Why did Harper Lee choose to have a child narrator in, 'To Kill a Mockingbird?'

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Why did Harper Lee choose to have a child narrator in, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird?’

Harper Lee grew up in Alabama in the 1930s, and witnessed a great deal of racism around her as she grew up. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is also set in 1930, and contains a child narrator, in the form of Scout, and therefore the racial divisions and conflict Harper Lee witnessed may be directly represented by those seen by Scout. Indeed, the Scottsboro incident of 1931 where five black men were wrongly accused of raping two white women on a train, and the passions that were subsequently aroused may have had a bearing on her depiction of the ordeal suffered by Tom Robinson.

The civil rights movement, which attempted to break the pattern of racially segregated public facilities in the South through the application of non-violent protest was well underway at the time of publication of the book in 1960, making racism a prominent and inflammatory issue at the time. For this reason a child narrator may have been used as a means of deflecting any possible controversy leading to censorship, in that those who disagreed with integration and other contentious themes in the book were able to discount any opposing views as childish naivety. Also by setting the book in the 1930s the message would not have seemed as direct for the readers of the 1960s and the book would not have been seen as inflammatory.


The severe segregation that was present in the book was an aftermath of the American Civil war which took place from 1861-1865 which was a war between the Southern and the Northern States of America resulting in the abolition of slavery. However, In 1877, the white South effectively conceded national power to the Republican Party, but gained the right to rule their own states. Therefore, blacks then faced a poor, rigidly segregated life in the South where they were victims of racism and the civil war did not raise blacks to a position of equality with whites. These harsh realities of segregation are realised by Scout, who hears Calpurnia being told: “You ain’t got no business bringing white chillun here- they got their church, we got our’n.”

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By 1877 these Southern Democrats wanted to reverse black advances made during Reconstruction. To that end, they began to pass local and state laws that specified certain places and facilities “For Whites Only” and others for “Coloured.” Blacks also had separate schools which were inferior to those of whites and meant that they could not get a good education. The fact that the two communities are strictly separated in this way means that they cannot learn about their common similarities, and instead of understanding, suspicion and mistrust are cultivated in its place. We see how the prejudices begin from ...

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