Today, America lost one of the greatest authors it has ever produced and certainly the most famous and influential author from the Deep South. Harper Lee (1926-2016) influenced millions and opened the country's eyes to the abhorrent racism that was still alive and strong in the South with her 1960 To Kill a Mockingbird. The book, which follows the Finch family as they struggle with racism, growing up, hope, and tragedy in their small town, Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression, became a quintessential part of American literature and became a staple work of Southern Gothic literature. Lee received acclaim, fame, and criticism from around the world as people fell in love with the characters and the message of compassion and equality; on the opposite hand, Southerners responded with anger and staunch defense of their Jim Crow system. Lee created one of the most memorable and beloved American protagonists, Atticus Finch, an older father and attorney who believes in the equality of man and does not bow down to peer pressure. He became the symbol of stalwart morality in the face of adversity. Lee received the Pulitzer Prize for Mockingbird in 1961.
To Kill a Mockingbird cannot be described or reviewed. It has impacted millions over readers for more than forty years and continues to be a shining light of how goodness and determination can overcome. The lackluster success of Lee's highly-controversial (did she really write it? was she taken advantage of? would she really want this to be published?) 2015 Go Set a Watchman, which was written before Mockingbird, has been firmly separated from the beloved classic Mockingbird. Fans worldwide boycotted the new book, growing more steadfast in their refusal to read it with the revelation that Lee had initially written Atticus as a racist. Yet, the steadfast devotion to Mockingbird remains stronger than ever. Lee's novel continues to resonate with the American public as we still struggle with the same issues that the Finchs struggled with. However, we must remember Atticus's words: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” RIP Nelle Harper Lee, a woman unafraid to write the truth and change a country.