The Similarities Between Harper Lee's Life & "To Kill a Mockingbird"

by Cathryn Whitehead

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is a classic Pulitzer Prize--winning novel by author Nelle Harper Lee. Many events in her life are mirrored in her story of Jean Louise (Scout) Finch, a young girl living in the South in the mid 1900s. The book, which is required reading in many high school classes, focuses on Scout's view of life as a lawyer's daughter in a Southern town and the changes that occur when her father defends a black man accused of raping a white woman.


Like her main character in "To Kill a Mockingbird," Harper Lee had an older brother and a father who was a lawyer. Both Harper's father, Amasa Coleman Lee, and Scout's father, Atticus Finch, defended black men who were found guilty. Even the name of Scout's family was taken from Harper Lee's life; her mother's maiden name was Finch.


The author drew from her own childhood experiences in developing Scout's personality. Harper Lee and her main character were tomboys as children, both willing to fight and adept at it. Though Harper had a mother as a child and Scout did not, the effect of the death of her mother when Harper was in her 20s comes through in her portrayal of Scout as a motherless girl.


Harper Lee's friend, Truman Capote, who lived with aunts and uncles next door, became the inspiration for Scout's friend Dill. Scout expects to be part of Dill's life forever. Harper played a major role in Capote's life, assisting in the research and creation of his book "In Cold Blood" and inspiring him to create a character based on her in his book "Other Voices, Other Rooms."


Maycomb, the town that Scout lived in, was modeled after Harper Lee's hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Both towns were small towns located between Mobile and Montgomery, populated by a mix of segregationists and people caught up in the civil rights movement. Like Scout, Harper Lee attended the public grammar school and developed an interest in the world of make-believe and writing.

About the Author

Cathryn Whitehead graduated from the University of Michigan in 1987. She has published numerous articles for various websites. Her poems have been published in several anthologies and on Whitehead has done extensive research on health conditions and has a background in education, household management, music and child development.