What makes Harper Lee one of the greatest authors of our times, and this despite the fact that all she has to her credit are only two novels?
The draft was not approved and was kept away and on the advice of her publisher, she decided to write yet another version that was to be her debut book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, which sold more than 40 million copies around the world, and earned her a Pulitzer Prize. She was as revered as was debated if she was just one of those one-book wonder until last year when her second book opened to critical acclaim.
The story in addition to dwelling upon Atticus’ fight to defend Tom Robinson, a black man, who is accused of raping a young white woman, Mayella Ewell (that takes an ugly turn when the judge convicts him despite strong evidence not to), the book is also about the ideal father of the young children who are taught to live a responsible life, yet enjoy the free spirit of exploring the unknown and inherit the liberal views of their father.
While, nowhere did Lee acknowledge that the novel is autobiographical; there are instances and experiences of her life that find a place in her book. And this includes her father, who was a lawyer and defended two black people, who were too, later convicted.
It is of common knowledge, especially after her book ‘Go Set a Watchman’ was published in 2015, that as a debut author Lee did work on many drafts. In fact, after the original draft was first submitted to her publisher, Therese von Hohoff Torrey, also known as Tay Hohoff, she suggested a few changes.
‘Go Set a Watchman’ did many things. To begin with, even as it shocked many an admirer of the hero Atticus, the book was a seal of approval for the author who was otherwise known and eulogised for her first and the only novel. It talks about the 26-year-old Jean Louise Finch, returning home to her aged father.
‘Go Set …’ is not as easy a read as “To Kill a Mockingbird’, yet it reinforces Harper Lee as a sensitive writer, full of wisdom, passion, humour and with brilliant storytelling skill. The novel helps in a better understanding of the classic ‘To Kill…’ and dwells deeper into the relations and inner struggles of the characters.
Both the books comment on the deep-rooted racism issues plaguing the South of America, but ‘Go Set a Watchman’ is more dispassionate in its narrative. Harper Lee had written only two books in the history of literature, yet she was one of the bestselling novelists, known to have been quite influential too.
Her book, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was made into a film with Gregory Peck in the lead in 1962 that went onto become a huge hit, winning Academy Awards and till date the book and the film are considered valid reference material to the times in which the story was set.