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Examine the writes' presentation of racism and their narrators' courage in the face of adversity in 'Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

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Introduction

Examine the writes' presentation of racism and their narrators' courage in the face of adversity in 'Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and 'To Kill a Mockingbird' In the period prior to the Civil War, enormous divisions had already developed between the northern and the southern states, with the people in the North being more industrialised, believing that slavery was morally wrong. The South however, relied heavily on agriculture, and had black slaves working predominantly on the land. Without them, people in the South feared for their wealth and economy. The civil war ended in 1865 and although slavery was abolished and slaves were made free men, resentment was still present amongst whites in the South, who largely viewed blacks as ill educated with low morals and hardly human at all. These views still exist although it is less apparent than in the previous eras. Racism is a potent theme around which both novels revolve. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is set in a small town in Alabama called Maycomb in the Southern States of America. Although it is fictitious, it is based on Harper Lee's home town in Monroeville. This novel is written in the late 1950s though set in the era of 1933-5. The story is narrated by Scout and is about one man, a lawyer, trying to jolt his society out of this isolationist mentality and towards recognising that Blacks are humans, who deserve equal opportunities as Whites as he defends an innocent black man, charged with the rape of a white girl. "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" is also set in 1933 in the Southern State of Mississippi. Here the black children of the Logan family, especially Cassie who is the narrator, are growing up during the hard times in a state where the black community is already subject to extreme racist attitudes. In the course of the story we see how Cassie begins to reach a painful understanding as she witnesses the hatred and destruction around her and learns when it is important to fight for a principle, even if it brings terrible hardships. ...read more.

Middle

We learn of the importance of superiority to the whites and perhaps it is the reason behind some racist attitudes. After all these incidents, we learn that both Stacey and Big Ma have to humble themselves in front of a White person and Cassie is compelled to do the same in fear of getting hurt. The final chapters of the story are filled with racism and violence. After T.J. has been caught stealing with the Simms brothers, we witness the savage and brutal assault on T.J. and his family through Cassie's young eyes. She says: 'Mr and Mrs Avery are dragged savagely by their feet from the house. The Avery girls are thrown through the open windows. The older girls, attempting to gather the younger children to them, are slapped back and spit upon. Then quiet, gentle Claude is hauled out, knocked to the ground and kicked.' We see yet again the dangers of the night men and the effects of racial prejudice. Even if T.J. had not been stealing, it is assumed that he has committed the crime as he is seen as one of the black people with low morals, thus he is punished, but it was one for the whole family, even the innocent. It teaches other blacks not to 'step out of line' and that they should be prepared to suffer the consequences of their actions if they do. Mrs Barnett's conviction that all three boys are black even though R.W. and Melvin had their faces hidden under stockings says a great deal about the extent of her prejudice. She is a microcosm of the 1930s' white society, reflecting the severe prejudices shown towards blacks. At the end of the novel, the two communities are united in their fight against the fire, Mr Lanier and Mr Simms 'each oblivious of the other'. The need of Whites to overpower the Blacks is overridden by a stronger need- to douse the flames as they are all dependant on the cotton crops for their livelihoods. ...read more.

Conclusion

Stacey, like Boo, even though knowing he is attacking Whites, has enough courage to seek justice. He has the courage to stand up for what he believes and it is that that made them successful. Mama also has the courage to teach her own version of American history, not what appears in the approved county textbooks, even though it eventually leads to her dismissal. Her courage continues however and it is she who encourages a boycott of the Wallace store, despite knowing that consequences could be immense. Papa is prepared to stand against Mr Granger and to risk his life to prevent a lynching taking place. The enormity of his courage is illustrated when he sacrifices a quarter of his land, burning up the cotton crop in his efforts to save T.J.. This act is not easy to perform but with great intrepidity and presence of mind, Papa is able to diffuse the potentially tragic situation that befalls T.J.. Papa is attempting to seek justice for T.J.. Like Atticus, he has the intention to combat prejudice. Thus he plucks up his courage to set an example. Mildred Taylor and Harper Lee have both created very powerful stories. Whilst there are moments of warmth, security and love within the families, there are also terrifying times of fear, violence and destruction not only in blacks but which whites also have to endure in their struggle for survival. Through "To Kill a Mockingbird", Harper Lee demonstrates the presence of racial discrimination amongst both black and white members of a community. Through their words, we see how life was unfair and unequal for many, and how they gathered enough courage and moral tolerance to face the racist attitudes and bigotry that have been inflicted against them. Today, prejudice is still a lingering issue of everyday life, but with time, it has become much easier and opposed more often. There are still people who are striving for equality, however, and therefore by reading these books, we learn to follow the characters' examples and aim to eliminate racism and discrimination. Stephanie Poon ...read more.

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