The Old Monroe County Courthouse inspired the fictional courthouse in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. PHOTO CREDIT: Wmr36104. This photo is licensed under the the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.”1
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in rural Alabama during the Great Depression. Told through the eyes of eight year-old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, we as the readers get a unique look into the tight-knit community and the way it impacts Scout as she grows up within it trying to learn between right and wrong. Despite the fact that the story takes place in a precarious time in American history, Scout’s father Atticus continually encourages her and her brother Jem to practice empathy towards other people, no matter who they are. The heart of the novel centers on Atticus defending a Negro by the name of Tom Robinson. Atticus and his children are somewhat social outcasts from the town itself and the rest of their family because of his involvement in the trial, illuminating the racial and socioeconomic tensions that existed in the South at the time. In the aftermath of the jury’s decision, Scout feels both discouraged and hopeful as she begins to learn what it means to experience the world walking in another person’s shoes.
While Maycomb is a fictional place, it is based on Harper Lee’s small hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Monroeville is also the birthplace of author Truman Capote, who was Lee’s neighbor and served as the inspiration for the character of Scout and Jem’s summertime friend Dill. Because of the enduring success of both writers, Monroeville has been declared Alabama’s Literary Capital.
The courtroom where Tom Robinson’s trial takes place is also rooted in reality. The Old Monroe County Courthouse, built in 1903, was the model for the courthouse that appeared both in the novel and the 1962 film adaptation. In 1973, it was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The courthouse has been restored and currently serves as a museum displaying exhibits featuring both Lee and Capote. Every spring, the museum puts on a two-act play adaptation of the novel. Fans from all over the world come to the museum, where they can experience the witness chair, judge’s bench, and upper floor balcony in person.
1 Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner Books, 1960. 5. Print.
Krista recently graduated with her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Saint Mary’s College of California. She is also a contributing editor for a Bay Area-based literary journal, The East Bay Review (www.theeastbayreview.com).
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