The life and literary works of Harper Lee

Subject: Literature
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Word count: 1464
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Harper Lee, although she was barely outspoken, remains as one of the primary authors and writers in the history of the United States’ literary culture. Her life as a young girl exemplifies the social challenges during the time and as such, would later reflect in her work. The novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been heralded as an accurate representation of her life. Born in 1928, she grew up as having a significant interest in reading and writing, pursued a course in law and later dropped out to focus on her full-time career as a writer, with the first book being To Kill a Mockingbird debuted in 1959 (Shields 15). Therefore, for this case, the argument maintained is that Lee’s early and later life influenced her writing career as major themes, characters, and plot are reflecting her struggles and experiences as a little child to become a renowned author whose work is seemingly an autobiography of her life.

Early Life

The Early life of Nelle Harper Lee shows her as having grown from the small town, Monroeville in Alabama. Lee’s was born in April of 28, 1926 and her parents were Frances Cunningham Lee and Amasa Coleman Lee (Shields 15). Her background would also inform or influence Lee’s literary works, as her father was a newspaper editor. Lee spent her time as a child reading, while got along with her age mates, especially Truman Capote and the friendship would inform her decision to center Dill as a character in her debut novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (Hoff 389). Nonetheless, Lee went through challenges in life, especially having to put up with a mother who experienced psychological ailments; the experience would leave profound impacts on her life as her mental stability was later questioned as evident from her preference for seclusion. Having been friends with Truman would also play a significant role in her writing since her friend experienced domestic problems. In return, the two individuals would find the avenue of expressing themselves to each other, and as such, the grievances would become later expressed in the successive writings (Hoff 389). One of the major events in her early life that would later influence her writings was the conviction of the black men accused of raping white women. The same case of particular significance was how her father tried to defend the two black men accused of stealing from a store. The trials were complicated with the black men offered a limited chance for getting appeal and representation (Shields 45). The events happened when Lee was five years old, 1931. The particular Scottsboro case left a major significant mark on young Lee and as such, would feature as the rough basis for her novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The interest in literature and writing grew as she went through high school. She attended Huntingdon College, Montgomery during which most of her time was spent on studies and writing (Williams and Best). The college years were fulfilling with Lee becoming a member of the glee club and the reputable literary honorary society. The years between 1945 and 1949 saw her pursue law at the University of Alabama (Shields 45). During this time, Lee continued with her burning interest in writing and as such, would become a writer for the Rammer Jammer, the school’s humorous magazine and eventually became an editor. The pressure from studies would force Lee into leaving the editor position and continue with in her studies by going to the Oxford University, for one, in an exchange program. After completing the Oxford experience, Lee focused her career on writing and dropped out of the law school, moving to New York, 1950 and got a job as an airline reservations officer (Williams and Best). During her work in New York, Lee completed her first book, To Kill a Mocking Bird, 1959 (Williams and Best).

Later Life

Her late life was also dedicated to writing and producing works of literature. Lee later received numerous doctorates as recognition to her exemplary work in literature. Until her death, later life was lived in New York and sometimes moving to Monroeville. However, the writer later preferred private life (in her later years), always giving limited or few interviews. Mockingbird was her major work, but it would be followed with some of the short essays including Love-In other Words, Christmas to Me, in MCall’s, and When Children Discover America, in McCall’s 1965 (Williams and Best). The few books and short essays would be marked by a long silence from Lee.

The 1960s saw her working on novels that never got released but still helped Capote in preparing In Cold Blood (Williams and Best). The same period saw Lee becoming a member of the National Council of the Arts upon President Johnson’s request. The period between the 1970s and 80s would witness her spending most of her time from the public eye (Shields 45).  During this period, she also worked on the book The Reverend that was never published. Lee also used most of the amassed wealth in philanthropic activities, helping the community through charitable donations. The year 2007 was a major mark in her life, as she got an award from President George W. Bush in recognition of her significant contribution to America’s literary tradition (Williams and Best). Her later life, after 2007, was spent fighting legal suits on the use of her fame to get money and recognition. However, it was not until February 19 of 2016 that Lee died in Monroeville (Williams and Best).

Early works

To Kill a Mockingbird was undoubtedly Lee’s first novel, and as such was written as a form of autobiography (Hoff 389). In the novel, all of the three names of her mother have been given or assigned to different characters. On the other hand, the book has outstanding evidence that Boo Radley was a neighbor, while in the book, Atticus Finch is a character based on her father. The book provides readers with the accounts of her childhood years. The book received a major award, the Pulitzer Prize in the year 1961 and became a major motion picture featuring Gregory Peck in the year 1962 (Williams and Best).  Other early works included her contribution to the writing of In Cold Blood. Lee also published major essays and articles in the 1960s including In Other Words, in vogue (1961), When Children Discover America, in McCall’s in 1965 and the Christmas to Me in McCall in 1961 (Shields 45).

Later work

Go Set a Watchman is the latest work that Lee ever produced, with the allegations that the novel could have been produced much earlier than the Mockingbird (Williams and Best). The book was published in the year 2015 featuring the later lives of the characters who had been represented in the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Although the book is purported to have been written much earlier, and taken for publication in 1957, it was never accepted, and as such, Lee was asked to change the characters and revise the story, for instance, making Scout a child (Hoff 389. However, her lawyer Tonja reintroduced the story, under was published by HarperCollins, and this was the last book she authored before her death in 2016.

How Life is reflected in Their Work

Lee’s works have all been represented in her major works, To Kill a Mocking Bird. For instance, the setting and context of the book reflect Lee’s early life as the book is narrated from the events of the 1930s, showing the extraordinary circumstances they grew (Hoff 389). For instance, Lee grew under a mother with psychological problem of which is represented in the movie as the father Atticus raises the children alone. Scout is the central character, a child who spends her time and the Dill character is what she expresses as Truman as her childhood and lifetime friend. Scout is also represented as a tomboy in the novel, just like Lee in her early childhood and her father gets the assignment of representing black men, a major theme that influenced her work as she witnessed the case of the rape at (Cornett 353). Therefore, the novel To Kill A Mockingbird was influenced by what Lee experienced in the neighborhood, the family problems she encountered, how they society was judgmental about the blacks and the challenges of Truman (Boo in the story) who was experiencing domestic violence.

However, the book ‘Watchman’ has been regarded as a different story of her experience, especially with Atticus (a representative character of her father) transforms to become anti-social, anti-black and disorienting characteristics (Cornett 353). Unlike in the ‘Mockingbird,’ Lee changes Atticus represent a mean person, different from the original character who had exemplary moral integrity, a lawyer, and a role model of a father.

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  1. Cornett, Judy M. “Harper Lee’s First Novel: A Review of Go Set a Watchman (Harper Collins 2015).” (2015): 353.
  2. Hoff, Timothy. “Influences on Harper Lee: An Introduction to the Symposium.” Ala. L. Rev. 45 (1993): 389.
  3. Shields, Charles J. I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee. Macmillan, 2008.
  4. Williams, John and Best Tamara. “Harper Lee: Her Life and Work”. Feb 19, 2016. Web. 6 March 2017.
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