Novelist Harper Lee’s biggest literary accomplishment can be seen within the story of To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel well known and studied by a wide variety of readers. Ever since I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time and watched the 1960’s film adaptation, To Kill a Mockingbird’s focus on ethics, law, coming-of-age, and race relations sparked my interest right away. After having the chance to move beyond the novel and the film themselves, and focusing on the research behind the story, I was pleasantly surprised by the details of what started this phenomenal literary work and sparked Lee’s purpose for producing To Kill a Mockingbird. What I was not aware of before I started my research was that To Kill a Mockingbird is actually somewhat of an autobiographical novel based on Harper Lee’s life and also a look at the complex relationship between ethics and law. While the exact court case and most of the characters are fictional, research shows that Scout represents Harper Lee herself, an inquisitive young girl always working for what is right, Atticus Finch is a parallel to Lee’s own father, a lawyer that believed more in ethics than in the law itself who raised his children as if they were adults, and the setting of a small, quiet, racist southern town much like the one Lee was raised in.
The information that I discovered while researching To Kill a Mockingbird has led to the complex question of how Harper Lee’s own life is not only reflected within the novel, but also how the experiences of her life led her to be able to produce a novel that focused so strongly on the controversy of ethics and law within the story’s plot and character development. The connection can be made through the character of Atticus Finch, the main character of the story. Atticus Finch, as many of us who have had the pleasure of reading this book know, is a well-known lawyer of his small southern hometown who would rather pay more attention to the ethics and morality of life rather than focus on the logistics of the law. He defends a black man charged with the rape of a white woman, knowing the case is hopeless, because it is what is right. Harper Lee’s father was much the same in that he always favored ethics and morality over the law despite his profession, and always treated his children as if they were adults.
Because of the elements of this research proposal, an authorial experience and social approach best suits this topic. On the one hand, Harper Lee’s personal life and her personal experiences are the basis of each one of her characters and the setting of the story. Through Atticus Finch, there is a connection to the law profession and the ethical versus non-ethical actions of lawyers. The setting of the story is also a significant aspect of the novel because of the mindset of the characters that live there. These three elements combined provide for a combination of looking at not only To Kill a Mockingbird, but also at looking at the larger research question of how law and life come together within this story.