, as Tom Robinson is also a target of a false and racially motivated rape accusation in the novel.

Other Books Related to To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. While it is the story of Scout’s growing up, it is also a story of the racially charged atmosphere in the town in the years of the Great Depression. Mockingbird therefore falls into a particular subset of American literature called Southern literature, since it deals explicitly and implicitly with themes and issues that were uniquely Southern. Other notable works of Southern literature include Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, and Flannery O'Connor's A Good Man is Hard to Find. In 2015, Lee’s publisher released Go Set a Watchman, which was billed as a sequel to Mockingbird but was actually her first draft of Mockingbird. It’s set 20 years after the events of Mockingbird. To Kill a Mockingbird also shares many connections with Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Both novels have a troublemaking child as their protagonist and narrator, and both novels chart their protagonists’ growth as their adventures force them to see the unfairness and brutality of their community and of society, particularly in regard to the racist treatment of black Americans.
Key Facts about To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Full Title: To Kill a Mockingbird
  • When Written: 1950-1960
  • Where Written: New York City and Monroeville, Alabama
  • When Published: 1960
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Bildungsroman; Social Novel
  • Setting: The fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression
  • Climax: The trial of Tom Robinson; or when Bob Ewell attacks Scout and Jem
  • Antagonist: Bob Ewell; more broadly, racism and mob mentality
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for To Kill a Mockingbird

“Dill” Capote. The character of Dill is based on Harper Lee’s real-life childhood friend, Truman Capote, who went on to become a national literary star in his own right. He wrote the bestselling true crime book In Cold Blood.

Atticus in Real Life. Harper Lee became close friends with Gregory Peck, the actor who played Atticus in the Academy Award-winning film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. She remained close with his family after Peck died, and Peck’s grandson is even named Harper after her.