Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926, in Monroeville, Alabama, a small town similar to Maycomb, the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee began writing To Kill A Mockingbird in the mid-1950's, and she completed the novel in 1957. Her novel was published in 1960, just before the peak of the American civil rights movement. Much of the book seems to parallel Lee's own childhood. Truman Capote, one of Lee's childhood friends, was inspiration for the character Dill. It is also believed that the Scottsboro Case of 1931, when Lee was five, serves as the inspiration for the Tom Robinson trial in Lee's novel. The main theme of the story is the coexistence of good and evil, and this theme is depicted in the title, To Kill a Mockingbird. (Phillips) A mocking bird is a symbol of innocence, and it seems that evil is always out to destroy innocence. Atticus told Jem, "I"d rather you shoot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you"ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit "em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." Miss Maudie tried to explain to Jem that his father was right she said, "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mocking bird". (Lee, 90) Thus, the book depicts childhood innocence, moral condemnation of racial prejudice, and affirms that human goodness can withstand the assault of evil by the use of "mockingbird" characters, Jem, Tom Robinson, and Boo Radley, who represent the idea that to kill a mockingbird is to destroy innocence. .
Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, is one of the "mockingbird" characters. His accusers are Mayella Ewell and her father Bob Ewell. Bob Ewell, a lazy, abusive, and ignorant man who drinks too much, has his family living in squalor near the dump.