119+ Best Harper Lee Quotes: Exclusive Selection

Nelle Harper Lee was an American novelist best known for her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has become a classic of modern American literature. Profoundly inspirational Harper Lee quotes will challenge the way you think, and make your life worth living.

Famous Harper Lee Quotes

Being Southerners, it was a source of shame to some members of the family that we had no recorded ancestors on either side of the Battle of Hastings. – Harper Lee

Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad. – Harper Lee

There’s just some kind of men you have to shoot before you can say hidy to ’em. Even then, they ain’t worth the bullet it takes to shoot ’em. – Harper Lee

I don’t want to hear any words like that while I’m here. Scout, you’ll get in trouble if you go around saying things like that. You want to grow up to be a lady, don’t you?’ I said not particularly. – Harper Lee

Southern lawyers don’t read novels much. – Harper Lee

The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience. – Harper Lee

Atticus said that Jem was trying hard to forget something, but what he was really doing was storing it away for a while, until enough time passed. Then he would be able to think about it and sort things out. When he was able to think about it, Jem would be himself again. – Harper Lee

I came to the conclusion that people were just peculiar, I withdrew from them, and never thought about them until I was forced to. – Harper Lee

As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, he is trash. – Harper Lee

You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t. – Harper Lee

Never, never, never on cross-examination ask a witness a question you don’t already know the answer to, was a tenet I absorbed with my baby food. Do it, and you’ll often get an answer you don’t want. – Harper Lee

I don’t hafta take his sass. – Harper Lee

She was born in the Objective case. – Harper Lee

Any writer worth his salt writes to please himself…It’s a self-exploratory operation that is endless. An exorcism of not necessarily his demon, but of his divine discontent. – Harper Lee

That proves something- that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human. – Harper Lee

Things are always better in the morning. – Harper Lee

If this thing’s hushed up it’ll be a simple denial to Jem of the way I’ve tried to raise him. Sometimes I think I’m a total failure as a parent, but I’m all they’ve got. Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him.. if I connived at something like this, frankly I couldn’t meet his eye, and the day I can’t do that I’ll know I’ve lost him. I don’t want to lose him and Scout, because they’re all I’ve got. – Harper Lee

You’ve really got to start hitting the books because it’s no joke out here. – Harper Lee

Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood. – Harper Lee

It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived. – Harper Lee

We’re paying the highest tribute you can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple. – Harper Lee

Dill if you don’t hush I’ll knock you bowlegged. – Harper Lee

Yeah, that’s all, said Dill. He’ll probably come out after you when he sees you in the yard, then Scout’n’ me’ll jump on him and hold him down till we can tell him we ain’t gonna hurt him. – Harper Lee

I’ve been writing as long as I’ve been able to form words. I never wrote with an idea of publishing anything until I began working on ‘[To Kill a] Mockingbird’. I think that what went before may have been a rather subconscious form of learning how to write, of training myself. – Harper Lee

Things are never as bad as they seem. – Harper Lee

I was not so sure, but Jem told me I was being a girl, that girls always imagined things, that’s why other people hated them so, and if I started behaving like one I could just go off and find some to play with. – Harper Lee

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 mockingbird. – Harper Lee

No, everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowin’. That Walter’s as smart as he can be, he just gets held back sometimes because he has to stay out and help his daddy. Nothin’s wrong with him. Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks. – Harper Lee

Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up – some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal. – Harper Lee

Dill? Mm? Why do you reckon Boo Radleys never run off? Dill sighed a long sigh and turned away from me. Maybe he doesn’t have anywhere to run off to – Harper Lee

Turtles don’t feel, stupid, said Jem. Were you ever a turtle, huh? – Harper Lee

Everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowing. – Harper Lee

But sometimes we have to make the best of things, and the way we conduct ourselves when the chips are down. – Harper Lee

Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts. – Harper Lee

Before Jem looks at anyone else, he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him. – Harper Lee

As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don’t think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, ‘I’m probably no better than you, but I’m certainly your equal. – Harper Lee

Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’. – Harper Lee

Nothin’s real scary except in books. – Harper Lee

It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you. – Harper Lee

I think I’ll be a clown when I get grown,’ said Dill. Jem and I stopped in our tracks. Yes sir, a clown,’ he said. ‘There ain’t one thing in this world I can do about folks except laugh, so I’m gonna join the circus and laugh my head off.’ You got it backwards, Dill,’ said Jem. ‘Clowns are sad, it’s folks that laugh at them.’ Well I’m gonna be a new kind of clown. I’m gonna stand in the middle of the ring and laugh at the folks. – Harper Lee

Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand. – Harper Lee

I wonder how much of the day I spend just callin’ after you. – Harper Lee

Now that I was compelled to think about it, reading was something that just came to me, as learning to fasten the seat of my union suit without looking around or achieving two bows from a snarl of shoelaces. – Harper Lee

Mutual defiance made them alike. – Harper Lee

With him, life was routine; without him, life was unbearable. – Harper Lee

Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open. – Harper Lee

Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained – if you ate animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long-jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time. – Harper Lee

As a reader I loathe introductions…Introductions inhibit pleasure, they kill the joy of anticipation, they frustrate curiosity. – Harper Lee

I like to write. Sometimes I’m afraid that I like it too much because when I get into work, I don’t want to leave it. As a result, I’ll go for days and days without leaving the house or wherever I happen to be. I’ll go out long enough to get papers and pick up some food and that’s it. It’s strange, but instead of hating writing I love it too much. – Harper Lee

But before I can live with other folks, I’ve got to live with myself. – Harper Lee

As I inched sluggishly along the treadmill of the Maycomb County school system, I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of unrelieved boredom was exactly what the state had in mind for me. – Harper Lee

There was nowhere to go, but I turned to go and met Atticus’s vest front. I buried my head in it and listened to the small internal noises that went on behind the light blue cloth: his watch ticking, the faint crackle of his starched shirt, the soft sound of his breathing. ‘Your stomach’s growling,’ I said. ‘I know it,’ he said. – Harper Lee

Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends. – Harper Lee

As I made my way home, I thought Jem and I would get grown but there wasn’t much else for us to learn, except possibly algebra. – Harper Lee

Maycomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it. Somehow, it was hotter then. 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 frosting from sweating and sweet talcum. The day was twenty-four hours long, but it seemed longer. There’s no hurry, for there’s nowhere to go and nothing to buy… and no money to buy it with. – Harper Lee

summer was our best season: it was sleeping on the back screeneed porch in cots, or trying to sleep in the treehouse; summer was everything good to eat; it was a thousand colors in a parched landscape. – Harper Lee

They’re real strong magic, they make you have good luck. Not like fried chicken when you’re not lookin’ for it, but things like long life n’ good health, n’ passin’ six weeks tests…these are real valuable to somebody. – Harper Lee

Cecil Jacobs is a big wet hen! – Harper Lee

We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us. – Harper Lee

Summer, and he watches his children’s heart break. Autumn again and Boo’s children needed him. Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough. – Harper Lee

Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. – Harper Lee

In Maycomb, if one went for a walk with no definite purpose in mind, it was correct to believe one’s mind incapable of definite purpose. – Harper Lee

I just thought you’d like to know I can read. You got anything needs readin’ I can do it. – Harper Lee

Nothing is more deadly than a deserted, waiting street. – Harper Lee

Don’t talk like that, Dill, said Aunt Alexandra. It’s not becoming to a child. It’s – cynical. I ain’t cynical, Miss Alexandra. Tellin’ the truth’s not cynical, is it? The way you tell it, it is. – Harper Lee

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. – Harper Lee

Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum. – Harper Lee

Way back about nineteen-twenty there was a Klan… The Ku Klux’s gone… It’ll never come back. – Harper Lee

See there? Jem was scowling triumphantly. Nothin’ to it. I swear, Scout, sometimes you act so much like a girl its mortifyin – Harper Lee

When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness’ sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion quicker than adults, and evasion simply muddles ‘em. No… you had the right answer this afternoon, but the wrong reasons. Bad language is a stage all children go through, and it dies with time when they learn they’re not attracting attention with it. Hotheadedness isn’t. – Harper Lee

I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system – that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. – Harper Lee

I shall never marry, Atticus. Why? I might have children. – Harper Lee

Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. – Harper Lee

I do much of my creative thinking while golfing. If people know you’re working at home they think nothing of walking in for a cup of coffee, but wouldn’t dream of interrupting on the golf course. – Harper Lee

My book had a universal theme. It’s not a racial novel. It portrays an aspect of civilization, not necessarily Southern civilization. – Harper Lee

About your writing with you left hand, are you ambidextrous, Mr. Ewell? I most positively am not, I can use one hand good as the other. One hand good as the other. – Harper Lee

Atticus said naming people after Confederate generals made slow steady drinkers. – Harper Lee

I suppose she chose me because she knew my name; as I read the alphabet a faint line appeared between her eyebrows, and after making me read most of My First Reader and the stock-market quotations from The Mobile Register aloud, she discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste. Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me any more, it would interfere with my reading. – Harper Lee

She’s an old lady and she’s ill. You just hold your head high and be a gentleman. Whatever she says to you, it’s your job not to let her make you mad. – Harper Lee

The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. – Harper Lee

The remainder of my schooldays were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed, they were an endless Project that slowly evolved into a Unit, in which miles of construction paper and wax crayon were expended by the State of Alabama in its well-meaning but fruitless efforts to teach me Group Dynamics. – Harper Lee

Talking to Francis gave me the sensation of settling slowly to the bottom of the ocean. – Harper Lee

I’m little but I’m old. – Harper Lee

It’s not time to worry yet. – Harper Lee

Don’t you study about other folks’s business till you take care of your own. – Harper Lee

So it took an eight-year-old child to bring ’em to their senses…. That proves something – that a gang of wild animals can be stopped, simply because they’re still human. Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children. – Harper Lee

There is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is the court. – Harper Lee

There’s no substitute for the love of language, for the beauty of an English sentence. There’s no substitute for struggling, if a struggle is needed, to make an English sentence as beautiful as it should be. – Harper Lee

Ladies in bunches always filled me with vague apprehension and a firm desire to be elsewhere. – Harper Lee

You can’t really get to know a person until you get in their shoes and walk around in them. – Harper Lee

I had never thought about it, but summer was Dill by the fish pool smoking string, Dill’s eyes alive with complicated plans to make Boo Radley emerge; summer was the swiftness with which Dill would reach up and kiss me when Jem was not looking, the longings we sometimes felt each other feel. With him, life was routine; without him, life was unbearable… – Scout Finch – Harper Lee

I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again. – Harper Lee

She seemed glad to see me when I appeared in the kitchen, and by watching her I began to think there was some skill involved in being a girl. – Harper Lee

I have nothing but gratitude for the people who made the film. It was a most unusual experience. I’m no judge, and the only film I’ve ever seen made was Mockingbird, but there seemed to be an aura of good feeling on the set. I went out and looked at them filming a little of it, and there seemed to be such a general kindness, perhaps even respect, for the material they were working with. I was delighted, touched, happy, and exceedingly grateful. – Harper Lee

I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected. – Harper Lee

You know, many writers really don’t like to write. I think this the chief complaint of so many. They hate to write; they do it under the compulsion that makes any artist the victim he is, but they loathe the process of sitting down trying to turn thoughts into reasonable sentences. – Harper Lee

You see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that’s the way I want to live. – Harper Lee

I’m gonna be a new kind of clown. I’m gonna stand in the middle of the ring and laugh at the folks. – Harper Lee

Serving on a jury forces a man to make up his mind and declare himself about something. Men don’t like to do that. Sometimes it’s unpleasant. – Harper Lee

Let the dead bury the dead. – Harper Lee

The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that. – Harper Lee

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. – Harper Lee

Characters make their own plot. The dimensions of the characters determine the action of the novel. – Harper Lee

People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for. – Harper Lee

People who write for reward by way of recognition or monetary gain don’t know what they’re doing. They’re in the category of those who write; they are not writers. Writing is simply something you must do. It’s rather like virtue in that it is its own reward. Writing is selfish and contradictory in its terms. First of all, you’re writing for an audience of one, you must please the one person you’re writing for. Yourself. – Harper Lee

It’s not necessary to tell all you know. – Harper Lee

Try fighting with your head for a change… it’s a good one, even if it does resist learning. – Harper Lee

Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods, and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books. Instant information is not for me. I prefer to search library stacks because when I work to learn something, I remember it. And, Oprah, can you imagine curling up in bed to read a computer? Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up — some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal. – Harper Lee

Atticus had said it was the polite thing to talk to people about what they were interested in, not about what you were interested in. – Harper Lee

Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of another… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results. – Harper Lee

I say guilt, gentlemen, because it was guilt that motivated her. She has committed no crime; she has merely broken a rigid and time-honored code of our society. – Harper Lee

Long ago, in a burst of friendliness, Aunty and Uncle Jimmy produced a son named Henry. – Harper Lee

Dill said striking a match under a turtle was hateful. How do you know a match don’t hurt him? Turtles can’t feel, stupid, said Jem. Where you ever a turtle, huh? – Harper Lee

When I pointed to him his palms slipped slightly, leaving greasy sweat streaks on the wall, and he hooked his thumbs in his belt. A strange spasm shook him, as if he heard fingernails scrape slate, but as I gazed at him in wonder the tension slowly drained from his face. His lips parted into a timid smile, and our neighbor’s image blurred with my sudden tears. Hey, Boo, I said. Mr. Arthur, honey, said Atticus, gently correcting me. Jean Louise, this is Mr. Arthur Radley. I believe he already knows you. – Harper Lee

We said good-bye, and Dill went inside the house. He evidently remembered he was engaged to me, for he ran back out and kissed me swiftly in front of Jem. Yawl write, hear? he bawled after us. – Harper Lee

Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. – Harper Lee

When they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things… Atticus, he was real nice… His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them. – Harper Lee

Folks were doin’ a lot of runnin’ that night – Harper Lee

Writing is a process of self-discipline you must learn before you can call yourself a writer. There are people who write, but I think they’re quite different from people who must write. – Harper Lee

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