Community reflects on death of Southern author Harper Lee


“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience,” Harper Lee wrote in her award winning novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Feb. 19 will forever mark the day when readers and writers alike mourned the loss of esteemed author Nelle Harper Lee. Lee passed away in Monroeville, Alabama, after having a stroke in her sleep at 89 years old.

Lee produced the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and published it in 1960. The novel received a Pulitzer Prize, which inevitably resulted in undesired fame and popularity.

Viewed by the media as a recluse, Lee neither expected such a degree of success nor did she hope to pursue a celebrity lifestyle.

Lee intended to write the novel to report upon institutional racism in the Deep South and how the criminal justice system contributed to it.

She took a risk in producing this novel as it aided in fueling the fight against racism while endorsing equal rights in a time when raising controversial subjects could be extremely dangerous.

Mylene Dressler, assistant professor of English and creative writing and an author, explained why and how she has taught Harper Lee’s novel and the difficulties she’s faced with the novel in accordance with current events.

“It’s often been taught looking at the way race is represented, and I find it really important now to teach it in terms of white privilege, which is very visible in the text,” said Dressler.

“It’s important in terms of class and gender as well. All of these conversations are still pressing. It takes a fair amount of critical training to see both the possibilities and the limitations of the book at the same time and to be able to talk about those in a way that is nuanced.”

Lee once claimed that her mission as a writer was to be considered the “Jane Austen of Alabama.” She wanted to be the bard for the rural South, speaking as a product of her era and her Alabama roots.

“I think she wanted to be brave,” Dressler observed. “I think she wanted to write about difficult subjects. I think she wanted to write complexly from the perspective of a very young female character. I sense that she wanted to work with personal materials and take those materials and reconstitute them in a literary way.”

The novel has transcended far beyond Lee’s small town of Monroeville and has been since translated into over 40 different languages.

Julia Beveridge, a junior, was raised in the Hudson Valley region of New York and recalls the realizations she experienced in reading this book about the events that took place in her own country of which she was previously unfamiliar.

“She created a world, and she wrote it so well that it was instantly transporting for me,” Beveridge said.

“It showed blatant and insane racism that was juxtaposed with that magical place and was really eye opening. I couldn’t comprehend people treating someone that way because of their skin color or the justice system being so corrupt.  It was incomprehensible for me.”

Harper Lee offered the world a lens into a world of inequality and abuse that many people did not understand to the fullest extent.

Jonas Jones, a senior and editor-in-chief for The Greenleaf Review, grew up in North Carolina and read “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a child, reflecting upon the history of the South whilst analyzing the growth visible today.

“I think it was a great historical text to see what the South used to be like and, in many ways, what the South is still like for better or worse,” said Jones. “It’s interesting to look at it as a way of seeing how far we have come and how far we haven’t come and what the problems are within that.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a timeless novel that continues to be taught to students because it acts as a reminder of the darkest capabilities of humanity, how much growth we have achieved since its publication and how much more growing we still have left to do.