Writers who write about what they 'know' are regularly accused of writing biographies of their acquaintances and sketching autobiographical stories of themselves. Yet, it is difficult for an author to describe the world around them without bringing in some similarities of their own unique experience…
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Lee has denied any conscious connection between her and Scout, and contends she was merely writing about what she knew. Writers, such as Harper Lee, routinely put themselves into the characters they construct as an unconscious by-product of the creative writing process.
Harper Lee's physical appearance and stylish attitude paralleled Scout Finch as the author develops a character of a young woman growing up in the South during the Great Depression. Shields describes Lee, while a Southerner living in New York, as "an ordinary, self-effacing young woman in worn-out jeans and a tomboy haircut, ill at ease among sophisticates" (22). Harper Lee could hardly be expected to paint Scout Finch as an aristocratic young female, when she would have little experience to base the character on. She would save the development of more unfamiliar characterizations for less important and less traveled characters, such as Aunt Alexandra.
Along with the physical and emotional similarities that bind Lee and Scout, there is also a significant portion of their background that forms a common foundation. Both Lee and Scout were born in Alabama in the 1920s, and spent their formative years growing up in the Great Depression. The town of Maycomb in the novel was based on Lee's own hometown of Monroeville Alabama (To Kill a Mockingbird: About the Author). ...
A core experience that Lee had as a child would be given to Scout as a major aspect of her character. The book centers on the Trail of Tom Robinson, which is a fictional account of a real trial that affected Lee as a child, known as the Scottsboro Trial. Both trials took place in Alabama in the 1930s. Both trials involved the accusation of rape by a poor white woman against African-American males. The socio-economic class of the accusers, and the racism that was prevalent in Alabama were major factors affecting the outcome of both of the trials. In both trials, a white male heroic figure rose to defend the falsely accused African-Americans (Johnson, Gabbin, and Turner). More than autobiographical, Lee's creation of the Trial of Tom Robinson may have been a way to recognize and honor the courage of men like her father that fought for human and civil rights against angry townspeople during a troubled and turbulent time.
The process of fleshing out a character will often borrow from the writer's own experience and things that they 'know'. Honoring a previously unrecognized act of courage or valor may dictate that the author thinly veils a real life experience for the sake of re-creating reality. The author captured her own physical and emotional traits and built Scout from them. She gave Scout her own experience and was able to unconsciously create an interesting and compelling character at the edges of her own autobiography.
Johnson, Claudia D., Joanne V. Gabbin, and Catherine Turner. "Parallels Between the Scottsboro and Tom Robinson Trials." Historical Background. ThinkQuest. 17 June 2009 .
Shields, Charles J. Mockingbird: A
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