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“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee Free Essay Sample

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“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee Free Essay Sample

When asked to choose three moments in the novel where different characters are challenged by situations I was truly spoilt for choice.

“To kill a Mocking bird” is set in the 1920’s when the United States of America was in a state of depression. “To kill a mockingbird” is written in modern American style language and is narrated by a child. However it is not restricted to limits of a child’s vocabulary or its powers of expression.

To a reader of the modern day society the theme of the book is built on racism and discrimination. However during the era the book was set these actions and thoughts were legitimate and accepted. In particular the black race is heavily discriminated against throughout this novel, but this is an accurate interpretation of what life for a black family would have been like living in the “golden 1920’s”. As racism plays a large part in this novel I decided to take this into consideration when choosing my challenging moments.

The first episode which I intend to discuss is the situation where Atticus accepts the challenge to take on and defend Tom Robinson in court, against his rape allegation charge. First of all; this was the first situation which came into my head. It follows all of the criteria set in the question and I feel that is one of if not the most significant and challenging moments of the book. It is relevant and is an accurate sample which reflects the whole book. This incident is the main event in the novel, the first thing that I noticed was that Atticus agreed and wanted to take on the challenge of defending Tom.

In the 1920’s usually someone would be unwillingly forced to defend a black man, however Atticus accepts this and he seems to treat the case no different even though he is defending a black man. He shows tolerance to the black race, which was rare in the 20’s, and treats the case no different to any other. At this point I realised that Atticus is special. He is thoughtful and always wants to help; even someone lower than him in society. The reader learns that Atticus accepts Maycomb’s attitudes to blacks but he does not agree with them. Atticus’ children do not know the details of his case but they discover that that their father’s actions are unpopular with their white community. Atticus is a very clever man, he knew what the consequences of taking the challenge on were and this makes his decision even more testing and challenging for his character. After he accepts the case he is challenged by lots of similar situations involving whites criticising his actions, this consists of name calling scenes and also violent abuse.

Atticus shows what he is like by dealing with these situations. He knows many disagree with what he is doing but feels that he has to defend tom. Atticus is called “Nigger – lover” and other offensive names which normal people would have been offended by but Atticus ignores these remarks and forbids his children to retaliate to any of them. He deals with these situations in a very calm and Christian like manner. Here are a few example of Atticus acting in this way; Scouts questioning about Atticus’ actions and asks “why defend niggers?” Atticus quotes:

“If I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again”

This shows Atticus’ passion to help others and shows that he is defending Tom go gain pride and respect from himself. Another example of when Atticus acts in a Christian-like manner is when Mrs Dubose conflicts with his children and quotes:

“Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for”

This is highly offensive and hurts the children. In retaliation to this they stand on some of Mrs Dubose’s plants. When Atticus finds out about there retaliation he is disgusted, apologises to Mrs Dubose and forces his children to go talk and sort out their squabbles with her:

“Son, I have no doubt that you’ve been annoyed by your contemporaries about me lawing for niggers, as you say, but to do something like this to a sick old lady is inexcusable. I strongly advise you to go down and have a talk with Mrs Dubose”

This quote shows perfectly Atticus’ character. He shows sympathy to someone who has blatantly just insulted him. We also learn that Mrs Dubose dies at the end of part one with Atticus at her bedside. He stands by her to the end and helps her whenever he can.

Despite all of this criticism Atticus still chooses to defend to and sees it as his vocation and calling to defend Tom and give the black race some pride and hope. All of these insulting incidents build up to the final scene where Atticus’ children’s lives are put in jeopardy. Again Atticus is a clever man but I don’t think that he even thought that people’s views on racism would jeopardise his children’s lives. The book has been cleverly devised – everything runs into the next part of the novel. This is a perfect example of this. This moment is of high importance in the novel because it primarily the main scene in the novel but also it reflects racism (the theme of the book) and what the effects of racism can be.

The second challenging moment that I intend to discuss is of a similar case as the first but this time Scouts reactions to Atticus’ court challenge. Atticus knows that his case will affect the whole of his family so he chooses not to talk about it with his children. I chose this episode because it is similar to the first and there fore it provides a basis to comparison. Throughout the two years that the book is set the reader learns a lot about Scout. The way that she matures, her childhood memories and the way she develops her friendship with her father. She also learns lots of things from and about Atticus. The situations that I am going to concentrate on are where Scout is confronted by other whites about her father’s actions.

These confrontations occur several times over a short period of time in the book, this makes each of them harder and more challenging for scout – she has to deal with and think about more over a shorter period of time. What makes these incidences even more challenging for Scout is that she wants to act mature and follow what Atticus has taught her to do but another side of her wants to react with violence. Scout receives criticism for her father from people that she would not expect i.e. her family. The first significant incident where she is challenged about Atticus’ actions is when one of her classmates – Cecil Jacobs, announces that her father is “defending niggers” she denies this but confronts Jem after. Her tolerance and patience is also tested when her cousin – Francis, insults her father.

“If Uncle Atticus lets you run around with stray dogs, that’s his own business, like Grandma says, so it ain’t your fault. I guess it ain’t your fault if Uncle Atticus is a nigger- lover besides, but I’m here to tell you it certainly does mortify the rest of the family.”

Francis also quotes:

“He’s nothing but a nigger-lover!”

This is possibly her most challenging moment. What does she do? How will she react? Does she use violence? Or does she follow what Atticus has tried to teach her? Well Scout chooses revenge and attempts to achieve this with the use of her physical ability. This shows that Scout differs from her father; she wants to act like Atticus but cant and chooses to repay Francis violently. This moment has a high importance on the book because it reflects, like the first situation I have described, the effects of racism and how different characters react to this.

The first and second challenging moments that I have discussed involve the court case and its effects from a white person’s point-of-view. The third situation that I am going to discuss is when Calpurnia (the Finches house maid) takes Jem and Scout to her church. This scene shows great character and gives an accurate interpretation of the differences between the white and black communities living through the “roaring 20’s” era. Cal (Calpurnia) is the character challenged in this scene. She is questioned on her actions (taking Jem and Scout to her black church) by other blacks. They do not believe that the children should be in the church. She is also questioned by Scout as she asks Cal why she talks to other blacks in the manner that she does. During this scene Harper Lee shows how prejudice can be embedded in the way people think about language. This scene also shows how racist the Maycomb society was then compared with what it is today. A great example of this is the black church having no hymn books.

Calpurnia is asked by scout:

“Why do you talk nigger talk to the – to your folks when you know it’s not right?” she replies “Well, in the first place I’m black -“

“That doesn’t mean you hafta talk that way when you know better”

“It’s right hard to say…… suppose you and Scout talked coloured-folks’ talk at home – it’d be out of place, wouldn’t it? Now what if I talked white-folks’ talk at church, and with my neighbours? They’d think I was puttin’ on airs to beat Moses.”

This shows how well Cal gets on with the children. She is a mother figure to them and can talk to them about most things including racial issues. She seems easy to understand and makes things easier for the children to understand by relating to things which they understand.

Calpurnia is asked by Lula (another black member at her church):

“I wants to know why you bringin’ white chillun to nigger church”

“You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here – they got their church, we got our’n. It is our church ain’t it, Miss Cal?”

Lula really puts Cal “on the spot” when she says this. Cal replies with:

“It’s the same God ain’t it?”

This shows the black and white prejudices. Despite Lula’s actions Jem and Scout are treated with utmost respect.

These incidences are especially testing for Cal because both times she is put “on the spot”, this makes them more challenging. We learn about Cal by the way that she reacts to these. Again these situations also reflect racism but this time on the front of effects of racism.

Overall “To kill a mockingbird” has been cleverly devised by Harper Lee it has lots of challenging moments which I could have chosen. The book is fairly slow, quite long but very detailed and precise. It is thrilling to read!

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