To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary

Harper Lee‘s novel of growing up and learning to do the right, difficult thing was published 50 years ago today. I have to think To Kill a Mockingbird was read and re-read by the three authors discussed here most frequently — Joanne Rowling, Stephenie Meyer, and Suzanne Collins — and I suspect that most of us who discuss their books grew up with Mockingbird and the excellent film version as personal favorites.

If you have any Mockingbird thoughts or memories to share on this anniversary, especially if you see any echoes of it in Harry Potter, Twilight, or The Hunger Games (can you say Mockingjay?), please write them out in the comment box below.

Happy Anniversary, Miss Lee, and many thanks for the great gift of Mockingbird that you gave to all of us.


  1. Louise Freeman says

    I remember the first time I read about the jabber-jay/mockingbird hybrids it reminded me of Miss Maudie’s speech about how it was a sin to kill a mockingbird because they do nothing but make beautiful music to enjoy. I think Hagrid’s speech on the horror of slaying a unicorn reflects a similar sentiment.

    Given that, it is fitting that breeding with mockingbirds would produce a symbol of hope from the evil genetically engineered weapons of war that jabberjays were.

    One thing I always admired about Harper Lee is that she (like Margaret Mitchell) was never pressured into writing more, lesser-quality books that would have likely sold well just because they had her name on them. My guess is that modern-day publishers urge their best-selling writers to produce more and more, regardless of quality. And while Ms. Rowling may have maintained and even improved her craft through six sequels, that’s certainly the exception to the rule.

  2. I’ve always thought there were very strong Merope/Mayella Ewell parallels.

    Both are lonely, isolated, abused daughters; who are attracted to men they were taught to think were beneath them. They’re also both rather sympathetic characters. Though they’re certainly deceitful, I pity more than dislike them (this is more true for Merope than Mayella).

    Re Margaret Mitchell publishing: I think she had a difficult time handeling the overwhelming success of Gone with the Wind. People hounded her so that she reportedly stayed in her apartment for months. She was also apparently reluctant to publish GWTW in the first place and later said that she would never publish again. Her husband, in accordance with her wishes, burned all of her writing after she died.
    Good for him for being faithful to her requests (I’m sure he could have made some serious money off her work), but, man, would I love to read it!

  3. I did not read To Kill A Mockingbird in school. I read it first as an adult a few years ago and loved it. I had not seen the film and purposefully did not watch the film till I finished the book. Now, I knew that Gregory Peck was Atticus so I kinda had him in mind as I read but that turned out to be just fine. That was some good casting.

    I did actually find the film wanting. Like most adaptations, the book is so much better. It’s so hard for film makers to find the source material’s voice.

    I haven’t read Twilight (don’t know if I will…I’m just not interested) and I haven’t read the Hunger Games. I guess Harry is like Scout in a way in that we see very grave and “grown up” situations through their eyes. And Dumbledore, like Atticus, is in the middle of an important struggle that requires personal risk and limited ways to explain the whole thing to the children involved.

  4. Elizabeth says

    Great insights!
    I have always been intrigued by Lee’s singular achievement. Indeed, Louise, Lee protected her art by not creating more, but perhaps less meaningful ,works. Though Rowling’s canon is larger, it is all the one complex and fascinating story. She may never do anything else, despite the rumors, and, in a strange way, that may be a good thing. Perhaps, when one gets it really right the first time, that’s enough.

  5. Louise M. Freeman says

    I think the Mockingbird film was quite good for a book adaption, though, like the Harry Potter series, the book itself is simply too rich for all the details to be worked into the film. (If you’ve ever read Gone with the Wind, the same is true there… did you know Scarlett had two kids before Bonnie?) What disappointed me most about the film was Dill’s greatly reduced role and the kid who played him had none of the character’s exuberance. Gregory Peck was near-perfect casting. I remember watching the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Movie heros special in 2003. By the time they counted down to the top 5, my husband and I were convinced Atticus was going to be left out, just because we could not see an unatheletic, kind, fatherly lawyer being rated that high. It was a very pleasant surprise when Atticus wound up at #1.

    Other Atticus/Dumbledore parallels: Both have keen legal minds and senses of justice but both sometimes fail in exonerating the innocent. Atticus lost his famous case, and, while Dumbledore won Harry’s trial, he also failed to exonerate Morfin and Hokey, both of whom, like Tom Robinson, died before he could complete his efforts to free them.

    While both treasure honesty and try to convey as much of the truth to their children as they think they can handle, both are willing to deceive for the greater good, when they see no other option. Dumbledore, who had earlier told Harry, “I will not, of course, lie ” got Mrs. Figg to commit perjury about seeing the Dementors and Shacklebolt to modify Marietta’s memory to protect the DA. Atticus agreed to propagate the lie of Bob Ewell falling on his knife to protect Boo Radley. It seems that, like lethal force and Unforgivable Curses, lies are sometimes an acceptable weapon in the fight against evil.

  6. The Wall Street Journal — citing Flannery O’Connor — says that Mockingbird is anything but a classic.

  7. maggiemay says

    there is a fun article about the anniversary and author in the June online Smithsonian magazine. There was no charge to read it. She was evidently hoping to become the “Jane Austen of south Alabama.” She has evidently taken with good grace all the commercialization of the book in her hometown, except for the attempt to create a “Calpurnia’s Cookbook.” Calpurnia was the housekeeper in the story. Anyone up for a House Elf culinary venture?

  8. I must disagree with Allen Barra’s opinion in his Journal article on the merit of Mockingbird. I will continue to teach the novel in my high school classes because what Mr. Barra claims as “obvious” to any reader is not at all obvious to adolescents. They are too far removed from the Civil Rights Movement and certainly can’t relate to the Great Depression/30’s era. But when we read Harper Lee’s beautifully told novel, they can feel the injustice as if they were there. The build-up in the courtroom with Jem’s hopeless optimism then crushing blow of the verdict always leaves them speechless. And in the end, Boo Radley is the soft ray of hope for humanity. Is it an original theme? Of course not. But no one can tell a story like Scout Finch. And every time I read it (I’ve lost count but know it’s over 40 readings), there’s something new I pick up on (such as a symbolic flower or plant) because the details are so incredibly rich. And yes, Mr. Barra, it’s a “children’s book.” But I’d rather my students read Lee’s classic then fall asleep in class, which is what they would be doing if we read any of Flannery O’Connor’s novels.

    Thank you for letting me express my opinion here, John. I love HP, THG series, and the Twilight saga, too. But To Kill a Mockingbird is still my favorite and will be always. I also thought of the mockingbird symbol while reading THG, Louise. It was such a perfect connection.

  9. Chanced upon this site accidently. It was very interesting to read the post and the comments. I had never thought of parallels between. Merope/Mayella, Atticus/ Dumbledore, but I can see them now. Did a post on a different take some time back. Just for your interest.

  10. Arabella Figg says

    A Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist has written a fine defense of Lee and TKAM:

  11. Arabella Figg says

    EW had a good article on the 50th anniversary called What if the Classic Novel Were Published Today?,,20398502,00.html

    They believe it (and Catcher in the Rye) would be released as YA, tying them in to the increasing popularity of YA novels such as HP and Twilight: “The market is incredibly robust.” Very interesting read.

  12. I have yet to see the movie, but I read the book in seventh grade and cried. The children in the book certainly showed a lot more wisdom than the class-obsessed, race obsessed adults. If nothing else, the book shows that there are some truly extraordinary people in the world who fight bigotry despite the society around them trying to institutionalize it. It is sad that the justice system has often been plagued with bigotry throughout history. Harper Lee knew, Rowling knows it, Dickens knew it, every great writer throughout history knew it. The most compelling works of art have always highlighted it. Every Star Trek series did it without people realizing it because it is Sci-Fi.

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