Harper Lee's seminal work may have a complex legacy, but some of her quotes are truly transcendent.
Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird may have seemed timeless when it came out, but times have a way of changing.
Nowadays, Lee's legendary book feels less like a treatise on tolerance and more of a relic of old ideals with racist stereotypes and archaic language mixed in. Perhaps it was appropriate that Atticus Finch revealed his latent racism in the book's much-maligned sequel, To Set a Watchman. Yet To Kill A Mockingbird retains its mythic and omnipresent status, in part because of the looming legacy of Atticus Finch, but also in part because of its wise and famously cantankerous author, the small woman named Harper Lee who wrote her classic (indeed a revolutionary work during its time) and then wrote nothing else for decades.
Harper Lee, who once described herself as "ugly as sin," was the youngest of four children. Born in an Alabama small town in 1926, she focused on writing in college and attended law school before dropping out to pursue writing full-time. In 1949, 23-year-old Lee arrived in New York City. After working for several years as a ticket agent, a generous fund from a Broadway composer allowed her to focus on the manuscript of her novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, which was loosely based on her childhood. The book is definitely a relic of its time, but it's still studded with gems of wisdom. Over the years Lee has delivered many keen observations about equality, reality, and humans' place in the world.
Here are 12 of Lee's greatest quotes:
"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view."
"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 you see it through no matter what."
"As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don't think you are the most important being on earth."
"Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of [another]."
"Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends."
"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."
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