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GCSE: Harper Lee

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The historical and social context of 'To Kill A Mockingbird'

  1. 1 The novel is set in a fictional town in Alabama in the American south during the depression of the 1930s.
  2. 2 The novel was published in 1960 – just before the Black Civil Rights Movement.
  3. 3 Harper Lee grew up in Alabama and her father was a lawyer, like Atticus, the father in the novel. The novel is autobiographical to some degree.
  4. 4 Harper Lee was awarded the Pulitzer prize for To Kill A Mockingbird.

Themes and ideas in the novel

  1. 1 Racism and Prejudice – The obvious theme throughout the novel is racism. Tom Robinson , a black man is accused of raping a white woman. Atticus, the father in the novel agrees to defend him knowing that even though innocent he will not be acquitted by the all white jury. There is also class prejudice against the shiftless Ewells who are looked down on by everyone in the town.
  2. 2 Courage – The courage shown by Atticus who is criticised by his own social circle for defending Tom. Courage is also shown by his children Jem and Scout as they protect their father and have to deal with taunts from other children and adults. This is shown by Boo who kills Ewell when he attacks the children, and by an old lady who chooses to die without the aid of morphine to which she is addicted.
  3. 3 Loneliness – Mayela is lonely which forces her to proposition Tom which leads to his being wrongfully accused, Boo Radley who is the local hermit and to some degree Atticus whose wife is dead.
  4. 4 Mockingbird – Throughout the book is a metaphor for human justice ie someone who is innocent and who has done no harm should not be killed.

Essay work on 'To Kill A Mockingbird'

  1. 1 Use PEE to structure your essays. This is Point, Evidence and Explanation.
  2. 2 The introduction and conclusion should refer to the essay question.
  3. 3 Use appropriate quotes to back up the statements made in the essay.
  4. 4 Topic sentences should be used at the beginning of each paragraph to introduce what is going to be discussed in the paragraph and also to refer to the question in order to keep the essay focused on answering the question.
  5. 5 The historical and social context is very important when discussing the novel's themes and issues.

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  1. Discuss the importance of the first two chapters of "To Kill a Mockingbird".

    This method of narration combined with a rhetorical question is very effective. It shows that Scout expects us to know her family history, as everyone in Maycomb would, and because we don?t, she is proving that we are outsiders; we are not welcome in the Maycomb society; this immediately tells us that we will be judged. The book is written by Scout as an adult reflecting on her childhood, and writing about her defining moments. This is known as a retrospective narrative. As a result of this, her narrative voice varies from a child?s point of view and an adult voice.

    • Word count: 1433
  2. Justice as a theme in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and the films "Murder on a Sunday Morning" and "I am Sam".

    The title of the novel contains very literal connection to the plot, but it carries a great deal of symbolic weight in the book. In a story of innocence destroyed by evil, the ?mockingbird? comes to represent innocence and victims of social prejudice. Thus Atticus warns his children not to shoot a mockingbird, both literally and figuratively, as ?it?s a sin to kill a mockingbird.? This symbolism of the mockingbird is linked specifically with the unjust trial of Tom Robinson and his death, which is likened ?to the senseless slaughter of song birds.? It is symbolic of a mockingbird being

    • Word count: 1208
  3. What do we learn about Maycomb society in To kill a mocking bird?

    This first sentence is suggesting that Maycomb is an old, neglected town. According to our knowledge, in 1929, the Wall Street crash just happened and people were suffering from the great depression. Lee is preparing us for a place with not much progression. The negative dictions in this paragraph ?red slop?,?grass grew on the sidewalks?, ?the court house sagged in the square?, ?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? and ? men?s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning? are evidences of a town which was struggling because of lack of funding.

    • Word count: 1825
  4. The Importance of the Minor Characters in "To Kill a Mockingbird".

    One of the many minor characters that are featured within the pages of ?To Kill A Mockingbird? is Mrs Dubose, a mean spirited misunderstood old lady, who has lived through a lot within the small county of Maycomb. She is a very complex and difficult character to understand and interpret and the views in which she espouses could be seen as primitive and racist. She is dying, and attempting to free herself from a morphine addiction before she does so.

    • Word count: 1531
  5. Show To What Extent You Agree That Racial Prejudice Is Lessening In Maycomb

    the ?disgrace of Maycomb? and feel they need to cling onto the one piece of respectability they have: their skin colour in order to convince themselves and others that there are people even lower than them. Their racism is due to their lack of enlightenment and they will never change as ignorance breeds ignorance so it seems that some people in Maycomb will agree with them and cling onto their racial prejudices. There is a glimmer of hope amidst the racial prejudice against Tom when Link Deas interrupts court proceedings.

    • Word count: 1250
  6. Show To What Extent Scout Matures And Learns Important Lessons About Life

    She is intelligent enough to take heed of this advice and starts to act more kindly towards her teacher. She also discovers that life is not fair. It becomes clearer to her why some people are treated differently than others and that ?sometimes it?s better to bend the law? because if it wasn?t, then innocent people would suffer. It shows that she is growing more mature as she is able to understand something that had baffled her for a while. We are led to believe that Scout is older and wiser than her years when we see how Atticus uses complicated lawyer terms when he talks to her.

    • Word count: 1467
  7. Theme of Education Analysed in "To Kill A Mockingbird"

    This, in turn affects Scout more than anyone in her class as she is already literate. The restriction, at which Scout is presented with, causes her to become distressed and out of place; the school system is flawed and ridiculous in the opinion of both Scout and her brother who knows already about the ?Dewey Decimal System?. Scout reacts to Jem; to the fact that Miss Caroline orders her to tell her father to stop teaching her to read, ?that damn lady says Atticus? been teaching me to read and for him to stop it?. This use of the word ?damn? shows that Scout is being assertive about the situation and that she finds the situation deeply unfathomable.

    • Word count: 1434
  8. Is Atticus Finch a good father?

    It was at this time that coloured people and white people would never mix and the Ku Klux Klan was wreaking devastation. Also at this time America was crippled by a great economic depression. Following the Wall Street Crash (known as Black Tuesday) unemployment rates in America rose to 25%, most notably, farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by up to 60%. In spite of the many adversities faced by the population of America during the 1920?s and 1930?s, Atticus intended his children to have the best start in life.

    • Word count: 1743
  9. To Kill a Mockingbird. How does Harper Lee present and develop the idea of real courage?

    There is also a foremost dissimilarity between the physical and moral courage. Initially, Courage is shown to be physical. Jem likes playing football and is annoyed Atticus does not. Scout is revealed as a strong girl who beats up boys. Then Atticus illustrates some kind of physical courage when he shoots the mad dog, but he wants his children to comprehend that Courage is not ?a man with a gun in his hand?. Later on, we witness that ethical Courage is stronger than the physical. On the other hand, Mrs Dubose has a vignette that rids her drug addiction although she is dying.

    • Word count: 1420
  10. How does Harper Lee bring out different aspects of Atticus?

    The metaphor suggests that Atticus believes it in crucial to understand a person before placing judgment ? an aspect crucial to his occupation as a lawyer. The fact that Atticus teaches his youngest daughter the need to be empathetic at such a young age is evident of his values and how important an attribute he believes empathy to be. His ability to put himself in another?s shoes allows him to not only be a good role model for his children, but also for the entire Maycomb community.

    • Word count: 1581
  11. How is the idea of prejudice shown in chapter 2-3 in To Kill A Mockingbird

    Scout at first sees Calpurnia less as a human being and more as a force of nature that she runs up against often. Scout thinks that Calpurnia wins their arguments due to the fact that she has Atticus on her side and also that she is too stubborn to admit defeat, ?Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side?. She sees Calpurnia as too strict and complains about how the housekeeper treats her; ??In Calpurnia?s teaching, there was no sentimentality; I seldom pleased her and she seldom rewarded me?? However during chapter 3, Scout?s view of Calpurnia is altered considerably; ??Calpurnia bent down and kissed me.

    • Word count: 1066
  12. How does Harper Lee make the trial scene dramatically effective in the novel To Kill A Mockingbird?

    By presenting Tom in such a way causes the reader to feel sympathy for Tom. This together is effective because throughout the scene we are able to compare Tom Robinson and Bob Ewell, which helps us to understand each character and which gives a bigger insight to what is going on. If you ever read a book and you do not know someone?s background or don?t have any information about the character it is very difficult to get into because you do not really know what the character is like, or the characters you like or dislike, so Harper Lee does very well in presenting each character individually and contrasting them to another character.

    • Word count: 1317
  13. How does Harper Lee increase the tension over the trial in chapter 15?

    Also, making things stranger, Mr Underwood makes an appearance, and Mr Underwood ?had no use for any organisation but The Maycomb Tribune? Something must have been up to haul Mr Underwood out?. This statement clearly tells us that there must be something going on we do not know about and it is serious enough that Mr Heck Tate and Mr Underwood have to visit church. Atticus says that Tom Robinson was moved to the Maycomb county jail, but then he says to himself that ?If they?d kept him there in the first place there wouldn?t have been any fuss?, this sounds as though he is annoyed, but also that something happened.

    • Word count: 1255
  14. To Kill A Mockingbird - How does Harper Lee create mood and atmosphere in the trial scene?

    is a sense of irony, in that the men, who are focused on lynching Tom Robinson, only talk in whispers once they have been told by Atticus that Tom ?is sleeping?. An additional line, which evokes a mood of fear, is when Scout makes her way through the mob to find Atticus, and sees Atticus? reaction: ?A flash of plain fear?? Atticus, who is a normally calm and rational man, is seldom seen displaying such emotion, which shows how the mob had the ability to intimidate.

    • Word count: 1626
  15. How does Harper Lee explore the themes of empathy and tolerance in Chapter 3 of To Kill a Mockingbird'?

    Jem?s mature development is also highlighted superior to Scout?s when he asks her to stop hurting Walter, where he states ?You?re bigger than he is?. This mature and empathetic comment highlights Jem?s growth to aspire to be like his father, Atticus. Furthermore, Atticus displays his empathetic nature when talking to Walter at the dinner table. This is shown through the quote ?He and Atticus talked together like to men, to the wonderment of Jem and me. Atticus was expounding upon farm problems??.

    • Word count: 1543
  16. How does Harper Lee use details in the passage to show the reader what Maycomb is like in Chapter 1?

    The sentence ?a day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer? shows the reader even time was drawn-out here, and life would have to be very tedious to wish there were less hours in a day. The heat may be another cause of the pessimistic feel of Maycomb; in the clause ?mens stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning?, the contrast between ?stiff? and ?wilted? shows the reader that the heat is powerful and controlling, capable of mild forms of destruction and decreasing the speed of activities, typical of the Alabama area.

    • Word count: 1232
  17. Techniques and Themes in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

    that destroys Miss Maudie?s house ? not only to make the book more interesting, but also to emphasise the drama and to add to the sense of atmosphere. They are all so out of place, that in the end, these elements all add together to heavily foreshadow the dark events surrounding and following Tom Robinson?s trial. They also unfortunately portray Maycomb as an unusually busy place (we do not see it as it normally is, apart from in the introduction), meaning that the town does have a slightly unrealistic dimension to it.

    • Word count: 1236

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