Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28th 1926 in Monroeville Alabama. She was the youngest of three children and her father was a lawyer. Harper Lee’s background is almost exactly the same as Jean Louise Finch (Scout) the main character in the novel. Scout was also the younger of two children and her father was also a lawyer, she was born in the fictitious town of Maycomb, the county next to Monroeville. The novel is set in the 1930s and had similar events to those that occurred in Harper Lee’s own life. When Harper Lee was only 5, the accusation of nine black men raping two white girls had a high impacted in her life. This showed the racial corruption in her society and also became the main theme in her book. ‘To Kill a Mocking bird’ can be interpreted as being a semi-autobiographical text, however, Harper Lee denies this and stated.
‘People are people anywhere you put them.’ (1961 interview)
This book was popular then and still is even today as it collects all the aspects of the racial and prejudice mind of society. Of how an event can manipulate the whole town into believing one man just because he is white. This reflects on the period because this book was written in the time of the Great Depression. This was the period in which America’s economy collapsed, causing many businesses to close down. This led to the thousands of jobless citizens. Shantytowns grew and racial tension became immense, as white people were jealous at the blacks that had jobs. Also segregation in America took place even though the black community had been emancipated in the mid 1880s, they were still treated as an under class till the 1950s. Segregation meant that black people could not drink form the same water fountains, shop in the same convenient stores and they couldn’t even sit at the front of the bus.
Racism between the white and black people is the main theme throughout the novel. The trial scene is one of the small parts that focuses and justifies the situation of separate divisions in society. This is seen as the black people have a separate balcony for themselves and also seen when the black people live on the other side of the garbage dump.
Atticus is the lawyer defending Tom Robinson. He does not argue with the fact that he is defending a nigger but simply takes it on as any other job he has done. Atticus was a highly respected man but since people knew that Atticus was defending a nigger, his respect was lost. Scout was been bullied and confronted with children calling her dad a ‘nigger lover’. However Scout retaliates, but Atticus responds by educating Scout that using violence is not the answer. However when we see Atticus in the trial scene, he is seen as a different person. He has changed from his home life to his job life and his somewhat sharp and his calculative wisdom is shown. His character stands out from the people living in the town, this is because Atticus is a man of morals, he obeys the law and will do anything in his power to stand up in what he believes is justice. Through out the novel people have lost the respect for him because he is defending a nigger, and also Jem and Scout has seen a new side of Atticus.
Heck Tate was called by Bob Ewell to the Ewell residents. Heck Tate is part of the police in Maycomb County who has authority and should be respected. He then however lacks the inability to see past people’s appearances. He knows that Bob Ewell gets violent when he is drunk, and that he spends his money on drink. Yet Heck Tate takes Bob’s side just because he is against the black people. He did not get a doctor; instead he went straight to Tom Robinson’s house, took him and asked Mayella if it was him who attacked her, she responded with a sobbing nod. However, Heck Tate was not concerned of Mayella’s health in anyway, but as soon as it were about prosecuting a black person, he was more than happy to make the arrest instead of regarding Tom of is rights.
However, racism is not the only social division in the novel. Bob Ewell is seen as ‘white trash’ by most of the town’s people. He has no job and spends his relief cheques on alcohol, leaving his oldest child to work and support the rest of the family. We encountered Burris Ewell in the early chapters and is seen as a foulmouthed child, which concludes the family trend of being the way he is.
‘He was the filthiest human being I have ever seen…His dad is right contentious’
This shows the image in which other children see the Ewell family. Also we see the opinion of the children to Bob Ewell. Even though, the children may be young and immature, but their understanding of what goes on in their town is surprising.
We see that his family ancestors have always managed to live on benefits, this makes them very unpopular and also does not appeal to the other families who have to work hard to support themselves. However when he accuses Tom Robinson, a black man, of raping his daughter, all the town’s people were on Bob’s side just because he was against a black man. Bob Ewell lives in an abandoned house where black slaves lived; when emancipation was in progress they moved out and preferred to build their own house elsewhere. This gives us evidence of how hypocritical Bob Ewell is. If he were against black people then he wouldn’t live in the same house they lived in.
In addition to this, Bob then gains power over the town’s people by talking advantage of the trial. Who was a social outcast is now a powerful, manipulative man. We see a mob of men coming towards Atticus while guarding Tom Robinson in the town jail. Not knowing to Atticus, Scout Jem and Dill have also made their way to the jail because Jem is worried about Atticus’s safety. The lynch mob arrives and it took Scout’s innocence talking to Mr. Cunningham, to make he rest of the mob realise that they are too human beings. They regain their senses and leave.
Coming back to the trial scene we see an atmosphere of strong racial discrimination. Heck Tate is called to the witness stand. Atticus asks if he called a doctor to inspect Mayella’s injuries. Heck Tate stated that he did not call a doctor. In the 1930s doctor’s were educated enough to examine a female body and prove that she was been raped due to certain circumstances.
‘Didn’t call a doctor… wasn’t necessary she was mighty banged up. Something sho’ happened, it was obvious.’
This justifies that Heck Tate did not call a doctor because he believed Bob Ewell just because he is white. That he did not call a doctor because he believed what Mayella said, went and got Tom Robinson and put him in jail, with out question. Although the trial is a serious matter, Bob Ewell however doesn’t seem to understand the importance of this. He is preoccupied with looking good and having his fellow towns people on his side, which the way he responds is unacceptable for the situation he’s in.
‘That’s m’name, cap’n…well, if I ain’t I cant do anything about it now, her ma’s dead’
As Bob Ewell says this, it shows that he is trying to be a comedian and make the crowd laugh and that he is not being serious, the feeling of being popular has changed him and therefore is overwhelming. This soon ends, from a glance from judge Taylor. This puts him back in his place and therefore regains his senses and realises that this is neither the time nor the place to be a comedian.
Bob Ewell’s ignorance is then shown as he doesn’t understand and can’t contemplate the reason of why Atticus wanted him to write his name on the piece of paper. This showed that Bob Ewell is left handed and adds to Atticus’ assumption that Bob Ewell beat Mayella. The trial shows Bob Ewell’s status and how it has changed. He is now the centre of attention and likes it; he is also over whelmed with the sympathy shown to him because his daughter has been raped.
Mayella Ewell then comes to the witness stand and states that Tom Robinson raped her. Us as the reader know that Tom Robinson didn’t rape Mayella and that her dad Bob had beaten her up. She seemed ‘fragile looking’. This gives us the impression that she is weak. As the questioning with Mayella progresses we see that she is very emotional and easily manipulated. She is a perfect contrast to Scout, that she is everything that scout isn’t. The trial shows that Mayella as a fragile looking child who is afraid of her father.
‘Judge Taylor cleared his throat and tried unsuccessfully in soothing tones…Now you’re a big girl, so just sit up straight and tell the – tell us what happened to you, you can do that can’t you?’
We see that Judge Taylor has to speak to Mayella in a child like manner to get across the point that they have to proceed in the trial and to give her testimony. As Judge Taylor’s image is projected as a strong man who chews tobacco,
Tom Robinson is the defendant in the trial. He has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell and denies it. Tom Robinson represents all the racism and prejudice boiling up in the town of Maycomb. He is persecuted just because he is black. The people of Maycomb do not take into consideration that he is handicapped, as his left hand got caught in a cotton drill working for Dolophous Raymond.
Even though at the trial we know that Tom Robinson is innocent the jury would rather see him suffer. This is also seen with the gallery. The gallery symbolises that gladiatorial event in which people enjoy people getting slaughtered and demanding blood. There by their reactions are controlled by the actions that take place. In the trial Bob Ewell controls the gallery as they are enjoying the event.
Prejudice through out the novel is built up and mainly seen in the trial scene. All the social divisions are brought into context and is seen by using the main characters. Without Scout, we could not see what truly happens in the novel, that’s why it is vital that Scout stays during the trial. Harper Lee use the trial scene to emit the image that the mocking birds in the title, are in danger from other means of racism, not only from the difference from skin colour, but from being different. This example is shown with Boo Radley. Both Boo Radley and Tom Robinson are portrayed as mocking birds as they are persecuted for bring different from every one else.