When it was first published in 1960, Harper Lee’s classic tale of life in a southern US town was never expected to sell in any great number. Fast forward more than 50 years and To Kill a Mockingbird has sold more than 30 million copies in over 40 different languages.
With its important moral lessons, charming use of language, and likeable main characters, the novel has become one of the most read, most recommended, and most loved of all time. It frequently features on lists of ‘books to read before you die’ and has found its way into the curriculum of schools across America and the rest of the world.
The Pullitzer Prize-winning book was adapted for the big screen in 1962 and went on to win 3 Oscars, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch.
Author Harper Lee was famously tight-lipped about the novel and almost never spoke publicly about it. Perhaps this is because her initial reaction to the book’s success was not so much one of surprise but “of sheer numbness. It was like being hit over the head and knocked cold.”
She died in February 2016, shortly after the publication of her long-awaited second book Go Set A Watchman which is neither prequel nor sequel, but of the same universe as To Kill a Mockingbird (it is essentially a first draft of the famous work, but with profound differences throughout).
With themes including racism, class, poverty, gender roles, and tolerance, To Kill a Mockingbird will (sadly) continue to be relevant for decades to come. The quotes below do no more than scratch the surface of the much deeper story, but they impart some of the wisdom nonetheless.
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. – Atticus Finch
I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. – Atticus Finch
They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience. – Atticus Finch
Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results. – Miss Maudie Atkinson
You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fightin’ with your head for a change. – Atticus Finch
People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for. – Judge Taylor
As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash. – Atticus Finch
It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you. – Atticus Finch
We’re paying the highest tribute you can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple. – Miss Maudie Atkinson
Are you proud of yourself tonight that you have insulted a total stranger whose circumstances you know nothing about? – Atticus Finch
Cry about the simple hell people give other people – without even thinking. Cry about the hell white people give coloured folks, without even stopping to think that they’re people, too. – Mr Raymond
Things are never as bad as they seem. – Miss Maudie Atkinson
I do my best to love everybody. – Atticus Finch
There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible. – Atticus Finch
Scout: “Atticus, he was real nice.”
Atticus: “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”