‘To Kill a Mockingbird:’ Harper Lee’s Impact As A Southern Writer

In recognition of acclaimed author Harper Lee’s passing, the world is remembering and respecting her memory by looking back at the multi-generational impact of her most popular novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Inquisitr published an article on Friday presenting a brief history of Lee’s life and remembering her notable effect on the American public. They remarked, however, that she was a very enigmatic author.

“Lee never published another novel until February 2015, when her publisher, HarperCollins, announced that it planned to release a manuscript discovered in one of Harper Lee’s safe deposit boxes.”

Despite the rocky reception of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee’s first and most famous novel continues on as a bastion of American literature. Lee is destined to remain a major figure in our literary past for many years to come.

With her passing, many people are remembering To Kill a Mockingbird and what it brought to American literature.

CNN noted that the novel is a classic and tender story of childhood in the South. Lee wrote it at a time when civil rights were at the forefront of the political debate, and the South too often stood silently or blindly in the face of racial oppression.

Lee, as a native of the small town of Monroeville, Alabama, had surely witnessed the racial problems first-hand.

To Kill a Mockingbird was received both with applause and with negativity, since many of her fellow writers believed the book to be melodramatic and too socially appealing.

Short-story writer Flannery O’Connor once briefly noted her issue with the book and with its public reception.

“For a child’s book it does all right. It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they’re reading a child’s book. Somebody ought to say what it is.”

It is hard to disagree with a literary great like Flannery O’Connor, but one must admit the obvious: though Lee’s novel is a children’s book, it is a excellent introduction for children and adults alike into the vast, multi-faceted world of Southern literature.

Author Flannery O'Connor in 1962 [Image via AP Images]
Many authors and schools suggest that To Kill a Mockingbird is a wonderful stepping stone for reading works by William Faulkner (best known for his novel The Sound and the Fury), Eudora Welty, novelist Walker Percy and even O’Connor herself.

Garden & Gun‘s Alice Randall remembers her own experience with Lee, and with To Kill a Mockingbird, after receiving a personal letter from Harper herself.

“I was stunned by both the generosity and the humility of the woman. And I was struck by the Southernness of [her] letter. The mix of fine manners and politics, classical allusions and familial references, was true Dixie.”

Randall also suggested that the novel could be read (but is not often acknowledged) as a handbook to Southern etiquette.

“[Manners] matter in the South. Down here Harper Lee is a great Southern lady, and down here we know that being a Southern lady is a high and particular calling. Lee is someone who cannot be ignored—a polite, quiet, and intelligent call to consciousness. So much of what she has to say about brothers and summer and Lane cake makes so much sense that you know that what she has to say about black people and courthouses makes sense too.”

Lee brings us back to a time and a place that today is both distant and present. Her manners and her morals hit us where it hurts, while simultaneously sitting us down, handing us a cold glass of sweet tea and asking us to listen to her story.

Her writing has captured the attention of school teachers and professors alike, who consider her novel to be a foundation for understanding not only a vital time in our past politically and socially, but also for interpreting the mystery that is the South.

[Image via AP Images]