Sunday, October 14, 2007

To Kill a Mockingbird: Popularity and Influence

To Kill a Mockingbird has been popular ever since its publication in 1960. Even before its release, four national mail-order book clubs had chosen it as their monthly selection. Within two years, it had won the Alabama Association Award, the Brotherhood Award of the National Conference on Christians and Jews, and, of course, the Pulitzer Prize for Literature (Harper Lee was the first woman to win this prize since Ellen Glasgow in 1942). The film rights were sold and the resulting movie (on which Harper Lee served as a special consultant after she declined to write the screenplay) came out in 1962. Since its publication, the novel has been one of the ten most frequently assigned books in secondary schools.

Interestingly, apart from the reviews TKAM received when it was published, there has been little in the way of literary criticism focused on it. It's mainly in the legal literature that people have dissected the book, at least the character of Atticus. See, for example, "Being Atticus Finch: The Professional Role of Empathy in To Kill a Mockingbird" from the Harvard Law Review and "Reconstructing Atticus Finch" by Steven Lubet, a critical piece that originally appeared in the Michigan Law Review and garnered dissenting responses.

Why do you think there has been a relative lack of scholarly discussion about TKAM, especially given how influential the book is in people's lives (remember that it's second only to the Bible as a book that's "made a difference" to us)? For those of you in the legal field, is Atticus Finch still a relevant touchstone for your profession?


Hunter said...

Melissa, I just ran across this blog post (some 5 months after it was written) and I think you raise some interesting questions. I have lived in Alabama for most of my life. I studied literature at the university. If I were to answer your question about why there has not been more scholarly articles written about TKAM, I would say the reason has to do with literary snobbery in the academy.

I'm currently rereading TKAM and am discovering its quality as a piece of art. The prose, the themes, and the general literary quality are as fine as almost any book about which volumes of literary criticism have been written. However, it was popular, both in its day and presently and to my mind, its very popularity has sunk it to the depths in the eyes of scholars. I believe there is a similar parallel with Eudora Welty and William Faulkner. Welty was read by the populous and Faulkner was not. Welty has much less criticism written about her than Faulkner, but the quality of her work is just as fine. This of course is all my opinion, but it is my answer. Cheers and well wishes from Alabama!

Friendship SMS said...

A fantastic piece of literature. The story is about two children, Jem & his sister Scout and their lawyer father Atticus. It is about childhood innocence and hypocrisy and false values of the grown ups. The story is narrated from Scout's perspective. It weaves magic throughout story. It makes you think. It has left deep imprint on my psyche. Atticus, the lawyer father, is wonderful and his advice to children and his discourse with Mr Tate in the end is really courageous and adorable. It'll definitely enrich you.