"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

La lucha contra los prejuicios raciales en la América profunda de los años treinta se narra desde la cándida perspectiva de una niña. Una obra de ficción que contribuyó al movimiento de los derechos civiles.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird became an instant success, won Harper Lee a Pulitzer Prize, and was made into a film starring Gregory Peck. Nearly sixty years on, it’s still a much-loved classic and a landmark in civil rights literature.

Alabama childhood

The story, told by eight-year-old Scout, is a vivid evocation of childhood in the depression-era Deep South: times are hard and attitudes both conservative and racist. With their mother dead and their lawyer father Atticus at work, Scout and her older brother Jem spend the hot summers kicking around the “tired old town" of Maycomb with their friend Dill, looking for any amusement. A mysterious, reclusive neighbour called Boo Radley fuels the children’s vivid imaginations.

As the summer progressed, so did our game. We polished and perfected it... It was a melancholy little drama, woven from bits and scraps of gossip and neighbourhood legend”.

“A medida que avanzaba el verano nuestro juego progresaba. Añadimos diálogos y perfeccionamos la trama hasta que compusimos una pequeña obra teatral en la que introducíamos cambios todos los días.”

But their wild fantasies about Boo are soon eclipsed. When Atticus is assigned to defend Tom Robinson - a black man falsely accused of raping a young white woman - he knows there’ll be trouble.

Atticus and Scout

The character of Atticus Finch is a highly idealised one. While his children think he’s terribly old (fifty!), they also respect his wisdom and fairness. Scout’s childish questions and Atticus’s reasoned responses cut through the deep prejudices of Maycomb and telling the story from Scout’s child’s-eye perspective is one of the book’s great achievements. In an emblematic moment, Atticus buys Jem and Scout air rifles but says they must never aim at mockingbirds. Scout is confused but their neighbour Miss Maudie explains:

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 

“Los ruiseñores solo se dedican a a cantar para alegrarnos. No estropean los frutos de los huertos. No anidan en los arcones del maíz, no hacen nada más que derramar su corazón, cantando para nuestro deleite. Por eso es pecado matar a un ruiseñor.”


The book successfully brought the thorny issue of American racial prejudice into the mainstream. The black community of Maycomb live segregated and in poverty beyond the town rubbish dump. When summing up his defence of Tom Robinson against the fabricated rape charges of Mayella Ewell –the alleged victim–, Atticus challenges the courtroom with a question:

“What did she [Mayella] do? She tempted a Negro. She was white and she tempted a Negro. She did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man. Not an old Uncle but a strong young Negro man.”

“Pero ¿qué hizo [Mayella]? Tentar a un negro. Ella es blanca y tentó a un negro. Hizo una cosa que en nuestra sociedad no tiene justificación: besó a un negro. No a un anciano, sino a un negro joven y vigoroso.”

Writing from life

Harper Lee, like the novel’s protagonists, grew up in a sleepy Southern town. She was a childhood friend of writer Truman Capote, on whom she modelled the character of Dill. Her father AC Lee, an Alabama lawyer, unsuccessfully defended two black men accused of murder. 
Lee really knew the characters she was depicting, she understood their motivations with an empathy that Atticus encourages:

“…if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. 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.”

“…si aprendes una treta sencilla, Scout, convivirás mucho mejor con toda clase de gente. Uno no comprende de veras a una persona hasta que considera las cosas desde su punto de vista…
–¿Cómo es eso?
–…Hasta que se mete en el pellejo del otro y va por ahí como si fuese ese otro.”

In 2015, the novel Go Set a Watchman was published, seven months before Harper Lee’s death. Marketed as a sequel, it was in fact an early draft of To Kill a Mockingbird and is notably different, especially in the character of Atticus. Most fans were disappointed and prefer to remember the original Finch family: funny, feisty Scout and Atticus, an icon of social justice.

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