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To Kill a Mockingbird

Front cover of an edition of To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is a 1960 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. It is a coming-of-age story set in the southern United States during a time when racial discrimination was legal and culturally accepted.

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Courage and bravery

GregoryPeck Mockingbird

Atticus Finch in the film adaption of To Kill a Mockingbird

Courage and bravery is shown in the ways where characters fight for what they believe in against the beliefs of other people. This occurs throughout the entire book. It is shown by most people in some way during the novel. Below follow examples of courage shown by different characters in the book.

Atticus

Atticus shows courage in different forms in the book. Atticus is a dedicated father. Although, it may be argued, Atticus was actually given the case by the court and couldn't have rejected it without being frowned upon by the professional lawyers of Maycomb, he still showed courage when passionately fighting for Tom Robinson, and showing people openly how much he was willing and wanting to fight for Tom Robinson. He stood up against the will and wanting of everyone in Maycomb, and challenged their morals and ethics. During the trial, Atticus challenged the jury's consciences, and tried to show them how there was no basic evidence to prove anything, apart from their racist prejudices, taking the word of a white man above the word of a black man. He fought for Tom Robinson, and fought in a way where he challenged the jury to look at all people as equal, and decide the correct verdict based on what was so obviously in front of them. He was trying to prove to the court and the jury that they were racist, and had to look at the basic evidence, which was minimal anyway.

It is clear that Atticus is probably the main protagonist in the book in the sense that he is always seen to be a morally correct person. Whenever Scout and Jem fall, he manages to bring them up again and correct their faults. He knows what is right, and this is illustrated through the trial.


Scout

Scout shows a huge amount of courage when she stands up against those criticising Atticus. Even though she knows she will get into trouble, she still fights against those who tease her, such as Francis. At first, she cannot let people get away with it. Even though fighting is not good, she shows courage in standing up for herself and everyone she loves. She then learns about a better type of courage where she ignores them and does not fight back, like what she did against Cecil Jacobs. This shows even greater courage as it leads to even more teasing as people started saying she was a wimp. The fact that she punched Francis after walking away from Cecil Jacobs shows that she is human. His criticisms angered her so much that she could not ignore him. Scout is an interesting character because she is possibly the best example of an all-rounded character -In the sense that she has many 'ups and downs'. For example, she shows remarkable calmness when facing Cecil Jacobs, but then shows her normality when she punches Francis. This dramatic difference is interesting, and could lead to many thought-provoking discussional opportunities. Scout, as the narrator of the book, writes as an adult in her childhood self. This portrays Harper Lee's talent very well.

Jem

Throughout the novel, Jem shows huge amounts of courage in the face of the difficult situation his father’s professionalism has put their family in.

One of the many times that Jem displayed huge amounts of courage when he refused to leave his father to the tender mercies of the lynch gang of drunk farmers. He unlike the other children fully understood the situation and knew full well the dangers involved in his staying by Atticus’ side. However he still stood his ground even after the farmers tried to remove him physically and despite his knowledge that the situation could well end with a violent outcome.

He also showed courage when he did not try to fight those who insulted his family with fists and instead he held his emotions in check and withstood their teasing.

When despite all his fear and superstitions about Boo Radley Jem showed courage in running and touching the wall of the Radley household when Dill insulted his honour by calling him a coward about it.

The last example of his courage that I will give is when Jem runs back to help Scout in her fight against Bob Ewell when he attacks them. He knew he stood no chance against the drunk adult but he still came back to try and save his sister, and he succeeded in doing so by buying enough time for help in the form of Arthur Radley.

Mrs Dubose

Courage is doing the right thing for your own self interest and mainly for the interest of all the people around you. Showing courage is a choice a person makes but this choice is normally the harder rather than easier.

Mrs Dubose is an old lady who is a morphine addict which was caused by the pain from her old age. She is Scouts and Jems neighbour and to Scout and Jem, Mrs Dubose is an old wicked lady but what was unknown was that she was a lady struggling against a morphine addiction. At one stage Jem has to go and read to Mrs Dubose which he finds out is actually her therapy to get over this addiction

Mrs Dubose is a very courageous woman, even at her old age, as she tries as hard as she cans to get rid off this addiction and eventually does even though this victory is useless to her because she was soon to die. She also shows courage because she suffered a lot during this stage because her body craved this drug. Her body reached a point where she blacked out; that’s how much he body craved this drug. It was painful for her but she still went through with it.

She did this so she would own nothing to anyone and no one . “Atticus said,’ Just before your escapade she called me to make her will. Dr Reynolds told her she only had a few months left. Her business affairs were in perfect order but she said,”There’s still one thing out of order”.’ ‘What was that?’ Jem was perplexed.

‘She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody. Jem, when you’re as she was, it’s all right to take anything to make it easier, but it wasn’t all right for her. She said she meant to break herself of it before she died, and that’s what she did.’(Extract From To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Pg 117)

Against all the odds Mrs Dubose pulled through this struggle and finished what she started even if it was a useless victory for her which showed courage.

Boo Radley

In the story Boo Radley proved to be both an interesting and intriguing character for Scout, Jem and Dill. Boo was a character who the children perceived to be savage like. He spent his days confined to the space of his home. At the end of the book, Boo contradicts the views placed upon him, by displaying his softer side.

At the time the children do not realise his presence but eventually, they come to understand and know him better, for the person he is.

At the end of the book, when Scout and Jem were coming back from a Halloween party, Bob Ewell jumped out of the bush and began to attack them. Boo Radley arrived on the scene to protect them, and eventually killed bob Ewell in the end.

Boo Radley showed great courage, as he would never normally come out of his house, and this time came out into unknown territory to defend Scout and Jem. Boo showed a great form of courage as he put other people’s problems ahead of his, and went out of his comforts zones to defend them.

Lastly he put his own life at risk by doing this, as Bob Ewell had a knife at the time. He could have died in doing this, but chose to protect Scout and Jem instead. To put your life at risk to protect people you do not know is a very difficult thing to do and therefore shows a whole lot of courage.

Bias and prejudice

Racial prejudice

In the book there are many incidences of bias and prejudice. Contained therein, is the subject of racial prejudice. The Finches live in the Deep South of America which has always been considered a notoriously racist area. This message is conveyed throughout the book. Atticus tries to ignore the aspect of racial prejudice while also quietly condemning it. The black population tends to deal with the problem in the most profitable way which is without aggression.

There are two main scenarios within the book where racism is an underlying theme. During the trial Atticus is appointed to defend Tom Robinson, accused of raping Mayella Ewell. What angers the white community is the general feeling that Atticus is actually going to try to defend Tom. This creates a lot of hatred and confusion among the community aimed at Atticus, Jem and Scout. But the defining moment in the trial regarding racism within Maycomb unfolds during Atticus’ closure speech to the jury. He urges them to look beyond their obvious and ridiculous racial prejudices when making a decision about Tom Robinson. He asks them to make a decision from the evidence provided and not from their own personal agendas.

Calpurnia is the Finch’s black cook. She tends to embrace the children while also disciplining them when necessary. But regardless of her loving, caring and attentive nature, she is still disliked by the white population. Jem and Scout enjoy her company and are thrilled to be invited to Calpurnia’s church. The siblings are instantly accepted into the congregation, underlining the differences between blacks and whites in Maycomb.

The book seldom refers to black hate or remorse aimed at the white community. This is an interesting aspect and sums up the attitude or approach that blacks had to whites in America at that time.

Social prejudice

Prejudice of age and etiquette

Harper Lee deals with biased and prejudice in many different ways. One of these ways is the age gap which is really caused by different perspectives or points of view. A child has a more innocent view of events and may misinterpret or not grasp the full meaning of the events. An adult would have more experience and a better understanding. For example:

  • When Atticus is guarding the jail from the rowdy mob after Tom Robinson, Jem stays with his father because he understands what could happen and he doesn’t want to leave Atticus on his own.
  • Scout doesn’t fully understand all of this and that is why she casually talks to Mr. Cunningham. Also, when Scout goes to school for the first time. Jem doesn’t want to play/socialise with Scout at school because she is younger and she doesn’t understand how to behave around the older children. It would also have been considered bad for Jem’s image to be seen with his sister following him around.

•Mrs. Dubose assumes that Jem and Scout are up to something every time the cross her path, simply because they are children and she thinks that all children are mischievous and troublesome.

There are numerous other examples throughout the book. The biased/prejudice is also caused by the way children act compared to adults. Children are way more active and excitable. Aunt Alexandra gets angry with Scout simply because she is too active and doesn’t behave like ‘a Southern Lady’. Scout is still just a child though and does not want to be a ‘Southern lady’. This is also a part of biased/prejudice based on etiquette. The lower ‘classes’ are also looked down upon because of the way they behave/their etiquette.

There are many examples of biased and prejudice throughout the novel and it is a constant and recurring theme.

The role of education in the novel

"Standing in other people's shoes"

Our topic is how “Standing in others peoples’ shoes” is a kind of moral lesson that the book teaches. Our discussion shall be exploring this point and the issues relating to it. We will start with an introduction to the idea and then start shaping “Standing in other peoples views” towards how this pertains to racism. We shall continue this point with the trial and Tom Robinson and shall talk about Mrs Dubose and changing viewpoints. We will end off the discussion how the book ends, with a point or three regarding Arthur Radley.

There are many individual incidents that deal with this idea and explore the philosophy behind it. It is first introduced when Scout has an argument with Walter Cunningham early on in the book. From this point onwards, the lesson is carried on as an underlying theme until it climaxes at the end of the book with the Boo Radley incident. The five main incidents that were examined are as follows:

The Walter Cunningham incident

After getting into a fight with Walter Cunningham, Scout is forced by Jem to invite him back home for lunch. While eating, Walter asks for some molasses and Calpurnia brings a pitcher of syrup. Walter proceeds to pour the syrup over his meal of vegetables and meat. Scout gets annoyed and angry about this.

This particular event leads to Atticus telling Scout about "standing in other people’s shoes" for the first time in the book. This is an important example because it is one of the first times that she has to deal with an adult-like problem. Scout has to step into Walter's shoes and see things from his perspective. She is exposed to the difference in status between the Cunninghams and the Finches. She also has to understand that each family has its own customs and own ideas of what is normal and acceptable.

However, one may argue that the children are not actually exposed to Walter’s lifestyle – only for a brief moment. In fact, they do not even try to imagine how he must feel. One can also suggest that Walter put syrup on his food not because of his family's customs but because he did not have an opportunity to do so in his own home.

(NOTE: While the given explanation of Walter Cunningham’s table behavior would be the reasonable and an acceptable answer, Harper Lee is actually giving the reader a look into the behavior of the extremely destitute in the South. Molasses (not the same very sweet molasses that you would purchase in a grocery store today) was easily obtained from the sap of trees (some trees produce a sweet sap, a juniper or evergreen sap is used to make alcohol and saps were also used as the first glue type product). Walter Cunningham covers his food in molasses NOT because it’s a luxury he cannot indulge in at home. The reason is actually the opposite, as molasses would make the diet of the extremely destitute (opossum, squirrel, snake and plants that we today would consider weeds) somewhat easier to chew and swallow. Walter Cunningham was simply doing what he knew, making his food easier to eat. This would not be a practice that Scout would know.

Calpurnia takes Scout to the Negro church

Scout learns an important lesson on what it must be to be a negro when she goes to the church with Calpurnia. The church is called the First Purchase Church as it was the first purchase of the freed slaves. It is a completely black church and Scout is actually frowned upon by certain members of the church, as she is white. This indicates that there was also a prejudice of whites in that community. This is however quickly demolished when the more friendly characters of the clergy are introduced, such as Reverend Sykes. Scout is shocked to see that so few people can read which means that the hymns are sung very differently to her church. She realises that Calpurnia talks differently at church to how she talks when she is around the white folks. They seem surprised that she would do that when Calpurnia knows that it is wrong to speak like that but they later realize that it is done purely so that she will fit in with her community. The children are fascinated by this fact that she seems to lead a double life. Although they knew that Calpurnia had a family it only hit them when they saw the family how divided Calpurnia’s life was. This incident was very important for Scout’s understanding of how society is formed and I believe she learned a lot from it.

Tom Robinson and the trial

Tom Robinson, a black civilian living on the outskirts of Maycomb, is convicted for raping Mayella Ewell, the lonely and abused daughter of Bob Ewell. The Ewells are Maycomb's version of white trash, living like plebs in the town's rubbish dump. The court case takes place in the second part of the novel and the children are exposed to the kinds of prejudice and racism in that community. The court case is run in an informal manner and no attention to formality is given. We know this as none of the testimonies are proven medically. Dill, Jem and Scout follow Atticus to the trial and throughout it, learn the hardships and struggles of being black in that community. They are welcomed to the colored balcony by Reverend Sykes, and they gladly accept his offer. Each child is affected in varying degrees of intensity. Jem has a silent fit, Scout seeks the comfort of Reverend Sykes and towards the end of the trial, Dill begins to cry uncontrollably. Dill is perhaps affected the most as he is not used to the racism of Maycomb as he is from a better family and society. He therefore cries uncontrollably when Mr. Gilmor is racist towards Tom Robinson during his cross-examination. After the verdict is announced 'guilty', Atticus leaves immediately and as he passes, the coloured folk rise with honour and respect. The atmosphere of the trial lingers over Maycomb even after the trial. Once again the kids are exposed to the utter racism and hardships of being a communal misfit. Examples of this is when Bob Ewell spits in Atticus' face for defending a nigger over a white person. Atticus explains with maturity that Bob was entitled in doing that because he did not understand the value of a white person standing up for a black person. A few weeks after the trial, Atticus reports that Tom was shot in the prison for trying to escape. This is the final moment where Scout is put in his shoes. She begins to understand that Tom just wanted to leave Maycomb forever.

Mrs Dubose dies

In the beginning of the book, Mrs Dubose is first introduced as a mean and nasty woman that takes pleasure out of shouting at the children. One day towards the end of part one of the book, she goes as far as to insult Atticus by saying that he is a “nigger-lover” and “no better than the trash he works for”. This enrages Jem and, on the way back from town, he cuts the heads off all of Mrs Dubose’s camellias.

As punishment, Jem is made to read to Mrs Dubose every afternoon for a month. Scout decides to go with him and each afternoon’s session ends when Mrs Dubose starts going into a fit. The sessions gradually get longer and longer as it takes more time for Mrs Dubose to get the fits. In the end, the children are allowed not to read to her anymore. Later that spring, Mrs Dubose dies and Jem receives a present from her – a perfect camellia.

After her death, Atticus reveals to the children that Mrs Dubose was in fact addicted to morphine and their reading was part of her effort to come clean before she died – which she did manage to do. This allows the children to see beyond her initial cruelty and to view her in a different light. They see what she had suffered and how hard it must have been for her. This presents a perfect example of "stepping into other people's shoes" as it forces the children to look at events as if they were in her position. The fact that Mrs Dubose is now dead adds to the impact of the lesson that they learn.

Boo Radley and Scout

Jem and scout always interested by Boo Radely, but they do not understand him and know what he is about. They pictured him to be a very big scary figure but did not have any evidence to support this. Throughout the novel they are given hints that he is watching them. He leaves them presents in the knot of a tree just outside their house to let them know that he is there and watching them.

At the end of the novel we find him to be a very brave man who wants to do good. He demonstrates this in the novel when he saves Jem and Scout from the drunken Bob Ewell. It must have been very hard for him growing up with no exposure to the outside world. At the end of the novel when Scout walks with Boo to his porch, he goes inside and then she stands on the porch looking out into the dark. This is a perfect example of standing in his shoes as she can now begin to understand what it is like to be him.

Trivia

The character 'Dill' in To Kill A Mockingbird was actually modeled after author Truman Capote, Lee's childhood friend.

Although the book deals with racism in great detail, and the main plot is based on it, the actual word - racism is never used.

Footnotes

  1. This article has been edited/expanded in large part by the Gr. 10 English Set 1 Class at Diocesan College (Bishops) who have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird as the set book. Above are some of the themes encountered in the book that we originally chose to talk about in the form of forum discussions. We have since turned this oral activity into a written analysis and discussion.

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