“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee Essay Sample

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Throughout To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee, the author, explores the key concern of prejudice in its many different forms. This theme is summed up at the end when Atticus, responding to Scout’s comments on how Boo Radley is a nice person, says “most people are [nice] when you finally see them”. Harper Lee uses Atticus, a key symbol of justice and major opponent of prejudice throughout the book, to make this statement at the end for a final and conclusive look at prejudice. This quote shows that prejudice gives the wrong impression of people however Lee also uses many other examples to support this point in the book, often through the use of minor characters. Three minor characters in particular: Mrs Dubose, Mr Dolphus Raymond and Lula, are used by Lee’s in subplots to discuss prejudice and contribute to Atticus’s conclusive comment on prejudice.

The subplot of Mrs Dubose’s battle with addiction and resulting death is a key standpoint for Lee’s viewpoint towards prejudice, whilst focusing on bravery and courage as well. From our first introduction to Mrs Dubose, she is portrayed as a witch-like character; sitting on her porch, being mean to passing residents such as Scout and Jem. From Scout’s perspective, she is shown to be “vicious” (page 106) and is described in depth using quite disgusting imagery: “Her face was the colour of a dirty pillowcase”, “Old age liver spots dotted her cheeks” and “Her hands were knobbly” (all from page 113). All of this early commenting from Scout’s perspective is used by Harper Lee to give us a judgement conceived before we are even properly introduced to Mrs Dubose; this is a very clever technique as it shows the reader how wrong prejudice can be by encouraging them to pre-judge someone only to be proven wrong later on. These views are indeed proven wrong, later in the book, when Mrs Dubose dies and Atticus reveals that she was a morphine addict who battled her addiction despite the inevitable death that would result from her predicament.

The sudden shift in Mrs Dubose’s dynamic shows the reader, alongside Scout and Jem, upon hearing this that Mrs Dubose was actually a courageous lady who fought to be “beholden to nothing and nobody” (page 118). From this perspective, she is seen to reflect another of the books main concerns – courage and bravery – but in a very different way from the typical hero. This different style of hero is also captured in Atticus’s discussion of courage: “instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand… it’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what” (page 118).

Atticus’s viewpoint can be related to not only Mrs Dubose, but Atticus himself in his defence of Tom Robinson where he fought for Tom despite being “licked before you begin” (page 118). Finally, Mrs Dubose leaves Jem a camellia flower, often known as snow-on-the-mountain. This sign of peace and tranquillity is noted by Atticus in his description of her death “{she died free] As the mountain air” (page 117) and is a metaphor for the beautiful and peaceful person she was. This final look at Mrs Dubose links back to Atticus’s view that “most people are [nice] when you finally see them” as she turns out to be a brave, courageous and good person despite the children’s early views of her.

Similarly, Harper Lee makes use of Mr Dolphus Raymond through a subplot of the storyline to investigate prejudice in Maycomb and show the reader another of her main concerns throughout the book. During the trial, Lee gives Mr Raymond a proper introduction to Scout, Jem and Dill, however, due to previously stated viewpoints; Scout’s initial reaction to him is quite negative: “As Mr Dolphus Raymond was an evil man” (page 206), despite having not had a previous meeting with him in our experience. This is another example of the narrator’s personal prejudices similar to how Lee portrays Mrs Dubose. Furthermore, Scout is also proven to be wrong about Mr Dolphus Raymond who she thought to be a drunkard but who reveals himself to have a taste for Coca Cola but allows the folks of Maycomb to think badly of him because “it helps folks if they can latch on to a reason” (page 207). This is Harper Lee’s way of further educating the reader as to the nature of prejudice by having Scout pose a simple question.

In this response, Mr Raymond shows the reader that people do not approve of “his ways” – marry a black woman and having a series of mixed race children – but hide their racism by disproving of his seeming alcoholism to avoid confronting their real issues at hand. Whilst this point may shed a new light on Dolphus Raymond and “his ways”, Scout takes a different view saying “I had a feeling that I shouldn’t be here listening to this sinful man” (page 207) but continues to question him because “he was fascinating” (page 207) and this leads to another key concern that Harper Lee has included into the story; Mr Raymond explains to the children that the reason he entrusts them with his secret is “Because you’re children and you can understand it”.

This comment seems contradictory to the majority of the book’s views on the education of children; many people tell Scout that she cannot understand things because she is a child but Dolphus Raymond shows that the stubbornness of many adults prevent from understanding things that undecided children may still understand. Altogether, Mr Dolphus Raymond is a very untraditional character who stands against most common values of Maycomb and is prejudiced against because of it and Harper Lee uses this nature to explain the contradictions in the racist values of society and the education of children which helps to disprove most of the key views imposed upon Scout from many of the people around her.

Another subplot that Harper Lee uses to teach us about prejudice is the criticisms of Lula when Scout and Jem’s take a trip to Calpurnia’s church whilst Atticus is away. Lula, a tall black woman, attacks Calpurnia for bringing white children to a black church claiming “you ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here – they got their church, we got our’n” (page 125). By this, Lula is referring to the separation of society: white people have their places and black people have theirs, however this is an unusually racist reaction to white people when compared to other encounters with black people in the book – the majority seem to be welcoming of equality between races. Lee uses the encounter with Lola to teach the reader, alongside Scout and Jem, that black people are also prejudiced against black people and that racism exists on either side of the battle. Interestingly, Harper Lee also uses this encounter to add to Calpurnia’s personality as, when questioned as to her actions, Calpurnia answers “in tones I had never heard her use”.

By this, Lee shows the reader that Calpurnia’s double life extends to her use of language; she knows how to speak like most residents of Maycomb but chooses to speak like much of the black community when around them. This prompts the reader to question whether Calpurnia changes her tone to avoid giving further evidence to Lula that she is trying to abandon her black roots in favour of the Finches or because she is ashamed of speaking like white people. The latter of which, would imply that Calpurnia, despite her usual neutrality and wisdom also bears some prejudice views and feels the need to conform to society. This is a very different technique to the previous two encounters with prejudice as it doesn’t feature a positive inspiration or explore much more than prejudice; furthermore, Lee’s use of a third person account of this prejudice allows the audience to see this as Scout would instead of from her direct perspective, accounting for her peronal prejudices.

When discussing Boo Radley with Scout, Atticus comments “most people are [nice] when you finally see them”. This is a general message that applies to all three of these situations: Mrs Dubose turns out to be a brave lady fighting for her life when Scout and Jem thought her to be an evil old woman, Mr Dolphus Raymond is shown to be a drunk who no morals but turns out to act that way to allow society to question his actions due to their racist prejudices and Lola isn’t nice but Scout and Jem don’t know anything of her and must judge her. Harper Lee uses these three subplots within ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to teach the reader some of the her key concerns of the book through direct and indirect encounters with intriguing characters. This is an effective technique as it connects key messages to the reader through Scout’s personal questioning and misinterpretation and teaches the reader through Scout’s actions the values within the book.

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