|Courtesy Library of Congress.|
While Maycomb could be any small rural town in the South (which is probably why it resonates with so many readers 55 years later), you can find its landmarks in Monroeville if you know where to look. Mark Childress, the author of Crazy in Alabama and a Monroeville native, says that Mockingbird was the first “grown-up book” he ever read. “Books had always been magical objects to me, but distant from my own experience. Authors were invisible wizards who swept me off to far places to work their spell on me. To Kill a Mockingbird was fiction, but it was real. It came from this place where I sat. It was a written by a lady my parents actually knew, a lady who had signed her name in this book I held in my hands. It told a story about a childhood lived on this very street, in these houses, in that schoolyard back yonder.” Monroeville residents have always believed that Mockingbird is based on Lee’s experience. An older friend of the Childress family often pointed out Boo Radley’s home and the tree where he left trinkets for Scout and Jem as if he were a real man. In fact, when Lee was a child, a young man named Son Bowler broke some windows in the school, and his father made a deal with the authorities that he would keep his son out of trouble if they wouldn’t press charges. Son Bowler became a prisoner in his father’s house, eventually dying in his 30s of tuberculosis.
|The old Monroe Country Courthouse.|
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
“My sisters and brother, much older, read aloud to keep me from pestering them; my mother read me a story every day, usually a children’s classic; and my father read from the four newspapers he got through every evening. Then, of course, it was Uncle Wiggily at bedtime…Reading was an accomplishment I shared with several local contemporaries. Why this endemic precocity? Because in my hometown, a remote village in the early 1930s, youngsters had little to do but read. A movie? Not often – movies weren’t for small children. A park for games? Not a hope. We’re talking unpaved streets here, and the Depression. Books were scarce. There was nothing you could call a public library, we were a hundred miles away from a department store’s books section, so we children began to circulate reading material among ourselves until each child had read another’s entire stock.”
Personally, I love this image.