September 23 – 29 is Banned Books week, a week celebrating the freedom to read, drawing attention to banned and challenged books, and highlighting persecuted individuals or groups. Each day this week, I’ll countdown the top ten books most often challenged or removed from schools, universities, or libraries across the United States.
written by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird has appeared on the Banned Books list many times since its release. The most prevalent reasons for its listing are “violence, offensive language, and its use of the N-word.” The latest challenge came from a parent of an African-American child, and her worry over how her child’s classmates would respond to the material.
To Kill a Mockingbird sits on many school districts’ required reading lists for its look at racial injustice and the loss of innocence. It’s told from the point of view of Scout, a 6-year-old girl whose father is a lawyer in a small town during the Great Depression. When Tom Robinson, a black man, is accused of raping a white woman, Atticus Finch successfully defends him. The judge, however, convicts Robinson anyway.
The trial, and the town’s reaction to it, along with other factors pushes Scout and her brother Jem to grow. Their misjudgment of several of the townspeople is slowly replaced with understanding and empathy. Mrs. DuBose, Aunt Alexandra, and most especially Boo Radley are more than who the children believed them to be, a lesson in maturity and knowledge reinforced throughout the novel.
The novel has a controversial sequel, Go Set a Watchman, which is widely accepted as being the rough first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. In it, Scout is in her mid-20s and returns to the small town featured in Mockingbird. It’s a story of dismantling the hero-worship she has for her father, learning to stand on her own and what she believes in, and growing up—similar themes to Mockingbird.
In 1961, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
In 1962, To Kill a Mockingbird was made into a major motion picture featuring Gregory Peck as Atticus and Mary Badham as Scout. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won three, including Best Actor for Peck.
A Broadway play based on the novel will begin shows in November, 2018, while live productions in Monroeville, AL, the birthplace of Harper Lee and the location of the court used in the 1962 movie, are produced each year. I’ve seen the Monroeville production, which Harper Lee attended every year until her death, and it is a wonderful interpretation of the book.