Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird: How Cover Art Changes Perception

It’s#bannedbooksweek2016 and I wanted to take a closer look at one of the most famous banned books: Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. The inclusion of Lee’s novel in school curriculums has been (and continues to be, to some degree) controversial due to its dealings with racism and the portrayal of black characters. While its contested nature has been quite static over the past few decades, the book’s cover art has changed considerably since its publication in 1960.

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The first incarnation is simple and features a tree which seems to be a reference to the tree in the story in which Boo and the children left each other gifts.

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The second version of the cover, published just a year later, is still quite simple but it is more explicit in its visual representation of certain symbols. Like the first rendition, this cover features the tree in the foreground but with actual gifts in it (a watch and a ball of string). In the distance, what is assumed to be a mockingbird is flying in the distance. However, the most intriguing thing on this cover is the quote at the top: “The Timeless Classic Of Growing Up and the Human Dignity That Unites Us All”. I think this quote accurately describes the overarching nature of the book however in a way it romanticizes the experiences of the main characters. Yes, To Kill A Mockingbird‘s main characters are Scout and Jem, however the main theme (and subsequent fuel for its controversial fire) is not growing up, it’s something much bigger than the children can even comprehend. It’s race, it’s humanity, and it’s inequity.

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One of the more recent versions of To Kill A Mockingbird (top left, 1988) looks much more modern compared to the first two. Again, the tree is represented on this cover which leads the reader to believe that the tree is truly a significant symbol. A bird, again most likely a mockingbird, sits in the tree. While the 1960 and 1962 covers are done in color, this 1988 cover is done in black and white which alters the mood greatly. The black and white color scheme creates a more somber tone in comparison to the colored art. The somber tone and bleak color scheme point to an almost Poe-like visual representation.

This project was created by Shannon Griffiths for a special topics class at PSU that examines literary taboo.