When Your Favorite Book Comes to Life: 5 Things Mary Marshall Tucker Taught Me About To Kill a Mockingbird

By Hope College English Major, Katharyn Jones

Mary Marshall Tucker, a friend of Harper Lee and resident of Monroeville, Alabama, gave her address entitled “Maycomb: My Perspective from Across the Fence” to the Holland community on November 6, 2014. As I look forward to Dr. Wayne Flint’s, another friend of Harper Lee and a decorated scholar, visit to Hope College tonight, I think it is important to reflect on the interesting nuggets of wisdom Mary Marshall Tucker shared with us.

  1. Maycomb, the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird, is a pretty accurate depiction of the way Monroeville used to be. The heat, the quaint shops, the courthouse… they are real places memorialized forever in the American classic.
  2. Many of the characters in her book were based off of real people in Harper Lee’s life. Atticus Finch shows many similarities to Lee’s father, Amasa Lee, who was also a lawyer. Lee’s portrayal of Calpurnia seems similar to the woman whom the Lees employed. Harper Lee had a playmate named Truman who seems similar to Dill. Harper Lee seems to embody the advice: write what you know.
  3. Monroeville, Alabama had its own “Arthur (Boo) Radley.” Sonny was a young man who had not left his house for a very long time. Rumors abounded: did his father lock him in the house? Would he kill someone if he left his yard? Children terrified each other with tales of Sonny, but, like Boo Radley, he was just someone who never really left his house.
  4. Segregation hurt people. To Kill a Mockingbird portrays the hurt on a dramatic scale, but even a sweet women like Mary Marshall Tucker could not check books out at the public library in Monroeville until later in the 1960s.
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird was real and it could still happen today. In 1986, a Monroeville resident, Walter McMillian, was accused of killing a white woman. He was put of death row without trial for his own “safety.” Even though there were many neighbors could testify he was holding a fish fry at his house, because of the perjured testimony and the withholding of evidence he was denied six years of his life before he was finally freed. If you would like to know more, check out the New York Times article addressing his release: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/03/03/us/alabama-releases-man-held-on-death-row-for-six-years.html. The injustice does not stop because Harper Lee wrote a book about it. It will take members of the community who are vigilant and willing to take a stand against injustice no matter the cost.

I always wondered what it would be like if one of my favorite books came to life. Visiting with Mary Marshall Tucker made me realize that, at least in the case of To Kill a Mockingbird, the book was already alive. Life wrote the book. Learning all the little details about To Kill a Mockingbird was both exciting and sobering because it is true, and sometimes the truth hurts. Yet it remains a truth worth telling.

Want to learn more? Come check out Dr. Wayne Flint’s address “Harper Lee, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ and Their Enduring Message” at the Hayes Auditorium in the Herrick Library at 7:00pm tonight!

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