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Harper Lee (born 1927)
Harper Lee ' was born at Monroeville, Alabama, in 1927. She attended the local public schools end the University of Alabama, where she studied law. For the past several years she has lived in New York.
To Kill a Mockingbird ("Убити пересмішника"), I960, is the first novel of Harper Lee that brought her fame not only in her own country, the USA, but abroad as well. The action of the novel takes place in the late thirties, in Alabama. The title of the novel is symbolic. In many a Southern state the mockingbird, a merry songbird, symbolizes innocence and its killing is considered a sin and a moral crime.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
The story is told by Jean Louise Finch who remembers her childhood when she lived with her father Atticus Finch, who was the lawyer, her elder brother Jem and the Negro cook Calpurnia. Jean Louise was a very clever little girl, kind and active.
I had to start to school in a week. I never waited more for anything in my life. Jem took me to school the first day. When we were walking Jem told me that during school hours I had to be with the first grade and he would be with the fifth. In short I had to leave him alone. "We will do like we always do at home," he said, "but you'll see - school's different."
And it was different. Miss Caroline Fisher, our teacher, was no more than twenty-one. She began the day by reading us a story about cats. 'The cats had long conversations with one another, they lived in a warm house under a kitchen floor. Miss Caroline came to the end of the story and said, "Wasn't that nice?"
Then she went to the blackboard, wrote the alphabet in big letters, turned to the class and asked, "Does anybody know what these are?" Everybody did, but she chose me. Ї read the alphabet and she made me read most of my First Reader. Then she told me to tell my father not to teach me any more. "He hasn't taught me anything, Miss Caroline. Atticus hasn't got time to teach me anything," I said.
"Everybody who goes home to lunch hold up your hands," said Miss Caroline. The town children did so, and she looked us over.
"Everybody who brings his lunch put it on the desk." Miss Caroline walked up to Walter Cunningham's desk. "Where is your lunch?" she asked. "Did you forget it this morning?" Saying that, Miss Caroline went to her desk. "Here is some money," she said to Walter. "Go and eat in town today. You can pay meback tomorrow." Walter shook his head.
"No, thank you ma'am '."
"Here Walter, come get it."
Walter shook his head again. I wanted to help him.
"Miss Caroline, he's one of the Cunninghams," I said.
"What, Jean Louise?"
We all understood it. He didn't forget his lunch, he just didn't have any. He had none today, nor would he have any tomorrow or the next day.
"You'll get to know 3 all the country folk after a while. The Cunninghams never took anything they can't pay back, they live on what they have. They don't have much, but they live on it. Walter hasn't got money to bring you."
"Jean Louise, I've had enough of you this morning," said Miss Caroline. "You're starting off on the wrong foot in every way 4, my dear," and she told me to stand in the corner. I didn't stand long there, for the bell rang, and Miss Caroline watched the class go for lunch. As I was the last to leave, I saw her fall into her chair 5 and put her head in her arms. Had she been more friendly towards me, I would have felt sorry for her 6. She was a handsome little thing.
* * *
The second grade was no better than the first, but Jem told me that the older I got the better school would be, that he started off the same way, and it was only in the six grade that he learned anything interesting. The sixth grade pleased him from the beginning: he went through a short Egyptian Period and tried to walk putting one arm in front of him and one in back, putting one foot behind the other. He said that the Egyptians walked this way. I said if they did I didn't see how they got anything done, but Jem said they did more than the Americans ever did, they invented toilet paper and perpetual embalming.
* * *
Jem and I met Christmas with mixed feeling. The good side of it was the tree and Uncle Jack Finch. Every Christmas Eve day we met Uncle Jack at Maycomb station; and he would spend a week with us.
Besides, we should visit Aunt Alexandra and Francis. Aunt Alexandra was Atticus's sister. I suppose I should include Uncle Jimmy, Aunt Alexandra's husband, but as he never spoke a word to me in my life except to say "Get off the fence," I never saw any reason to take notice of him. Henry, their son and his wife brought Francis to his grandparents'every Christmas.
Nothing could make Atticus spend Christmas day at home. We went to Finch's Landing3 every Christmas in my memory. The fact that Aunty was a good cook was some compensation for being forced to spend a holiday with Francis Hancock. He was a year older than I, and I disliked him because he enjoyed everything I disapproved of.
When Uncle Jack jumped down from the train on Christmas Eve day, we had to wait for the porter to hand him two long packages. Uncle Jack shook hands with Jem and swung me high 4, but not high enough; Uncle Jack was a head shorter than Atticus.
Uncle Jack was one of the few men of science who never terrified me, because he never behaved like a doctor.
One Christmas I was hiding in corners with a splinter in my foot permitting no one to come near me. When Uncle Jack caught me, he kept me laughing about one story. I asked Uncle Jack to let me know when he would pull it out, but he held up a bloody splinter and said he took it out while I was laughing.
We decorated the tree until bedtime, and that night I dreamed of the two long packages for Jem and me. Next morning Jem and I ran for them. They were from Atticus, who had written Uncle Jack to get them for us, and they were what we had asked for - the air-rifles.
"You'll have to teach them to shoot," said Uncle Jack.
"That's your job," said Atticus.
It was difficult for Atticus to take us away from the tree. He didn't let us take our air-rifles to the Landing and said if we made one false move he'd take them away from us for good 2.
At Christmas dinner I sat at the little table in the dining-room; Jem and Francis sat with the adults at the big dining table.
After dinner all went to the living room. Jem lay on the floor, and I went to the back yard. "Put on your coat," said Atticus dreamily, so I didn't hear him.
"Grandma's wonderful cook," said Francis. "She is going to teach me."
"Boys don't cook." I laughed at the thought of Jem in an apron.
* * *
Atticus was not a strong man: he was nearly fifty. He was much older than the parents of our schoolcontemporaries, and there was nothing Jem or I could say about him when our classmates said, "My father..."
Our father didn't do anything. He worked in an office, not in a drugstore. He didn't play football, he was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage, or do anything that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone.
Besides that, he wore glasses. He was nearly blind in his left eye. Whenever he wanted to see something well, he turned his head and looked from his right eye.
He did not do the things our schoolmates* fathers did: he never went hunting, he did not play poker or fish or drink or smoke. He sat in the living-room and read.
When Atticus gave us our air rifles he wouldn't teach us to shoot. Uncle Jack instructed us a little; he said Atticus wasn't interested in guns. Atticus said to Jem one day, "I'd rather you shot at cans ' in the back yard, but Ї know you'll go after birds. But remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked our neighbour Miss Maudie about it.
"Your father is right," she said. "Mockingbirds don't do anything but sing for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us 3. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
"Miss Maudie, this is an old street, isn't