Lee’s masterpiece is deceptive in its simplicity. A reluctantly heroic small town lawyer, Atticus Finch,
battles deep-seeded racism in Alabama when he defends an innocent black
man against charges of raping a white woman in 1935.
Scout, is the lawyer’s inquisitive and tomboyish 9-year-old daughter,
the same age Lee was when the novel takes place.
The legal plot, a
“composite” in Lee’s words, was not fully embraced by Monroeville
locals when the book emerged in 1960.
It was a bold time for its
publication – at the front end of a heated, deadly, American Civil
“This book suggested black people are as good as white
people,” said Reverend Dr Thomas Lane Butts Jr, minister emeritus of
Monroeville’s First United Methodist Church and a close friend of Lee’s.
“It made people nervous. It probably still does. This place is not a paragon of virtue when it comes to segregation.”
Today, the town is still balancing pride for its famous native daughter
with an inherited burden to replay the hard lessons of her work.
On the lawn of the town’s historic courthouse sits an eloquent plaque honouring Atticus with an inscription that includes: “The legal community has in Atticus Finch, a lawyer-hero who possesses the knowledge and experience of a man, strengthened by the untainted insight of a child.”