Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” is in the limelight once again, along with the film of the same name, since it has come to light that the author has agreed to publish her only other effort “Go Set A Watchman,” which is actually a sequel to Mockingbird although it was written prior to it, and concerns the lives of the same characters several decades later.
Simultaneously, an old rumor has resurfaced - that Harper Lee’s childhood friend Truman Capote was the authentic author of “To Kill A Mockingbird,” or at the very least had collaborated with her on it. Truman Capote is actually portrayed in the book as well as in the film as “Dill Harris,” the friend of Scout and Jem, the children of Atticus Finch. Not enough evidence exists, though, to prove that Truman Capote is the author, and the rumor has died a whimpering death. It may have acquired some credence because Harper Lee assisted Truman in his research for his famed novel “In Cold Blood” and the two were long-time friends.
In 1962, the film was positively received by the public, and received three Academy Awards, one by Gregory Peck for Best Actor that year. It received eight nominations for the Oscar, one of which was for Best Picture of the Year. It is considered one of the greatest American movies of all time. Harper Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush for her effort at a ceremony at the White House in 2007.
Harper Lee receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007 - Wikimedia
It took a stroke of daring to produce such a film in 1962, at a time when racial relations in the United States were at low ebb. Harper Lee captured the mood of the country although it was largely unspoken that a caste system existed in this Land of the Free. The film reliably tells the novel’s story of a small town lawyer, Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck), who is widowed and is raising his two children, Jem and Scout, alone. The setting is in the Depression years of the early 1930’s when farmers in a locale such as the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama were especially hard hit financially.
The events that occur are told through the eyes of Atticus Finch’s six-year-old daughter who is called “Scout,” but whose name is actually Jean Louise. Scout and her brother Jem are joined by a youngster named Dill, who is visiting his aunt in Maycomb for the summer. Scout and Jem familiarize Dill with the happenings in the neighborhood, including the rampant rumors about Boo Radley, a neighbor who never leaves his house, and is said to be kept in the cellar by his father, which strikes fear in the hearts of the neighborhood children.
Atticus Finch is approached by a judge who asks Atticus to defend a black man, Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), who is accused of raping a young white girl, Mayella Ewell. Atticus agrees and the story moves swiftly to a courtroom scene which raises this tale to a story of epic proportions.
Atticus’ defense of Tom is magnificent, and should have been sufficient to allow Tom to regain his freedom. He is able to point out that Mayella’s injuries would have to have been inflicted by a left-handed person, whereas Tom Robinson had lost the use of his left hand in a cotton gin accident years ago. Atticus also cleverly produced the fact that Mayella’s father, Bob Ewell, was left-handed, and could have inflicted Mayella’s injuries. However, racial prejudice is so engrained in the residents of Maycomb that they are unable to deliver a verdict of “not guilty.”
Scene from "To Kill A Mockingbird" - Wikimedia
The black residents of the town had all assembled in the balcony overlooking the courtroom. Scout, Jem, and Dill were allowed to join them when there was no room downstairs for the children. The most poignant moment of the film occurred at the end of the trial when Atticus was the last one to leave the courtroom. The black pastor said to Scout, who was sitting down watching the scene through the railing, “Miss Jean Louise, stand up: your father’s passing.”
Rather than spoil the ending, it is sufficient to say that Boo Radley finally showed his face and his goodness. Robert Duvall made his screen debut with his portrayal of Boo Radley.
Early on, the viewer is given an explanation of the meaning of the title. When Atticus taught Jem to fire a gun, he told him that he could shoot some birds, but never to kill a mockingbird, a songbird which lives only to bring pleasure to humans with his song. He does no harm otherwise. Towards the end, Scout saw the connection between the mockingbird and Boo Radley, a clever tying up at the end.
Gregory Peck - Wikimedia
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