Elizabeth Adeniran TKAMB COURSEWORK
To Kill a Mockingbird
The novel as a whole seems to be a reliable and unexaggerated portrait of southern American’s prejudice. It implies that society disciplines children into being discriminative by pointing out that when people are treated unfairly “only the children weep.” The book is very persuasive due to Lee's implications about society. She never directly attacks it but still manages to change the way the reader sees aspects of society and consider his own prejudices.
In the novel, there are references to real life events that were happening at the time. For example, in 1930's sharecropping began in order to reconstruct the society after the civil war between the north and south, people such as The Cunninghams were victims of sharecropping, that is why they were poor. The cause of the war was to abolish slavery in the south, the south lost the war, but still believed black people were unequal to white people, so the segregation law was brought forward, i.e. white people and black people living in different settlements in a town. This did not please many black people, civil rights activists like Malcolm. X and Martin Luther King fought for black people’s freedom. Malcolm X was assassinated, but Martin Luther King continued the fight until something was done.
Many people found the book shocking, as a white woman who was openly opposed to the way black people were treated wrote it. The most important theme in the novel is prejudice, and it occurs in many different forms throughout the novel. The book is primarily about the way we treat those who are different to us, not only in race but also in lifestyle, such as Boo Radley and Mr Dolphus Raymond, they are outcasts because they choose to live their lives differently. Mrs Maudie is also an example of a victim of prejudice as shown in the book she was a woman (sexism) in society, also religion prejudice shown towards her from the foot washing Baptist.
The people of Monroeville and other places in southern American districts would have recognised themselves and can identify the part that they played in the society. This illustrates the connection between the society in the 1930s and the fictional narrative. The foundation of the novel is based on Lee’s semi-autobiography. Having the book so accurate, means she can then hit the reader with more impact and can express her views on prejudice and discrimination with stronger force and more focus. She was writing about cultural events and things that only appeared in the news. She was saying where she stood in the civil rights argument.
Originally, the book was written in the 1960’s, but was set in the 1930’s. Harper Lee interrelated Maycomb with her hometown Monroeville, Alabama, Scout perhaps represents author, and Lee’s father was a lawyer by profession. This gave her the upper hand because she knew the society very well. The Tom Robinson’s trial was based on the 'Scottsboro trials' of 1931, where nine black males were charged with raping two white girls. Much like the fictional trial of Tom Robinson, hordes of white villagers gathered to watch the fate of the boys, who, all except one, were given death sentences by the all white jury. All the boys eventually escaped state execution, but the event was typical of its time due to high rate of racism at the time.
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In chapter XI, we are introduced to one of Lee’s main character.Mrs. Dubose. A woman, who at that time would be dealing with another form of prejudice Sexism, Mrs. Dubose, was prejudicial mainly towards Atticus because of his dealings with the Tom Robinson’s case; she looked down on the family and was discriminative towards them. “Not only a finch waiting on tables but, one in the court house lawing for niggers”. She was not only prejudicial towards Atticus’s family but also towards black people. Ironically, her house cleaner that looks after her is also black.
At the end of chapter XI, our opinions of her changed because she showed a lot of courage and we feel sympathy for her; but at the beginning, her character is racist, unkind, and prejudicial. “Your father is no better than the niggers and trash he works for”. To Jem and Scout she was never a nice person, mainly because of the things she said about their family and things she said to them. “Where are you two going at this time of day? She shouted playing hooky”. She is stereotyping the children saying that they are up to no good. She is being ignorant to them.
Even her house shows negatives which portrays the type of person she is, “it’s all dark and creepy”. There are shadows and things on the ceilings”. Her house portrays her because the children don’t like her and are scared of her. Atticus at the end of the chapter is teaching the kids a lesson about courage, which is what Mrs. Dubose had when she was dealing with her addiction, because she was trying to get off morphine “she was too contrary”. Atticus and Jessie (the maid) were the two people who showed tolerance towards Mrs. Dubose. Although Mrs. Dubose was racist, Jessie still took good care of her “it’s time for her medicine”. Jessie took care of her despite her faults. Atticus knew Mrs. Dubose would die anytime soon, that’s why he told Jem to go and read to her, distract her from her addiction “I’d have made you go read to her anyway. It may have been some distraction”, Atticus like Jessie never cared what Mrs. Dubose said about him he still showed tolerance towards her because he knew she was showing courage. In addition, to help his kids, understand what courage is and prepare them for what will happen next in Part 2. After us, readers learnt about this we now feel sympathy for her, because of what she was going through.
Overcoming prejudice takes courage because it often involves conquering your own fear. Throughout part two this is shown.
The lynch mob are similar to the KKK(Ku Klux Klan)group formed in 1866, they took the law into their own hands, and never cared what they did as long as they got rid of the black people from their society, they were a Racist group, The lynch mob were about to do the same thing. Atticus is the most tolerance person in the novel, his character portrays someone who is always seeks for right, he likes to see the good in people no matter who they were “no we don’t have that mobs and nonsense in Maycomb”. Atticus was wrong when he discovered he had to go and defend Tom Robinson from the mobs that were going to kill him along side Mr. Underwood. The mobs believed killing Tom would make things easier around Maycomb and there would be no court case.
As I said previously courage is needed to overcome prejudice and that is what Atticus did when he went to court to fight for Tom Robinson. Before hand, he knew he could not win the case, “it’s when you know you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what”, but he still had the courage to go into the courtroom to defend him, despite what people had said about him.
In this chapter we learn that Mr. Cunningham was part of the lynch mob but Atticus still failed to see the wrong in people: “Mr. Cunningham’s is basically a good man,’ he said, ‘he just has his blind spots along with the rest of us”. Atticus told this to his children, who were not convinced with what he said. “Don’t call that a blind spot he’da killed you last night when he first went there”, Mr. Ewell nearly killed his children, when Atticus repeatedly made the same mistake.
If it were not for Scout, Atticus and Tom Robinson would be dead in the lynch mob attack in chapter XV, “you children made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute”. Atticus in part one said to Scout that you never know a man until you walk around in his skin. This was what the children made Mr. Cunningham realize, and stopped him from killing Tom.
Atticus and Mr. Underwood were prepared to defend Tom; although Mr. Underwood was racist he was still tolerance towards Tom “he despises negroes”. Mr. Underwood put aside his racial prejudice and wanted to do what was right even if it meant he had to kill someone. “A double-barrelled shotgun was leaning out his window”. He was going to shoot the mob if things got out of hand. Atticus once again showing tolerance towards Tom, he was showing courage by standing up the mob, to defend Tom. Harper Lee is using the characters in the novel like Atticus to put across what she thinks about prejudice and racism. Through Atticus, she is saying she will stand up for the rights of black people, just as Atticus was doing in this chapter.
The first half of the novel is mainly dedicated to the story of Arthur 'Boo' Boo Radley a recluse, who hasn't left his house since his father promised a judge, who was prosecuting a young Boo that he would make sure Boo didn't get into any more trouble. This deviation from what Maycomb society considers normal, causes Boo to achieve mythical status among the locals. Jem and Scout, they were not the only ones who preoccupied themselves with the myth of Maycomb (Boo). The adults such as Stephanie Crawford also showed interest in Boo, Jem got most of his rumours from her. “Jem received most of his information form Stephanie Crawford.” This shows that prejudice does not come from kids, but is passed onto them. But as Jem and Scout grow they soon make up their own minds and start to understand Boo Radley’s behaviour more but until then they still showed prejudice towards Boo Radley.
This is demonstrated when Jem gives Scout and Dill what they think is a reasonable description of Boo, and says that he “dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch', and 'his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time”.
We find near the end of the novel that the reason Boo chooses to live such a secluded life is because he does not wish to endure or be forced to accept society's unfair and unjust beliefs. He will not associate with people on their terms if their terms result in the unfair treatment of a class of society. It is primarily for this reason that Boo is seen as a mockingbird; he will not accept the unfair and immoral attitudes of those around him and so secludes himself from them.
The reader, although introduced to Boo through gossip about his character, does not actually meet him until the very end of the novel when he saves Jem’s life and kills Mr Ewell, who was on the verge of killing Jem. This makes Boo a very strong person, in that he chose to come out of solitude to save the life of a boy that he does not know. This tells us something about Boo's morals. The reason that this event makes Boo strong is that he defied his own principals to save the life of someone possibly more innocent and moral than himself. The fact that Boo was willing to come out of hiding in order to save Jem tells that Boo truly is a mockingbird.
Dill shows tolerance towards Boo from the beginning, trying to get him out of the house, so he could understand him more “Dill gave us the idea of getting Boo Radley out of the house.” He knew the only way he could get to know Boo is by getting him out of the house, also to teach him how to be normal.
This indicates that Dill is more concerned about the reasons behind Boo's behaviours than just the behaviour itself, and so allows us to conclude that he is more open and accepting than most of society. This illustrates that one of the principals in creating a fair view is to retain innocence and purity, as can be seen in children. He also shows this type of tolerance in the court when he finds Mr Gilmer been rude to Tom, Because of his colour “the way that man called him boy and sneered at him”. Dill at the beginning until the end of the book is one of the most tolerant children in the novel; he does not believe Tom should be treated differently. After all Atticus treats everyone the same. That is how he wants things to be so does Harper Lee, who believes everyone should be treated equally. The fight for full equal rights continued after the novel was published. Harper Lee is one of those people who was fighting for equal rights but did it in a different way by writing this controversial novel.
The Boo Radley story demonstrates how, in a small town like Maycomb, anyone who differs from the expected patterns of behaviour is likely to become the victim of prejudice. Jem explains to Scout “our kind of folks don’t like the Cunninghams, the Cunninghams don’t like the Ewells, and the Ewells hate and despise the coloured folks”. Many people in Maycomb all differ from each other and because of this differences prejudice is developed towards them. This is also social prejudice.
Ms Maudie’s character grows flowers in her garden, this says some thing about her; that she is a decent person, and likes to express herself. She deals with religious prejudice from the foot washing Baptists who believe differently from her, and then concludes that she is wrong because she does not practice her religion the same way as them. “He that cometh in vanity departeth in darkness!” They think she is wrong for not reading her bible all the time and not praying inside.
She is not the only one who deals with religious prejudice; Jem and Scout also deal with this type of prejudice from Lula when they went to calpurnia’s church. “You ain't got no business bringin' white chillun here- they got their church, we got our'n.” She believes segregation in the community is better than everyone been equal; she wants the white stay in their own settlement and black in theirs. Harper Lee includes Lula in the novel because; she wants to show that prejudice goes both ways.
Prejudice is the most important issue raised in Harper Lee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. The novel deals with different types of prejudice, instigators of prejudice (Bob Ewell, Mrs. Merriweather), victims of prejudice (Tom Robinson, Boo Radley), and perhaps a way forward from prejudice (Atticus, Miss Maudie). The novel also gives you insight into the injustices going on through the world today. Harper Lee conveys her views on prejudice very carefully and effectively. Her novel is a powerful insight on how prejudice affects everybody in the world.
It shows how an individual's action like Atticus and Miss Maudie can make more of a difference and through this Scout learns how to cope with it herself. The book educates about prejudice, Scout and Jem start with not recognizing prejudice at the beginning of the book and then learning about prejudiced people in the community that they live in. They then learn how to cope with and occasionally combat it.
The book also teaches the reader empathy by showing how Scout and Jem are taught it. Atticus throughout the book teaches it to his children and says 'You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them´ this is what Atticus tells his children. It is a good moral to live by. Also when he teaches his children about courage through Mrs. Dubose “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hands`. It’s when you know you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what”. Atticus lived by his words as he went through with the court case.
The Mockingbird Motif arises four times, first when Atticus gives Jem and Scout the rifles and urges them not to shoot mockingbirds. “it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, all they do is sing”. Second, when Mr. Underwood writes about Tom Robinson's death in his column. Third, a mockingbird singing right before Scout and Jem are attacked by Bob Ewell. Finally, when Scout agrees with Atticus that prosecuting Boo for Ewell's murder would be like killing a Mockingbird. Overall, the Mockingbird motif stands against, prejudice, racism and segregation. The idea behind the book is to let people especially its main audience Middle class white people, learn more about prejudice and racism and learn how to deal with it in their society, also, to be aware of it, because it is going on everyday in different forms as shown in the novel.
It is obvious that Lee's intention for this book was to change the racist ideas she discusses. I think she achieved this because it is difficult, as a reader not to look at how one treats others and question ones own morality. Although it was clearly relevant to the changing society of the 1960's, it is still relevant today because, however much we try to deny it society will always be unfairly prejudiced against a particular group of people. The novel also makes the reader question how we teach children to treat others and pass our prejudices onto the next generation. I think that "To Kill a Mockingbird" has changed and will continue change the way we look at other people, for the better and therefore I consider it a timeless classic.
However, Harper Lee does not suggest that there is a quick solution to prejudice, as Miss Maudie says in the book, 'baby steps' must be taken, before you can cure the world of prejudice.