24th August 2017

To Kill A Mockingbird 1

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD ESSAY

Analyse how supposedly insignificant events or details revealed one or more significant themes.

Introduction

  • Fear of the unknown
  • Walking around in someone else’s shoes
  • The quintessential goodness of some- good verses evil

Paragraph 1

 

  • “Maycomb county had just been told that the only thing to fear was fear itself”
  • The trial; fear of judgement, fear of change, fear of breaking the mould, fear of appearing weak
  • Gone was the terror in my mind of stale whiskey and barnyard smells, of sleepy-eyed sullen men, of a husky voice calling in the night, “Mr. Finch? They gone?” Our nightmare had gone with daylight, everything would come out all right. (17.56)
  • Scout growing up and losing this fear, scout and jem’s maturing and because they were raised right, losing this unfounded fear of the different.
  • Jem said quietly, “My sister ain’t dirty and I ain’t scared of you,” although I noticed his knees shaking. (11.78)
  • The church, lula, and her difference with scout and jem.
  • FDR- other things that he’s said
  • Fear of breaking the code- ‘beating mayella’

Paragraph 2

  • “Until you climb inside their shoes and walk around in it”
  • Scout learns to have empathy for others, by the end of the book she understands what people are thinking

Paragraph 3

  • “Atticus is a gentleman, just like me”
  • The dog
  • Bravery

 

Spit, gun, not man with gun

Another message that is prominent in To Kill a Mockingbird is the destruction of innocence in Jem and Scout, in the beginning of the novel and they labour under the illusion that everybody, especially adults are essentially good.

an example of where this doesn’t happen is in Lula,  black women who is unhappy with the children coming to the first purchase church

This entire anomaly can be summed up by one the wisest fictional figures of the modern world Yoda, who once told Anakin Skywalker when lecturing him on the dangers of fear; “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

Possible reference to salem/ crucible

To Kill A Mockingbird

 

The only novel ever released by author Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of the most famous discourses on race relations between African Americans and White Americans, in the 20th century. It is told from the perspective of Scout, a women looking back on her younger years. She is the Tomboy daughter of Atticus Finch, a kind, wise and patriarchal figure in the novel. The story really begins when Atticus is asked to defend an African American man who has been falsely accused of raping a white women. This situation sets in motion a series of events which provide Scout with revelation. She and her older brother, Jem are subject ugly truths and important morals concerning the reality of the world. Lee uses an array of characters and small but immensely powerful symbols and motifs that are woven together to create an insightful account of a child’s maturation and their perspective of right and wrong; we see the essence of humanity through the eyes of the innocent. This essay  will look to dissect those insignificant events and details, and examine how they work to reveal important themes of the novel.

A prominent theme in this novel is fear, fear of the unknown, of the ‘other’, and more importantly it is about the effect that fear has on people: that is to create a dark and warped version of reality with little people locked up in their houses playing fear monger, destroying the minds of men and allowing the evils of prejudice to poison the communities where it is present. Fear is first presented through Scout’s eyes and her perception of Boo Radley: the Boogie man, the monster under the bed, a Gothic spectrum haunting her childhood thoughts. The seemingly insignificant details of Boo’s life are the subject of Ms Stephanie Crawford’s throw away gossip but we soon learn, he is nothing like her stories suggest; on the contrary, he is merely a broken man, shunned by the world for his claimed monstrosities and denied the right to normality or acceptance. This transformation in Scout’s mind happens slowly. The seemingly insignificant gifts in the tree, the small acts of kindness such as stitching the pants or offering a blanket, all serve to reveal parts of Boo Radley’s personality that would otherwise be unknown to her and through this learning experience, Scout loses her fear; no longer is she consumed by the gossip of Stephanie Crawford or the rumors that other children spin that “Radley Pecans would kill you”, instead she sees the reality of Boo’s painfully shy but harmless being.

 

The events and details between Scout and Boo reflects on a smaller scale the wider fear presented in the book; in the same way that Boo has been shunned, blamed and judged, so has the entire African American race. Both Boo Radley and Tom Robinson were mockingbirds: innocent in essence but the victims of Maycomb’s fear.  This fear was born from ignorance: ignorance of the reality of the complexity of humans, their guilt assumed without real evidence or justification. Atticus states during his defense of Tom that he accuses the jury of being under “the evil assumption—that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings” thus highlighting the idea that the judgements made concerning ‘negroes’ during the trial were not fair ones, but were made on the preconceptions and rumors that plague an entire people. The situation in Maycomb is a largely ironic one, as one of the first lines in the book states that “Maycomb County had just been told that the only thing to fear was fear itself”. This quote is in reference to the inauguration speech of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President had also continued to profess that “– nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” and this statement embodied the problems of the time and the problems explored in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The 1930s were a strange time in America, the Great Depression consumed much of the nation and poverty ran rampant in already affected areas such as the Southern States . In times of pain and fear, often society chooses a person or a group to channel the discord. In the novel, Boo and Tom Robinson are this outlet and they suffer the consequences of Maycomb’s tumult. This concept is one that runs throughout history right up to modern days, especially in such multicultural countries as America. Although racial profiling and prejudice is still very much alive and well in the States, a more global reflection of the situation would be the current Syrian Refugee crisis. Like in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ people’s visions and humanity have been clouded by fear mongering and unjustified hatred.This hatred is often perpetrated by people who are fearful, as well as people who are suffering in terms of housing or employment and therefore fall into the trap of blaming a group of people for these misfortunes. It is still the case that people who live in places such as the ‘rust belt’ of America are likely to be against accepting refugees out of fear despite the reality being that refugees would not harm them or destroy their lives.

 

The Finches are separate from this mindset of fear and blame. Instead of launching into a witch hunt for certain types of people or allowing society’s judgements and prejudices to dictate how they treat people, they have a far more empathetic and humane way of approaching matters. Education is important in the Finch household, as Jem claims Scout had “been reading since she was born.” The Finches include Calpurnia, their Negro Housekeeper, as an esteemed member of the family, treat the poor Cunningham’s with respect and allow Scout to dress the way she wishes. These insignificant details  show the important theme that they are a progressive family, at a juxtaposition with the rest of Maycomb. Atticus teaches both of his children that before judging a person based on what others say or on their skin colour or their class,it is important that Jem and  Scout should first try to understand them on a human level. For instance, in the beginning of the book Atticus is trying to explain to Scout how she shouldn’t go about punching or fighting people. He tells her even if she doesn’t agree with them if she wants to try and understand someone she must “climb inside his skin and walk around in it”. This is a common strain in Atticus’ actions and his teachings and although these messages may seem like the common and insignificant preachings of parents, they grow to reveal a significant theme of difference in the Finch children. In small things such as visiting the First Purchase Church, a house of worship for black members of the community, we see the Finch children living the words of their father. They set aside any prejudices that may have been embedded in them and they bear open minds.  The older that they grow, the more they seem separate from the rest of the town.

 

In the final part of the novel, during the trial of Tom Robinson, the children sit separately from the town, in the raised benches with the black community.  This seemingly insignificant detail represents the far more important theme that the children choose to take the ‘moral high ground’. What differentiates the Finch children from the rest of maycomb is the teachings of Atticus. When Jem doesn’t fight back against the rude and racist Mrs Dubose, it is another example of his father’s teachings coming into action. Although Atticus undoubtedly knows that Mrs Dubose is a racist and cruel woman, he still explains to Jem after she dies that “Mrs Dubose is a morphine addict” and goes on to say that despite her having “her own views about things” she was still the “bravest person (he) ever knew”. In this seemingly insignificant conversation, the theme of empathy is revealed in its purest form: that is to show empathy towards someone who has done you wrong and then being able to forgive them. This idea that in order for the world to move forward, we must learn to forgive the ‘sins’ of before is one that also runs through history. It is extremely prevalent in religion, especially where concepts such as original sin exist. A line in Colossians implores people to  ‘Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.’ The significance of this teaching is that it plays on the most fundamental lines of good and evil, first defining them by being a part of Christianity, an aspect of which is dualism, then by impressing on people that despite this, we have all done wrong, all ‘sinned’ but that this not a reason to hold a grudge or to hate. It aims for those who live by it to understand that humans are not simple nor are they pure, but that in order to co-exist with our fellow man we must first “climb inside his skin and walk around in it”.

 

Another message that is prominent in Atticus’ teachings is the idea that violence does not solve conflict. In the beginning of the novel, Scout appears to possess a penchant for a fight and there are many accounts of Scout ending up in brawls with other school children in order to defend her and her family’s honor. One of the first seemingly insignificant bickerings of a child is when Scout almost beats up a child at school who taunts her saying that “Scout Finch’s Daddy defends niggers’ in reference to him defending Tom Robinson in court. This slight initially sends Scout ballistic, however overall manages to keep her head remembering ‘what Atticus said then dropped” her fists heading her father’s advice to “Try fighting with your head for a change… it’s a good one, even if it does resist learning.” This quote sums up Atticus’ stance on conflict in general. He tries throughout the novel to push the idea that for there to be resolve there must be communication, compromise and dignity when dealing with others. This links back to him prioritising education for Scout and Jem. This moral standing of Atticus is cast into stark view in the seemingly mundane event of the rabid dog. In the middle of the novel, the Finch’s maid Calpurnia spots a rabid dog ambling down the streets, dangerous and sick and the town sheriff calls upon Atticus to kill it as he is the surest shot in town. This comes as a surprise to the Finch children as it seemed to them that their father was essentially physically incapable and Jem especially is in awe of his father’s skills. However, Atticus is almost ashamed with his own performance, and was reluctant to shoot the dog. He explains to Jem later that he wanted his son to know that “courage is not a man with a gun” which outlines his idea that physical violence does not equate to bravery or heroism. This message does seem to get across to the children and both Scout and Jem are able to control their emotions and seek new ways to deal with the discord in their lives of which there is much. Both slip up every now and again, but in essence what they take away is that to be good is not to be a winner or be stronger but to be sound in your morals and good in your heart. This concept is expressed when Jem states that “Atticus is a gentleman, just like me” after the incident with the dog, indicating that his opinion towards his father has changed and through this seeming insignificant realisation for Jem, his father is essentially a great man. The key theme of being able to take the moral high ground is revealed.

 

At odds with the good and brave Atticus, is Bob Ewell, a coward of a man, who most likely beats his children and doesn’t have the courage to face his alcoholism, instead allowing his family to live in turmoil. Although we know that Bob Ewell is essentially ‘bad’ it is small details that set him apart from Atticus so completely that reveal further the theme of morality. Bob Ewell constantly reverts to violence when things are not going his way, the insignificant detail of Bob Ewell spitting in Atticus’ face after the trial, this is a crass and violent action that Atticus only counters by walking away. Although this action appears to be trivial display of Bob Ewell’s crude behavior, it truly helps to define further the divide between the two men and therefore the theme of right and wrong and of bravery and cowardice. It also serves to foreshadow the more significant event of Bob Ewell attacking the children and attempting to hurt them in the climactic . This dualism between Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch is one as old as man, throughout history we have seen those who try to force their will upon others, be it an abusive father beating his children or a dictator subduing an entire country with force, there will alway men like Bob Ewell. However, in the same way, whether it be a man who stands up and speaks for what is right at hearing, even when he knows the odds are against him, or whether it is someone who speaks for an entire people, there will always be those who are willing to fight peacefully for what is right. Essentially, although there will always be men like Bob Ewells and Adolf Hitler: ignorant, hateful and violent, there will also always be men like Atticus Finches and Mahatma Gandhi who are willing to forgive, learn and stand peacefully in the face of ignorance and hatred and use their minds and moralities to create a better world. And this fundamental difference between these two types of men can be summarised in this quote by Mahatma Gandhi that reads “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”.Through a series of seemingly insignificant remittals rather than actions we are shown that  although Atticus will not fight with his hands he is stronger by far and more of a man, than Bob Ewell could ever be.

 

In conclusion, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’s’ main themes of fear, justice and morality are revealed in seemingly insignificant happenings through the children’s eyes. Scout is taught monumental lessons in such as small conversations with her father who acts as a prophet of what is right and just. As the book progresses, Scout learns an outlook on the world by first observing injustice or something she doesn’t understand such as the vilification of Boo Radley or the persecution of Tom Robinson. She often does not at first see what is so wrong, but she then goes to her father who explains to her why, from another person’s perspective this is wrong, she then learns to understand and process this new reality that she has been introduced to. We see Scout and Jem lose a certain innocence throughout the novel, when they realise the sick injustice that has poisoned Maycomb, but in doing so, they gain something far more valuable. By the end of the novel Scout and Jem have grown enough to be able to understand the injustice, acknowledge it, then be able to employ their father’s advice to respond to it. Scout is able to see Boo Radley, truly comprehend him, as a human, her eyes unclouded by fear or presumption. Her brother manages to lay aside his own opinions and view Mrs Dubose as a human, fighting her own terrible battle. And eventually, both children learn to understand their own father’s quintessential goodness in comparison to Bob Ewell’s cowardice and evil. In this way Atticus Finch is the prophet of truth, almost biblical in his teachings and this is reflected by the way his children take his word as gospel.

 

Dara Beattie-Johnson

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