To Kill a Mockingbird To Kill a Mockingbird discussion

Did she write this?

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Kelly My big question is, if you wrote a book that won the prize that this one did, would you decide to not ever write again? Did she write this? What's your opinion?

Evalyn I think the story was of her father and her childhood (but fictionalized) and she had this one great story in her. Her publishers wanted her to write a second book and she said she would but, as far as I know, she never did. She isn't the first author to have one great story to tell.

Tressa Hah. If I could only write one great novel, this would be in the top ten. Just like there are some bands with one good song in them, so are there writers with one knockout book in them.

And it's balderdash that Truman Capote wrote TKAM. There was some jealousy over the attention Lee was getting, and if Capote had written it, he'd be singing it from the mountaintops. He never once said that he wrote it, but at the same time he didn't do anything to squelch the rumors. With friends like these, huh?

message 4: by Kay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kay I would love to have written this book ~ and I may have stopped after this, too. I can think of a few writers who ought to have stopped after their first.

Tressa LOL. Kay, I so agree. Stephen King probably should have stopped after the first 10. Richard Laymon and V.C. Andres continue to write beyond the grave, and it really mucks up their earlier and better work.

message 6: by [deleted user] (new)


I just saw your posting from January...I'm curious as to why you even ask the question.


Jessica I agree with Rita-- what even motivated this question? I had no idea there was any doubt whatsoever.

Tressa Yes, there has always been a few whispers of doubt that Harper Lee wrote TKAM and not her good friend and confidant, Truman Capote. These doubts have been raised off and on for years, especially after she failed to write another successful novel. It's all absurd speculation, of course.

There is a recent biography of Harper Lee that discusses this issue.

Jessica wow, i never there was such juicy gossip going around. i suppose that's what happens whenever Capote is involved at all.

Norman Yeah...and Elvis is alive. Get a life, people.

jacky I agree that Lee wrote it. Also, it isn't like she never wrote anything else. I remember when I read it in High School my teacher saying that she wrote lots of essays. He also said that this book was "everything she had to say."

message 12: by Coalbanks (last edited Sep 10, 2008 04:46PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Coalbanks No argument that Harper Lee did write TKAM but consider the possible influence of Henrik Ibsen's play, AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE(1882), in which a previously respected doctor is villainized when he discovers & attempts to disclose that the town's medicinal baths & economic mainstay are toxic. Could Harper Lee NOT have been aware of & influenced by this play? Did she acknowledge any such influence?
Why didn't she write another? Sometimes once is enough, too many authors go to the well too often, perhaps? She was true to herself & her father in this fictionalized story of their life but could she have remained so in tales of a more invented nature? Capote could - but he lead a live begging to be exposed to the public & courted evermore experiences & tales to recount.

Kathryn I've always thought that she had that one story to tell and didn't know what else to say. The story was originally a collection of short stories from her childhood that she merged together for the novel.

I've recently read that Horton Foote writes all of his plays on the same theme -- people trying to go home but learning that they can't. He's always asked why and he answers, that's what he does.

Maybe it's the same for Lee except that there was nothing else to write because it was basically the major event of her childhood. I mean, she certainly was skilled enough to write something else but you've got to have that fire in your belly to undertake a novel and perhaps when the main story was told the fire just couldn't get let again.

Sorry for rambling . . . :)

Brigid ✩ I think that it's fine to only write one book. I mean, some people have only one story inside of them, building up over time. After writing a book like To Kill a Mockingbird, that captivated so many people, I can see why Harper Lee decided that she didn't have to write any more. After all, people would expect all of her books to be as amazing as her first one, and that would put a lot of pressure on her. That is why she made the decision to write only one book.

message 15: by Kathryn (last edited Mar 11, 2008 08:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kathryn That's true too. And if your book is never going out of print, it's not like you need the money. But I would think that if you had the urge to write you wouldn't be able to stop. I mean, Hemingway killed himself when he couldn't write anymore, but Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell were both fine with stopping after one blockbuster.

Different strokes, I guess.

Evalyn I had a professor tell me one time that, if a writer has a moderate success then their writing is compared to other writers, but if the writer has an amazing success the first time then the rest of that writer's books are compared to their first one. I don't think this is why Lee never wrote another book, I just think she had this one amazing story to tell.

message 17: by Cynthia (new)

Cynthia I heard an editor interviewed on NPR years ago talk about this. At the time her topic was how publishing is changing so much that close editorial assistance is a thing of the past and she used TKAM as an example. She said that the submitted manuscript had promise but needed help in structuring and so the publisher sent someone to help Harper Lee. They worked on it together for several months. Harper Lee is definitely the author.

As for Truman Capote, in the recent biography of Harper Lee, Mockingbird, the author whose name I have forgotten stated that capote owed her more of a debt for IN Cold Blood than he ever acknowledged.

Siobhan This is a really interesting discussion. IMHO, Harper Lee, who as far as I can determine through my google search is still alive, is the sole author of the book. That’s not to say that she didn’t have other literary influences. A college English professor of mine described TKAM as a rip-off of Intruder in the Dust. There is no denying that the stories are somewhat similar, and while I liked Intruder in the Dust, TKAM is much more accessible to the average reader (this comment comes from a Faulkner fan; he really makes readers work!).

I’ve always been glad that Harper Lee didn’t write a second novel. To me, TKAM is so perfect; what more is there to say?

A few years ago I traveled to Monroeville, visited the courthouse in the center of town, walked along the street where Capote and Lee grew up, and talked to lots of people about the book, its influence on the town and the town’s influence on the book. The people I met in Monroeville are extremely protective of Lee’s privacy. At the time, she was dividing her time between there and New York City. In New York, she can get lost in the crowd, in Monroeville, she is shielded from tourists, so in both places she has the privacy she crave.

Jessica Yes, Harper is very much alive. She was actually given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2007 at the White House.

Also, now that I think about it-- i think Harper definitely had the experience to write TKAM-- afterall, didn't she study law? Perhaps to follow in her father's footsteps.

Tressa Cody, I never knew that about Miss Maudie/Fruitcake Lady. I love Truman's A Christmas Memory, which is a touching story about his Aunt Sookie. We have a local actress who puts on a one-woman show every Christmas on this story. Either reading the story or watching it acted out, I have to bring Kleenex for the finale.

message 21: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim I've always meant to track down a good Lee Biography and have been unable to do so. I've heard she was a bit of a recluse but that for the most part her day-to-day life was unchanged by the success of either her or Capote's books. I've heard background stories that the writing of TKAM was largely completed in a cold-water flat in NY after her friends had chipped in to give her a year off of work to concentrate wholly on finishing the novel.
Maybe after you've won a Pulitzer and seen that your work is relevant enough to still be a mainstay in high school English classes around the country, you don't need/want to put yourself through that wringer again. . .

Laura I agree that it's Lee's work AND that it's such an amazing story, what would she do next? (As a sidenote I heard an Oxford professor talk a couple weeks ago about Jane Austen trying to follow up Pride & Prejudice - similar problem)
Also, Tim, a friend and fellow teacher recommended Mockingbird, a new bio of Harper Lee. She said it's fabulous! It's on my to-read list now.

message 23: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 18, 2008 10:26PM) (new)

Two additional situations that are being overlooked in this discussion are the position of women in writing in the timeperiod in which she wrote and published, and the requirements for publishing in general in the timeperiod.
I'm not saying these played a part in her not writing an additional novel, however I think it's possible that this could be one of the reasons.
There were far fewer books published in that time than there are now and even a popular author was not guaranteed to get published. Also, women were viewed as inferior. It's hard to understand unless you remember but even an accomplished writer would have to overcome the extreme sexism that existed in that era.
Finally, as a southern woman, Lee had a stronger male dominated culture to contend with than even northern women of her era and a stong social edict to be self effacing, without undue ambition.
Again, I'm not saying this was the case with her but I can see that it might have been.
I think at the very least she was ambivalent about pursuing a "career" as a writer of novels, and indeed the idea of a writing career may have been beyond her social construction as it was for most women in that time.
She may have hoped and dreamed of it, but it was a more difficult dream than it seems today. It would not have been a matter of simply writing and having someone ready to publish her.
And finally, she may have placed no value what so ever on a follow up book. She may have been content to lead a quiet life.

message 24: by Evalyn (last edited Apr 19, 2008 01:01PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Evalyn Actually, the publishing of fiction was much less competitive in the 60's when To Kill A Mockingbird was published than it is now. Also, once an author had a huge success like Lee's book was from the very beginning, it would have been very easy for her to get another published. In fact, publishers would have been clamoring for it. Also, women were not so restricted or career-less in the 60's. You may be confusing the book's setting (1930's) and the time in which Lee's book was published (1960's).

message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

hi evalyn
my comments were purely speculative as i mentioned
cody seems to have a perspective on lee based on research that i don't and when in doubt going to the experts, biographers or critics and historians is always best
my post was meant as a possible partial rationale not a definitive opinion
however, there was a considerable lingering sexism in the 60's
and there is and was a prevailing culture for southern women to be less career oriented
i'm not saying it was a factor for lee altho i have a feeling it could have been
what i was trying to add was an understanding that lee may have not placed as much value on publishing another novel as we might due to social constructs that didn't place a huge value on female success or indeed literary success
it would be interesting to know if this played a part

Stephanie I heard that the reason she didn't write any more was because she put every message she had to say to the world within To Kill A Mockingbird, and that if the readers didn't see it, they weren't reading carefully enough.

Evalyn Hi Maureen,
I agree with what you said about the sixties (I was around then) especially the very early sixties which were very similar to the fifties. My main point was that publishing was not so competitive then. The publishing climate has changed over the last few decades, as a writer I know this to be true. Also, I live in the South and have for (too many years to confess to):). I guess I just want to believe that Lee had this one wonderful book in her and didn't feel the need to say anymore. Can you imagine being able to write such a book? We discussed it Saturday at the library because it was the selection for The Big Read, a program encouraging everyone to read it. Every time I read it I enjoy it even more. By the way, I enjoyed your comments. Thanks for responding to my post.

message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

your welcome evalyn
no i can't imagine writing even one decent book let alone one that resonates through time
i like stephanie's comments in regards to lee saying everything she wanted in the one book
it's a different mindset, "i've said my piece and now i shall live my life" sort of attitude
that was what i was trying to express
she may not have felt the need to write more
again however, biographers and reasearchers would have a stronger grasp than anything speculative i could say as i have not looked at her life or motivations in depth

best regards to you e and all

message 29: by Mary Todd (new)

Mary Todd I hope some one else stumbles upon this discussion's June and the last post was April...
IMHO if you have read Capote's Thanksgiving and Christmas stories, you would have no doubt that he wrote TKAM...the styles are just way too similar, and his Grass Harp play, the same. The argument that Lee submitted a rough manuscript and an editor helped her polish it up is really unbelievable. The subtleties and truly inspired syntax could not have been made in a 'polish' situation.l
I tend to believe Capote wrote it and wanted her to publish it as a gift to her and to see if he really could write and get accolades without his rather flamboyant and eccentric personality.

message 30: by Tim (last edited Jun 12, 2008 07:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim Mary's comments about the similarities between Capote's and Lee's style are interesting and well-reasoned. However, I think there's a lot of grey area in the amount of influence that Capote's style could have had on Lee's writing. I did some collaborative writing on a piece of fiction with a stand-up comic (He provided the story line and most of the dialogue, I filled in on descriptions and general narrative).

Our styles were different, but as we worked on the project (over 2- 2 1/2 years) There were times when I would write dialogue that was consistent with the voices that he'd established for the characters , and his narrative style picked up marked similarity to my own. He wrote the sequel on his own, and while I think that his narrative voice comes through in his own style, there's no doubt that the collaborative work formed some of his habits, syntax and subtleties included.

I have to admit that the degree of Capote's influence really doesn't affect my overall impression of the book. Regardless of who wrote it, it's enriched the lives of those who read it.

Nice to see some activity on this topic again. I'll definitely draw from this discussion when I teach the novel again next fall.

message 31: by Mary Todd (new)

Mary Todd I am a teacher, too and had the incredible pleasure of teaching this novel. I agree that Capote's influence doesn't matter, however, it's fun to talk about and the kids (mine were 9th graders) are intrigued with the possibility. Since Capote (the movie) is recent, they should know who he is...I had them read the Christmas Story, too.

I showed them two Little Rascals episodes (the original) before we started the novel so they could see what the Depression was. My dad was about the same age as Jem and he always said the Rascals was incredibly representative of growing up then. Kids learn about the Depression, however there are not so many people around who were children then. I wanted them to see the freedom, ingenuity of diversion, and how much fun kids had without money and before electronics.

Interesting about the style...I shall mull that over.
Have fun teaching next year!

Peter I have to disagree, on the style issue. I'll grant that To Kill a Mockingbird shares a magical childlike quality with the work of Truman Capote. However, it lacks the signature Capote narcissism. I mean that in the best possible way; Capote is one of my favorite writers. Nonetheless, I would argue that Mockingbird is too externally focussed to be a Capote novel. I am re-reading TKAM right now, so perhaps in a few days I will be able to give more specific examples.

message 33: by Mary Todd (new)

Mary Todd Great Peter! I'll be interested in your views.

Coalbanks "it lacks the signature Capote narcissism. I mean that in the best possible way; Capote is one of my favorite writers. Nonetheless, I would argue that Mockingbird is too externally focussed to be a Capote novel."

Best explanation I've read so far. Thanks.

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