Alabama Vigilante

A Mocking Bird in Monroeville

"Mockingbird: A portrait of Harper Lee" written by Charles J. Shields


The story begins in Monroeville Alabama, where Harper was born and raised. This town is described in a way that makes it sound similar to Maycomb, the fictional town from her book "To Kill a Mocking Bird". The Monroeville courthouse, and the fictional courthouse in the book, have many similarities. Many of the nosy neighbors are also said to have been based on Monroeville citizens. The biography also talks about her time in NYC as a struggling writer, but Harper spends most of her time in Maycomb where she currently lives with her sister.


Nelle Harper Lee's life had many parallels to her book. Harper's father was a lawyer, and, like Atticus, he had strong ethical values and his views on racism were very liberal for the time. He even was involved in a case involving two black men, accused of murdering a white store owner. In the book, the character Scout had lost her mother at a young age. Harper's mom had what is now assumed as bipolar, and did not have a good relationship with her children. Harper's friend growing up, was a tomboy and loved to read. Her best friend was Truman Capote is mentioned a lot in the book because he is believed to be the inspiration for the character "Dill".

In 1944, Harper Lee briefly attended Huntingdon College. She joined a sorority there, but didn't stay long. She transferred to University of Alabama and studied law. After deciding that she wanted to focus on her writing, Harper dropped out of school and did not complete her degree. This upset her father greatly, but she was very determined. She moved to New York.

Finding time to write in New York turned out to be harder than she expected. Constantly working, she struggled to make enough money to get by. Then, in 1956, two friends changed her life with a Christmas gift. They gave Lee enough money to cover a years wages and a note that said "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you want. Merry Christmas." She finally had the opportunity to focus completely on her writing.

The original manuscript that Lee gave to Tay Hohoff, editor of J.B. Lippioncott & Co., was closer to a collection of short stories than to a novel. With Hohoff's, and her agents, help, Lee spent over 2 and a half years writing the short stories into one book. Her book was published July 11, 1960, and To Kill a Mockingbird became an instant bestseller. A year later, she received a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A movie based on the book was released the following year in 1962. Later, in 1999, it was also awarded "Best novel of the century".

Her book became famous, but Harper remained very private. She moved back to Monroeville to live a quiet life with her sister. She denied many requests for interviews and tried her best to stay out of the limelight. She started writing a couple different times, but didn't publish anything new. She lived a normal life, devoted to the town and a strong member of the community. Her friends did their best to try to help her by protecting her privacy.


Nelle Harper Lee is a tomboy at heart. She came from a family that was very liberal for the time. Determined, she put finishing her book as her number one priority. She has a strong sense of community, and loves her small home town. Privacy is very important to her, which makes her a very mysterious author, but even with little information about her personal life, by reading her book you can tell that she is very wise. I don't think any other author could have pulled off this book. She intertwined two different plots, (Scout Finches' life and the Tom Robinson case) to create one story with many morals and life metaphors. Harper lee is a one of a kind author, and deserves all the praise and recognition she was given throughout the years.

Opinion on Book

I really enjoyed this biography. Harper Lee is a very private person, so it was fascinating to learn what I could about her. I chose this book because I am currently reading To Kill a Mockingbird, in my English Class. For some books, I believe that it is important to understand where the author was coming from when they were writing their books. Harper Lee has many similarities to the character "Scout". It was interesting to make in-text connections to Harper and her book. I think this book gave me a better understanding of To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as an interesting perspective on Harper Lee.


Shields, Charles J. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. Print.