ArticlesVolume 18, Number 3 (2009)

Rape, Incest, and Harper Lee’s to Kill a Mockingbird: On Alabama’s Legal Construction of Gender and Sexuality in the Context of Racial Subordination

Abstract

In 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was published to significant popular acclaim: a reception that has proved enduring. Mockingbird remains one of the most widely circulated works in United States history. Curiously enough, however, the nonpareil American novel known for its condemnation of racism has proven itself a more venerable object in the heart of the legal establishment than in that of the literary-a peculiarity which has given rise to frequent comment. Despite its Pulitzer Prize, few literary scholars have engaged critically with the work. Comparatively, Harper Lee’s novel and the characters she constructs therein have received an unexpected and atypical amount of attention from a field-law-that is defined by objective, rational perspectivalism and which is notorious for its¬†ostensible disdain of the fictional and activist. Indeed, entire symposia and law review volumes have been dedicated to the work.

The book, however, steadfastly maintains its position as a masterpiece in the canons of American literature. Popular response to Mockingbird has been remarkable: it has enjoyed ninety-four separate printings and appeared on secondary school reading lists as often as any other book in the English language. By the close of the 1980s, Lee’s story was mandatory reading in seventy percent of all public schools. A 1991 survey found To Kill a Mockingbird listed second only to the Bible as the book that has had the most meaningful impact on the respondents’ lives.