To Kill a Mockingbird - Pennsbury School District

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Background Notes
English 9
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Born in Monroeville, Alabama in 1926, she
would have been the same age as Scout when
the novel takes place.
Lee’s father was a small-town lawyer just like
Atticus Finch, and she spent many
hours at the courthouse with her
father just like Scout.
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Harper Lee’s close childhood friend was
Truman Capote (“A Christmas Memory”), and
it has been said that he was the inspiration
for Dill’s character.
Finally, Harper Lee’s mother’s maiden name
was “Finch.”
It has been said that Harper Lee modeled the
character of Scout Finch (the narrator)
after herself.
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In April 1931, in Scottsboro, Alabama, nine
African-American men were tried for raping two
women.
Medical testimony showed that the two women
were not actually raped, but the jury still
convicted the men and sentenced them to
death.
Most of the convictions were eventually
overturned and the men were freed from prison.
However, this trial had a significant impact on
Lee, and it serves as the basis for the trial in To
Kill a Mockingbird.
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The plantation owners and professionals
made up the upper class.
Most landowners became prominent
businessmen by the early 1900’s due to more
commercialized farming.
The middle class consisted of owners of small
farms and small-town business owners.
A new lower class emerged that included
African-American farmers and unskilled
laborers.
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In the 1930’s, the American South was
immersed in the Great Depression
Poverty and unemployment were rampant
The average income in 1929 was about $750
All social classes are represented in the novel:
 The Finches – upper-middle class
 Ewells – poor whites
 Calpurnia and The Robinsons – African-American
laborers = poorest class
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The upper class consisted of people whose
families had lived in the same area for
generations (Finch’s Landing).
These people had African-American servants
in their homes (Calpurnia).
Southerners tended to use their ancestry as a
way to separate the elite from the common
folk (Aunt Alexandra).
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The most significant social issue of the South
during the 1930’s was segregation.
Laws forbid African-Americans and whites
from mixing in public areas, such as schools,
restrooms, buses and trains.
Because of segregation, many AfricanAmericans were often convicted of crimes of
which they were not actually guilty.
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To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960
during a time of turbulent civil protest with
Alabama seen as a segregated state.
The novel quickly rose to the top of every
bestseller list and stayed there for over a year
and a half!
Many critics hailed the novel as an accurate
portrayal of the racist discrimination of the
South.
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Harper Lee chose to write To Kill a
Mockingbird in a first-person narrative.
Scout Finch, who is six-years-old at the
beginning of the novel, is the narrator.
This is significant because it allows for a
child’s innocence to explain the complex
social issues of racial prejudice.
In addition, it is important to note that the
novel is told in flashback by a much older
Scout.
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Loss of innocence
Deceptive Appearances
Racism/Prejudice
Courage/Bravery

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