Harper Lee's only novel became a Pulitzer Prize winner and a favorite assignment of middle school English teachers. Set in Maycomb, Alabama in 1935, the book is written from the viewpoint of a young girl, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch. Layered with various plot lines, To Kill a Mockingbird presents a strong portrait of a small town in the American South. Innocence, guilt, racism, justice and family are concepts woven into this cherished tale. Scout and her brother, Jeremy "Jem" Atticus Finch cannot understand the racism held by adults in Maycomb. Their lawyer father, Atticus is a rare element in town, a man who believes in racial equality. It is no surprise that Atticus comes to the defense of a black man accused of raping a white woman. Despite the futility of this defense, Atticus believes in justice and sees the necessity of fighting the bigotry so horribly apparent. Tom Robinson, the defendant, indeed is convicted. Very shortly after his incarceration, the police kill Tom during a reported escape attempt. Another plot line concerns Arthur "Boo" Radley, a man imagined by the townspeople as a sort of spectre; his house is avoided.
Individuals actually cross the street rather than walk near the building. Although the Finch children share in the town's suspicion regarding Mr. Radley, they eventually learn that judging someone without knowing them can be a mistake. Skillfully, Ms. Lee works Tom Robinson's trial and the tale of Mr. Radley into a converging path. Within a particularly suspenseful passage, Boo becomes the one who saves the lives of Scout and Jem. There is a touch of justice as Mr. Radley is protected, spared the ordeal of a trial. The title, To Kill a Mockingbird refers to the notion of convicting and possibly killing Boo, an "innocent" soul like that of a mockingbird. Despite not being labeled an autobiography, it is known that the character, Charles "Dill" Baker Harris was based upon Truman Capote, a childhood friend of Harper Lee's.