We mark the passing of author Harper Lee. Southern historian, J. Wayne Flynt, a long-time friend of Harper Lee, refers to her masterpiece “To Kill a Mockingbird” as “Harper Lee’s gospel”.1
I have often wondered about Harper Lee’s inspiration for writing “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Flynt was a friend of Lee’s for decades. He reveals that she was brought up in an era when biblical knowledge was the foundation of Southern literature. According to Flynt, Lee’s masterpiece is “. . . an allegorical tale of the gospel.”
Interestingly, Flynt states that Lee read the collected works of C.S. Lewis and said to him “I think C.S. Lewis is the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th Century.”
It is acknowledged that Harper Lee’s father, Amasa Lee, was the model for the fictional lawyer, Atticus Finch. Harper Lee’s sister stated to Flynt that their father was “an inner Christian . . . He just tried to walk the walk as best he could within the confines of how he had to function.”
Professor Flynt states that Harper Lee loved the elegance of the King James Version of the Bible and she referred to it in the title of her book “Go Set a Watchman”. The title is taken from the Book of Isaiah, a profit in the kingdom of Judah.
In this respect, she follows the tradition of William Faulkner, who also made biblical allusions in his work. Professor Flynt sees Atticus Finch as a prophetic figure in the fictional town of Maycomb. Professor Flynt states that Harper Lee saw her father as a watchman for the town. “He was a righteous and decent man who took a stand because it was the righteous and morally correct thing to do.”
Thanks to Professor Flynt we understand now that Harper Lee and her writing were heavily influenced by the Bible. According to Flynt, “In the Southern literary renaissance it was still a biblical culture in the South.”
1 Garrison, G. ‘Harper Lee’s Gospel’: Wayne Flynt calls friend Nelle ‘great prophet of justice’ February 19, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2016/02/harper_lees_gospel_wayne_flynt.html.