“Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” This quote was in To Kill a Mocking Bird, book of the late Harper Lee who passed away on Feb. 19, 2016. To Kill a Mockingbird being her most notable novel, Lee has changed the world with her literary talents touching serious themes such as the loss of innocence, racial inequality, gender roles, and courage. Lee has left an impact on our western culture and classic American literature. Her legacy deserves to be recognized.
Lee was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. Her inspirations for To Kill a Mockingbird were based on her experiences with discrimination. She went to high school at Monroe County High School where she developed an interest in English literature. She graduated from high school in 1944 and attended Huntington College, a women’s college in Montgomery, for a year before transferring to the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.
Lee moved to New York in 1949 where she worked as an airline reservation clerk while pursuing her writing career. She began writing various long stories until meeting Michael Brown, an agent she met through her childhood best friend Truman Capote. The following month, she received a gift from Brown of a year’s worth of wages and a note saying, “You have one year off from your work to write whatever you please, Merry Christmas.” This was a major turning point in Lee’s career.
In 1957, her manuscript was completed, and she submitted it to the J.B Lippincott Company who thought her novel was rather multiple short stories put together. For the next two and a half years, she spent time rewriting her manuscript. In 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was published and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1961 as well as made into a major motion picture in 1962. Many of the characters in her novel are based on people she knew in real life. Atticus Finch, the main protagonist, was based on her father who was also a lawyer. Scout Finch was based on her and Dill Harris was based on Capote.
After the success of To Kill a Mockingbird, President Lyndon Johnson named Lee to the National Council of Arts in 1966. She received many awards and honorary doctorates and in 1988, the Harper Lee Award for a Distinguished Alabama Writer was created to acknowledge an accomplished writer from the state of Alabama.
In 2015, her manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, was found and published. Go Set a Watchman was intended to be the last book of a planned trilogy for To Kill a Mockingbird. The publication raised questions on why after fifty-five years, Lee decided to publish again. In February of 2015, the Human Resources Department of Alabama investigated if Lee was competent enough, due to her declining health, to consent the publishing of the book though no evidence of elder abuse was found. Go Set a Watchman had the highest record of one day sales of adult novels at Barnes & Noble.
Harper Lee has changed lives with her work. She has inspired many modern day authors and has changed the way readers view the world. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.” This quote from Lee teaches us to see things from a new perspective and understand the world as she once did.