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Friday, February 19, 2016

Harper Lee's Lasting Legacy

As virtually everyone who reads now knows, Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, passed away today.  That novel is one of the most beloved and most taught works of American fiction.  It is a book I taught numerous times over my 30 years as an English teacher.

In Harper Lee’s honour, I did some reflecting on some of my favourite quotes from that novel.  Here are my top ten:
Until l feared I would lose it, I never loved to read.  One does not love breathing (22).
“I think there’s just one kind of folks.  Folks” (230).
“Everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowin’” (230).
“Real courage . . . It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin it anyway and see it through no matter what” (116).
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” (34).
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience” (109).
 “Most people are [real nice], Scout, when you finally see them” (284).
“Things are never as bad as they seem” (218).
“You’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something . . . whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash” (223).
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (94).

A number of newspapers around the world have written extensive articles about Harper Lee.  Two I found most informative are the ones in The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/20/arts/harper-lee-dies.html?smid=fb-share&fb_action_ids=10153853487821217&fb_action_types=og.shares) and in The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/19/harper-lee-author-to-kill-a-mockingbird-dies-alabama?CMP=twt_books-gdnbooks).  This latter also offers a picture gallery:  http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/gallery/2016/feb/19/harper-lee-a-life-in-pictures.  For a Canadian perspective, check out the CBC site:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/harper-lee-obit-1.3455217.

Last year, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the publication of Lee’s second novel, To Set a Watchman, which reveals a different Atticus Finch.  That’s the first book I reviewed on my blog – see my first entry of July 16, 2015.