5 reasons why To Kill A Mockingbird is important

Book cover of To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. -- PHOTO: THE RANDOM HOUSE GROUP
Book cover of To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. -- PHOTO: THE RANDOM HOUSE GROUP
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Nov 7, 2007. -- PHOTO: AFP

The upcoming publication of the sequel to Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird is big news in part because the 1960 classic is an important canon of American literature. Here are a few things to note about the book.

1. Prize-winning bestseller

American author Harper Lee won a Pulitzer Prize for To Kill A Mockingbird, which is about gentle Southern lawyer Atticus Finch who incurs the wrath of his fellow townsfolk when he defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. Set in Depression-era Alabama, it is loosely based on Lee's own experience of growing up in Monroeville, Alabama. It has sold more than 40 million copies and it continues to sell more than one million copies a year, and has been translated into more than 40 languages. It has been required reading in many American schools for years.

2. Instant classic, reclusive author

The book was an instant classic when Lee published it at age 34. But for more than 50 years, Lee, now 88, never published again despite pleas from readers and the literary establishment. Her reclusive life made it difficult for people to write about her, and it was only in 2006 that Charles J. Shields published his biography, Mockingbird: A Portrait Of Harper Lee. Writer Marja Mills followed last year with The Mockingbird Next Door, a memoir about her friendship with Lee and her sister Alice, who died last year.

3. Why the book resonated

Mockingbird explores themes of racial prejudice and injustice as well as love and the coming-of-age of Scout and Jem, Finch's children. It was published just as the United States civil rights movement was gaining momentum and has resonated with readers across cultural lines. "It's important for the issues that it raised about gender and race differences," Thadious Davis, a University of Pennsylvania professor of English who specialises in African-American and Southern literature, commented to Reuters.

4. Why the book was such a success

Biographer Shields said the novel found success in part because "it poses the fundamental question of how do I get along with people who are different from me?" In Mockingbird, Scout and Jem learn to empathise with Tom Robinson, the accused black man, and to understand the misunderstood recluse Boo Bradley. They learn to view the residents of their town with compassion and understanding, rather than bitterness and anger.

5. Oscar success for film adaptation

Mockingbird gave the late movie star Gregory Peck his most memorable role as Finch in the 1962 film adaptation of the book. He won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance. The movie was the big-screen debut of Robert Duvall who played Bradley. It also won Oscars for Horton Foote who adapted it for the screen, and for the set designers.

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