AKE 108 (01)
Res. Assist. Bülent Ayy?ld?z
May 30, 2018
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel, written by Harper Lee and it deals with the subjects of race, class and gender roles. The novel is set in the small, rural town of Maycomb, Alabama, in 1930 which was the time of severe discrimination. The narrator in the novel is called Scout Finch, and the story is told from the perspective of her. Since she is a child, she is, naturally, prone to ask questions about why whites treat blacks the way they do. Scout wants to understand what racism means and how it affects the people in her life. The attitude of racist people towards black people in her town reflects rest of the nation. Most of the people are racist and discriminatory. They have cruel feelings and judgments about black people in the town. The main theme of the novel is prejudice and forms of prejudice including racism, classism, and sexism are portrayed by Maycomb’s citizens.
Abraham Joshua Herschel, a Polish-born American rabbi, said “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” There is no use in hating black people.
Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author once said “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” This quote shows the destruction of 1930s’ occured by the racist thought. Racism and its destruction never ceased during this time, it kept moving. Therefore, the 1930s’ racial discrimination made it a huge struggle for the African Americans in their daily life. There was no justice for a black man in 1930s’ Alabama town as well. In the book, almost every character is either exposed to prejudice directly or involved in a situation that contains prejudice. For instance, Tom Robinson who is a kind person, helps Mayella, daughter of a racist father, whenever she needed help (Lee, 197). Scout got to know Tom a better than before and comes out saying to his dad that Tom was a kind and nice guy (281). How Tom helps Mayella is that he fixes a door and chifferobe for her. He feels sorry for her and kindly helps her no matter what needs to be fixed. Tom being so kind to a white person surprised others because usually black people are not so kind and caring for a white person like Mayella. Tom helps Mayella without hesitation because he knows that no one is available to help Mayella and he feels bad about that. The main emotion in this is Tom is feeling sorry for Mayella that no one is helping her. On the other hand, others view him as a guy who committed a crime of raping Mayella and physically harassing her (185). Since this got turned into a court case. Tom Robinson in the story during his trial is a character versus society conflict because usually the white people would side with the white and the black people would side with the black people. In this case, the jury is all white people that believe Tom is guilty. They believe that Tom is guilty for his crime of raping and harassing Mayella. Using the evidence provided, Tom has to try and prove that he is innocent in this crime and should be free. During this time, there is tons of segmentation going on. In this case, it is a black versus white, or Tom Robinson versus the whites (203). Most of the whites are going to be siding with the whites no matter what type of evidence is presented. They know that black people like Tom is going to lose. Even though Atticus’s evidence was pretty powerful, it will not change the fact that the jury, who consist of white people, will change their relationship with the blacks and make it a fair trial. During the time of the book, it was the time of 1930s’ when separation and racism was happening. When it did come to the jury to decide if Tom is guilty or not, the whole jury thought Tom was guilty even though the evidence provided was good enough to say Tom is innocent (211). Judge Taylor reads Tom’s guilty verdict towards the end of Chapter 21. Immediately before reading the verdict, Scout notices that the jury refuses to look at Tom Robinson. Sheriff Tate then hands Judge Taylor a piece of paper with the jury’s final decision written on it. Judge Taylor then reads the verdict by saying, “Guilty…guilty…guilty…guilty…” (233). Scout says that each “guilty” is a “separate stab” between Jem’s shoulders. Jem and other children lose In the end, Tom lost the battle against society because of his color.
In addition, what Calpurnia experienced in the book is another example of racial prejudice. Calpurnia is the faithful housekeeper for Finch family. She came in to help Atticus with his children, Scout and Jem, after the death of their mother. Calpurnia is a black woman and a mother figure to Atticus’ children, but Aunt Alexandra thinks she is not a good role model for Scout and asked Atticus to tell Calpurnia that there is no need for her to remain in the house anymore. Knowing her good influence on his children, Atticus got very angry with his sister and told her that Calpurnia was a member of the family and would not be leaving until she wants to leave. Additionally, Aunt Alexandra feels uncomfortable talking serious matters when Calpurnia is around.
The most racist person in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ would be Bob Ewell. He shows how racist he can be during the trial of Tom Robinson. During his testimony against Tom Robinson he says, “I’ve asked the county for fifteen years to clean out that nest down yonder, they’re dangerous to live around sides devaluing my property”(175). Bob Ewell shows what he feels towards negroes like Tom Robinson, in that he considers them trash, dirty, useless and should be cleared out of Maycomb. Bob Ewell also accuses the negroes of being dangerous to the Maycomb folks as they would steal their property. After the trial and Tom Robinson’s death, Bob Ewell holds grudges on Atticus, Judge Taylor and, for no reason, Tom’s wife Helen. He attempts Christian Doma to rob Judge Taylor and fails, he threatens to ‘chunk’ Helen. What he attempts to do to Atticus just for defending Tom Robinson is kill his kids, Scout and Jem, but in the end the life that is taken is of his own. Bob Ewell’s hate for blacks lead to his own death, that’s how far he was willing to go. Bob Ewell may be the worst when it comes to racism on the white side, but there is another side of that scale and it is best shown in Lula. The church that Calpurnia and Lula attend is called the First Purchase Church, only black people are allowed to attend the church. When Calpurnia brought Jem and Scout to the First Purchase church, Lula stopped them after they walked in and told Calpurnia, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white children he’re – they got their church and we ours'”(119). Lula’s eaction to the white children can be viewed as her acceptance of the town’s view that black people should be segregated. Dill, Scout, and Jem are not racist but they do talk about the biracial children in town. Jem talks about the biracial children when he says that “colored folks won’t have’em because they’re half white: white folks won’t have them because they’re half black”(183). This shows the social racism in the town of Maycomb. Everyone has heard the quote, “All men are created equal. That has not stopped the discrimination against any group of people right up to this very moment. The group of people that is treated most unequally is made up of biracial children and teens. There are many themes in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, racial prejudice being the most outstanding. It is shown clearly in Bob Ewell at the time of Tom Robinson’s trial, Lula at the First Purchase church, and during the scene when Scout, Jem, and Dill are talking about the biracial children in Maycomb.
There are many different social classes in “To Kill A Mockingbird.” The factors that separate people into these social classes are their skin color and their occupation. For example, Atticus, Scout, and Jem are part of the highest social class. They are part of this social class because Atticus is a lawyer, which makes him a highly respected person in the community. He is also white, which, at that time was a very important factor that chose who belonged in what social class. Scout and Jem are his children and therefore are also part of this social class.
Another person in this same social class is Miss Maudie Atkinson. She grew up with the Finch’s and is an old friend of theirs. She is now Atticus’s neighbor and is loved by his children. Aunt Alexandra is also part if this because she is known as the “perfect example of what a southern lady should act like.” She is part of the Finch’s family and is highly respected by the community. One of the very important rules of belonging in this social class is to treat white people with lesser status kindly. It is an unwritten rule that white people with a higher social class than other white people must be hospitable and treat them with respect. An example of this is when Walter Cunningham is invited by Jem to come over for dinner. When Scout notices Walter using a lot of gravy during dinner she is rude to him and as a result is punished by Calpurnia. The reason for this is because Walter is of a lower class and was invited to eat with Atticus and his family. As a result, it is rude not to let him do and eat what he wants to.
An example of a person who is in the next social class is Mrs. DuBose. She is a nasty women and one of the factors that hints that she is not part of the higher social class is the way she talks to her community members. She is supposed to be kind and respectful to the white people of Maycomb, like Jem. Even though she is nice to Atticus, she talks badly about him behind his back. That is not a quality that a person of a high status would have. Therefore, she isn’t part of that social class. The next social class is the poor, yet respectable white people. The Cunningham’s are in this class because even though they are poor, they manage to live their life by borrowing money and paying back the money borrowed with items from the farm instead of money. Under them are the Ewell’s, who are poor and disgusting. They are completely rude and so are their children, but they are still in a higher social class than black people since they are white. The next social class is wealthy or middle-class black people. Calpurnia is a part of this class and only is for the reason that she is black. She has all the qualities of a good southern lady, and has perfect manners. She is respected and in good relations with the Finch family. Calpurnia would be in the same social class as Atticus Finch if she weren’t black. Another person who is in this class is Reverend Sykes. He met Jem and Scout in church and showed how much he respected them and their father for defending the Tom Robinson case. He welcomed them and was very friendly, therefore in the same class as Calpurnia. The last social class is the poor and black people. Lula is in this social class. She is disgraceful to the black people and her motto is that the black people should stick to own community and the white should stay with there’s. She was harsh and shallow to someone who is of her kind (Calpurnia) and she was harsh to two innocent kids just because they are white. There is a very interesting relationship between the white people and black. The majority of the black people is more mature and has much more class. They accept themselves and their status. They accept how they don’t get credit for all their work. They accept always having the worse of things, like the First Purchase church, which is a very beaten down church. They accept not getting an education with barely any complaints. No matter how much they tolerate, the white people cannot stand them at all and are so afraid of the truth because it means going against a white person’s word. The fact that white people don’t treat white people equally contributes greatly to the way the social classes are separated.
Scout does not conf orm to gender roles, and is upset when she is made to. As she grows up, she has to begin attending the local school. On her first day of school she is forced to wear a dress, much to her displeasure. She feels uncomfortable in it, and unlike herself. However, she has no choice as it was deemed the appropriate clothing for girls. She is always in the company of Jem and Dill, and as the children grow up, she finds herself on the receiving end of comments from the boys such as, “Scout, I’m telling you for the last time, shut your trap or go home-I declare to the lord you’re gettin’ more like a girl everyday”. When she warns her brother against sneaking out at night and accepting foolish dares, he retaliates with comments such as the one above, fueled by gender prejudices insinuating that girls are weak and easily scared. This ensures that she is silent and doesn’t voice any more concerns lest she is forbidden from joining their adventures in the future. Over time, she is distanced from the two boys, who begin to exclude her from their games and spend their time together. This brings her into closer contact with the other strong female character of the book, Miss Maudie Atkinson. Miss Maudie is the Finch’s neighbour, and becomes Scout’s friend when she is left out of games by Jem and Dill. Miss Maudie is continuously optimistic, and sees the bright side of every situation. When her house is half burnt down in a fire, she comments, “Always wanted a smaller house, Jem Finch. Gives me more yard. Just think, I’ll have more room for my azaleas now!” She faces every situation with practicality and unwavering positivity.
When she is insulted by foot-washing Baptists for gardening, she quotes the Bible right back at them and wears a “grin of the uttermost wickedness”. She is a strong female figure Scout respects and trusts for advice, unlike other ladies in the town, who spend their time discussing others’ lives and problems.
Scout confides in her and values her opinions, and Miss Maudie is almost a mother figure in Scout’s life. Scout reflects upon her relationship with Miss Maudie, saying, “She had an acid tongue in her head” but “Jem and I had considerable faith in Miss Maudie” as “she was our friend”.
While being optimistic and kind, Miss Maudie is not afraid to voice her beliefs or move against the tide of popular opinion. At a ladies’ tea, she is upset by the women being intolerant and racist towards their black help, and snaps at one of the women complaining about her cook.
Scout recollects that, “When Miss Maudie was angry her brevity was icy. Something had made her deeply angry, and her grey eyes were as cold as her voice”. Miss Maudie is disgusted by the prejudiced opinions of people, and does not subscribe to them. She also supports Scout and helps her to stand up against forces that try to push Scout into stereotypical assumptions and judgments about others.
In contrast to Miss Maudie, Scout’s Aunt Alexandra represents the ideal Southern family-oriented woman. She is at the other end of the spectrum, with her conventional beliefs and constant disapproval of Scout’s tomboyish behavior. She complains about Scout wearing overalls to Atticus who is frustrated by her frequent criticism, and Scout describes the exchange as “The only time I ever heard Atticus speak sharply to anyone”.
Scout does not understand her Aunt’s obsession with her clothing. Aunt Alexandra repeatedly tells her that she cannot be a lady if she does not dress like one, and that she should engage in more ‘girly’ activities. Aunt Alexandra also says that as a girl, Scout should “be a ray of sunshine” in Atticus’s life, reinforcing the patriarchal expectation that all girls must be positive and happy continuously and brighten up the lives of their husbands or fathers.
She enforces this and tries to get Scout to conform to gender roles despite seeing how resistant she is to them. She takes part in all the ‘right activities’, such as hosting missionary circles, joining clubs and gossiping with a passion. She is portrayed as judgmental and is quick to create prejudices in her mind about others.
Scout reflects up on her Aunt’s attitude and says, “When Aunt Alexandra went to school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not its meaning”. Aunt Alexandra takes it upon herself to exert a ‘feminine influence’ on Scout’s life as she grows, and Scout resents her interference. She does not support or guide Scout as Miss Maudie does, and tries to make her change.
While Scout tries to remain indifferent towards her Aunt and her efforts, at a point in the novel, she begins to respect her. When dealing with a crisis during her ladies’ tea, Aunt Alexandra regains her composure and handles it gracefully, resulting in Scout remarking, “If Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I”.
As we watch Scout mature and gain a deeper understanding of the adult world, we see how her environment influences her opinions. The roles of Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra are the most significant in Scout’s upbringing and perspective of the world. To Kill a Mockingbird covers several themes that are challenging and often uncomfortable to encounter and explore, such as racism and loss of innocence.
FAQ: What is “sexism”?