Harper Lee taught generations of little girls to argue

The To Kill A Mockingbird author has died aged 89


I first read To Kill A Mockingbird on holiday with my parents. I was about 11, and we were staying by a beach. I spent much of the first week curled near a rock, with a towel, reading it.

I was a bookish child – this behaviour was characteristic. And of course I am not alone: To Kill A Mockingbird has resonated with so, so many. It handles race, justice and class with unflinching scrutiny. It is also a beautiful story.

Those issues interested me then and always will. However, To Kill A Mockingbird resonated with me because it introduced me to argument. Scout showed me that that the remit of the little girl extended beyond being seen and not heard, and and that probing and quibbling is important – whether you are defending honour or deciding what game to play.

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Scout is inquisitive and clever and infuriating. She is antic, and sometimes people tell her to shut up. She is adventurous. She just won’t drop it. And she is brave, and so compassionate. She’s wrong sometimes. After I read the book for the first time, I spent the rest of the summer calling my father up on everything he said, waving the book with self-righteous fury.

I think he was both seething and very proud. I’ll still argue about anything.

During my teens, every time someone told me to aspire to Hermione Granger, I thought of Scout: the scruffier, less obvious version of the female hero – the one who taught a generation of little girls to squabble with anyone and everyone, defiantly.

Many assume that Lee modelled Scout on herself: Lee was also the daughter of a respected Alabama lawyer. Certainly the author possessed some of Scout’s most charming and infuriating inconsistencies: she wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and then mused, humbly, “I never expected any sort of success with ‘Mockingbird’. “I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me some encouragement.” She certainly offered some to us.