To Kill a Mockingbird': Main Ideas of an Author

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Harper Lee last spoke publicly about the book in the 1960s. She said that it is a universal theme and that it portrayed an aspect of civilization. Lee has made it clear that she wants absolutely nothing to do with the media. No matter what facts were brought up about Lee’s childhood she put her foot down when critics say the book is about her own childhood. Instead, Lee stated that the events in the book are just a representation of all the trials in the world. She is often known to be overwhelmed with her fame and this could be quite understandable seeing that she sold 30 million copies of the book dating up to 2010.

Lee wanted her works to speak for themselves and she hated the media and attention surrounding the books. She most especially despised the merchandise that was sold surrounding the theme of To Kill a Mockingbird. The courthouse that Lee writes about profusely in the story was even turned into a museum supporting the success of the book. This may have enraged Lee but there is little to no counts of her speaking out on these issues. Each year after release the book started to become less and less popular but with public school systems requiring students to read the work for a class has allowed her masterpiece to reach millions of people across the country at a young age.

When it comes to the overall piece of To Kill a Mockingbird, many have viewed the novel in their own way. There is one thing that many critics can agree on and that is that the book is a universal art piece that speaks profoundly on racial indifferences, the dignity of the human person, respect, small-town values and much more. Nearly everyone that has laid their hands on this novel has been impacted in a positive way due to the sheer power of the subject at hand. Lee’s writing ability has been described in numerous articles as graceful, unstintingly honest, simple but also powerful. Some articles even state that the reader feels a strong sense of truth in the novel through her words. It is clear that Lee’s main focus in her writing is helping the reader learn the lesson of right versus wrong. Her words express the reader to draw their own conclusions from the events and plant them in their very own idea on morality and the importance of the subject matter.

It is no wonder why To Kill a Mockingbird became a best seller and won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction novels. When the book first took to the shelves, the book was praised with endless positive feedback. However, it did take a while for people to fully accept Scout’s point of view in the story appreciate the significance of her youth in the situation she is in. The fact that Scout is so young in the story adds an entirely different perspective of the racial issues visited throughout the book. The masterpiece is able to throw labels to the side and visit a small town in the South and learn about the true nature of the human race.

There are a myriad of references in the book that correlates with the time period that Harper Lee writes in. She constantly adds small details surrounding the events and conversations of characters that hint at the different social scenarios that the people of the time are faced with. There are even details in the book that explain some current events that are taking place such as the great depression. In its entirety, Lee did not miss out on hitting any social and societal issues in the novel. She made sure that the reader can fully grasp the struggling day to day life of living in a small town during the 1930s.

Maycomb is a small town in the heart of the south in Alabama. During the 1930s, the south was negatively impacted by the fall out of the roaring 20s and the start of the great depression. Most of these cities were infested with poverty like it was a disease. In the book, Lee hints at the poor lifestyle writing, “The boy stood up. He was the filthiest human I had ever seen. His neck was gray, the backs of his hands were rusty and his fingernails were black deep into the quick… no one had noticed him”. This descriptive account of a young boy who was visibly poor gives the reader an idea of how bad the south was hit with the great depression.

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Lee also does an exceptional job of recounting how bad the school system became during these troubling times. In the story, there is a family called the Ewell’s that don’t force their kids to go to school and would often not go to school for lengths on end. Atticus, being the great father he is, made sure that Scout would go to school every day and succeed in obtaining her education. Harper Lee writes about the Ewell family in two different instances. The first being, “He’s one of the Ewells, ma’am…. Whole school’s full of em. They come first day every year and then leave”. This just shows that people in this time period did not care about their children’s education and the school system did not do anything about it. In another scenario, Atticus is explaining to Scout about why she must go to school and he states, “...that the Ewells were members of an exclusive society made up of Ewells. In certain circumstances, the common folk judiciously allowed certain privileges… they didn’t have to go to school… permitted to hunt and trap out of season”. This shows the idea that some families were so deep into poverty that they made their children work for them at a young age in order to support their family instead of going to school and getting an education.

Another social issue visited frequently throughout the story that reflects on the time period is that of the use of the ‘n word’. This means the derogatory phrase used against African Americans that is highly offensive and racist. During this time, being an African American was looked upon as useless by many people and it was common to call African Americans by the ‘n word’ itself. The word is often used throughout the book and it is even used by the youth in the story when one kid proclaims to Scout, “Calpurnia says that’s [‘n word’] talk”. This just shows how carelessly white people threw around the word as if it had no bearing or effect on the demographic it pertains to.

Religion is also mentioned frequently in the book. The story mentions a group of people specific to the time period called “footwashers”. Foot Washers were a group of people, more prominently located in the South, that took the bible literally and were very strict and dedicated to following the bible word for word. This was a major issue for women’s rights as some families believed that women should be homemakers and that the men should make all of the money to support the household. This idea is expressed when Lee writes, “Thing is, foot-washers think women are a sin by definition. They take the Bible too seriously”. This was a major issue at this time as most husbands did not even let their wives leave the house because they took the Bible too literally.

Lee also uses a famous quote from Franklin Roosevelt to tie in with the time period. The quote is from his first inaugural speech and it is stated in the novel when Scout says, “Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself”. Scout is reciting Roosevelt’s speech indirectly but it is used in the novel as a sort of irony due to how poor the town and surrounding towns were. This means that the town should be afraid of more than just fear itself seeing as most families could barely provide a healthy and peaceful lifestyle.

One of the most important themes in the book is that of white people protecting and defending African Americans. Atticus, being a white man, is representing Tom Robinson in his murder case. Robinson is an African American that is looked upon poorly from the community and Atticus defending him is a major issue for people. The entire Finch family takes negative backlash throughout the book because of the defense case for Tom. One powerful quote from the book showcases how badly the Finch family was looked upon and it reads, “Grandma says it’s bad enough he let you all run wild, but now he turned out a [‘n word’] lover. We’ll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb again. He’s ruinin’ the family, that’s what he’s doing. This was common for white families that stood up against the oppression of African Americans in the country. Family members would often disown other family members because they affiliated with the defense of African Americans.

To Kill a Mockingbird will always be considered at the top of the list when speaking on art that pertains to social and societal reform. Lee’s genius incorporation of the time period into an exciting adventure with a ten-year-old girl is something that can never be repeated or topped. The novel will remain a mandatory read for the youth of America as it thoroughly dives into the struggling times of the 1930s and beginnings of activism across the nation. There are countless themes and messages within the story that will captivate any reader to redirect their moral compass towards something truly great. Harper Lee created an absolute masterpiece that will churn the minds of all ages who can understand the concept of the novel for decades to come.

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To Kill a Mockingbird’: Main Ideas of an Author. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
“To Kill a Mockingbird’: Main Ideas of an Author.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2022,
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