“To Kill A Mockingbird” By Harper Lee Essay Sample
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- Category: novel
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“To Kill A Mockingbird” By Harper Lee Essay Sample
In this Essay, I will be focusing on the prejudice involved at the trial of Tom Robinson, while also exploring the depth of prejudice in Maycomb throughout “To Kill A Mockingbird”. The story is laden with prejudice, and in relation to the trial it is essentially racial prejudice. Harper Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville Alabama, a city of about 7,000 people. Maycomb is a fictional town, but the layout is just like the layout in Monroeville, it has the courthouse, school, jail, and all the same roads and road names, further more, there was a similar house to Boo Radley’s in Harper Lee’s childhood.
Both Maycomb and Monroeville are located in south Alabama that at the time had a lot of racial issues. It is said that Miss Lee personally resembles the tomboy she describes in the character of Scout. Atticus Finch is also said to bear a close resemblance to Harper Lee’s father, Amasa Coleman Lee, they are both Lawyers, and both have similar characters and personalities – humble, intelligent, hard-working, and overall good, valued citizens. Tom Robinson’s case is reminiscent of the case of the Scottsboro boys, nine young African-Americans form Alabama who were charged with raping two white women. Lee studied law in the university of Alabama from 1945-1949, so she may have studied this case and be writing about the case of Tom Robinson to expose the depth of prejudice in southern America at the time.
When the trial is first mentioned in the book, Maycomb’s comfortable society begins to break down; the little ‘cocoon’ (as Jem calls it) that they live in begins to deteriorate. Everyone previously lived their own lives by the ‘unwritten rules’ and conformities that were expected of them. However, the trial moves everything away from ‘the norm’ and starts to expose all of the hidden prejudices that were there but never thought about before. Because of things changing, people start to become scared; they fear what might happen and how it may affect them. They previously felt secure in their society because everybody knew where they stood and they all lived by a certain code. But Atticus Finch begins to attempt to rearrange their code, they start to become on edge and there is mention of mobs forming, even talk of the Ku Klux Klan being nearby. The Ku Klux Klan is a group, perhaps even a religion, made up entirely by white people who believe various ethnic groups, especially Negroes, to be inferior to them.
The mobs are forming because they don’t know what to do about the Tom Robinson and because they fear the outcome, so they want to destroy him. They appear outside the county jail saying “You know what we want Mr. Finch”, they are planning on perhaps lynching him publicly to try and make people too scared to try and mess with the code again. You get the impression that the mob are only there because of the fear of this one case because Scout describes that they were “sleepy-eyed men who seemed unused to late hours”. By using the word “unused”, although in a slightly different context, it gives the reader the impression that they are unused to doing this sort of thing. The fact that Mr. Cunningham, who throughout the rest of the book seems to be a generally good-hearted man, is there to perform the lynching, this gives the impression that it is not a regular occurrence and just a “one off” because of the unique circumstances. The trial brings out some of the peoples real identities, before they lived in a sort of “dream world”, but when Tom Robinson begins to threaten their security, you begin to see what people are really like because they have to address an issue that hadn’t needed to be addressed before, the racism was always there, it was just not shown because everybody knew their place.
As soon as the word gets out that Atticus is going to be defending Tom Robinson, immediately the first mention of the trial begins to expose the racial prejudice in Maycomb because there is such a negative response from the community, even from the children at Scout’s school. The children at Scout and Jem’s school taunt them about their father being a ‘nigger-lover’ because he’s defending a black man. A lot of the children who call Atticus a ‘nigger-lover’ don’t even know what the phrase means, showing that they must have overheard their parents, or other Maycomb folk, talking about Atticus and referring to him in this way as if they are disgusted. This shows that they disapprove of Atticus defending a black man because they are prejudiced against Negroes, they think Robinson must be guilty because it’s just the sort of thing they’d expect from a Negro, as Atticus says, they are “on the evil assumption – that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women.” Even if he is innocent, they still think he isn’t worth defending because he’s black.
There are two sides to the argument. It is Bob and Mayella Ewell fighting against Tom Robinson; two white people fighting against one black man. Even though everyone can see who is the nicer person, Robinson can’t win because it is just a matter of race. Bob Ewell is the lowest of white men, or ‘white-trash’. He is a drunk that has no respect for anyone else and, in turn, has no respect from anyone else. From the name Ewell, everyone in Maycomb knows that it’s ‘bad news’. We do not learn much of the Robinson’s family background during the story, but we do know that Tom Robinson is a respectable hard working young man who risked his neck to help a nasty white girl and wanted nothing in return, he is a true gentleman that treats everyone with respect no matter how they treat him or whether they deserve it or not. This quote, said by Link Deas in the courtroom, shows this:
“I just want the whole lot of you to know one thing right now. That boy’s worked for me for eight years an’ I ain’t had a speck o’trouble outa him. Not a speck.”
The fact that Deas speaks out of turn in a court room (risking severe punishment) to exclaim a simple supportive statement for a black man is enough to convince me that Tom Robinson is a decent enough person. Most people in the courtroom can see that Tom is a more decent person just from the way he addresses people so much more respectfully than Bob Ewell. The fact that the verdict comes out as Robinson being guilty shows the prejudices of the people of Maycomb, because although they can see that Robinson is a genuinely nice person, he is black so it is irrelevant.
The quotation used in this essay title “This case is as simple as black and white” is said by Atticus, he is saying that this is the reason the “case should never have come to trial”. This statement can be interpreted in several different ways. Atticus previously says, in the same paragraph in fact, “this case is not a difficult one, it requires no minute sifting of complicated facts” and goes on to explain that Tom Robinson is innocent. So Atticus is actually explaining that it is obvious what really happened and that it is not difficult to see who is really guilty. But I think that Lee put this statement in because it also has another meaning, although ‘as simple as black and white’ is just a figure of speech, the choice of this particular phrase is very important because it is showing that the verdict is inevitable and no matter what the truth is, nobody, not even Atticus, can change the fact that it’s simply a matter of race and prejudice, because no black man can win over a white man. Scout says:
“All the little man on the witness stand [Referring to Bob Ewell] had that made him any better than his nearest neighbors [The Ewell’s live just near a Negro settlement] was, that if scrubbed with lye soap in very hot water, his skin was white.”
There is a lot of significance in this quotation, it clearly expresses the depth of prejudice in Maycomb, it is saying that Bob Ewell has the lowest status of white people, and is virtually as low as any Negro, because you have to ‘scrub’ a lot on the surface to see that he is white, but they think however low the white man is, underneath, he is still white, and that makes him better than any black man, even one as respectable as Tom Robinson, which shows definite racism.
In the courtroom, the layout suggests that the blacks are not considered to be as important as the whites because they are all situated on the “coloured balcony” so they don’t have as good a view as the whites, who are positioned right near the front. Also, no black people went into the courthouse until all of the white people had, “They waited patiently at the doors behind the white families”, this was just normal to them and they wouldn’t expect anything different because this is the only way they have known life to be; it is another ‘unwritten rule’ in their society. Because it is a normal thing, nobody thinks anything of it, but the trial of Tom Robinson magnifies such a small issue because the whole thing is about race and it makes people notice the littler things that were never previously addressed.
Because of the people of Maycomb’s racial prejudices, it is considered a strange thing to be friends with black people, and people who do mix with Negroes become outcasts. Dolphus Raymond lives his life with, and like, a Negro, he has had lots of children with a black woman, the children are known as ‘mixed children’. Raymond always walks around holding a paper bag with a straw going into it, his reason for this is that he wants people to think he is an alcoholic (When in reality he has only Coca-Cola? in the bag) because they cannot understand that he genuinely enjoys associating with Negroes more than he does white folk, “It ain’t honest but its mighty helpful to folks.” Says Raymond, “Secretly, Miss Finch, I’m not much of a drinker, but you see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that’s the way I like to live.”
Raymond says this, because in Maycomb, it is an unacceptable thing to do to associate with Negroes. Atticus explains that the reason Mayella took the case to court, is for this very reason, she wants to get rid of Robinson so to not be reminded of it anymore, she feels guilt, Atticus says “I say guilt gentlemen, because it was guilt that motivated her. She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time-honoured code of our society, a code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with…She did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man…She tempted a Negro.”
There is a ‘code’ that everyone must conform to, and if the requirements are not met, they are rejected. Atticus is showing how the case exposes the prejudice that caused Mayella to do what she did. The fact that Raymond can see the big picture and the fact that he can see, address, and understand the racial issues in society gives the impression that he has been freed from the trap and he isn’t stuck in the little ‘cocoon’ that I mentioned earlier. Other people think they are happy with what they have, but this is just because they are bound to their unjust code and they cannot see or understand anything beyond it, Raymond has broken away from this, and I think that Atticus has too.
When Tom Robinson is in Enfield Prison, he is shot down because he apparently started running for the fence in the exercise period, right in front of the guards.
“It was during their exercise period. They said he just broke into a blind raging charge at the fence and started climbing over. Right in front of them -…the guards called him to stop. They fired a few shots in the air then to kill…Seventeen bullet holes in him”
The fact that they left seventeen bullet holes in him, shows that they were glad to get rid of him, if this was not the case they would have just left a couple of bullets just in his legs maybe to stop him running. Even if they were to kill him, it was not necessary to shoot him so many times; one bullet in the right place can kill a man. But they use seventeen bullets, which makes it look like they’re wanting to make sure he’s really dead because they don’t want there to be a chance of him being alive because he has caused so much trouble. And he may cause more trouble, especially if they didn’t have decent cause to kill him, which they may not have. The guards may have even been associated with the mobs I mentioned earlier and so were assigned to dispose of Tom Robinson. This is not normal treatment of prisoners, so it reveals the prejudices that even the prison guards have against Robinson because of his race.
The members of the jury were all white farmers, “the jury seemed to be all farmers…they looked vaguely like dressed up Cunningham’s “, the Cunningham’s are low class, poorly dressed people who are known for their poorness, and they are farmers, so if the jury look like “dressed up Cunningham’s”, they look like dressed up farmers. Also, all other citizens of significant position like the sheriff or various business owners are white, no Negroes are given the chance to get anywhere in life because they are overpowered by the prejudiced white people in society, they are just used for manual labour because they are considered inferior to whites and so don’t have the intelligence to handle a significantly important position. The quotation used is quite significant because Mr. Cunningham was one of the members of the Lynch Mob that were at the jail looking for Tom Robinson, so if the Cunningham’s were after Tom Robinson, it gives the impression that a lot of the members of the jury may also be out to get him.
Lee tries to make the story as real as possible using real issues to help make the reader understand and to make it have more of an impact on the way they feel. The trial shows the reader how many issues there are that deny black people of their rights as equal citizens; even just small things that seem insignificant are brought out to be important by the trial. There were so many hidden prejudices that were always there before but were never mentioned because there was no need and everybody knew their place; it just caused confusion. However, when the trial comes along, it exposes the depth of prejudice in Maycomb that had never had cause to be addressed before.
Because of this, the respect she received from Tom Robinson, was what drove her to do what she did, it was probably the most kindness she had ever received, as is said in the book: “Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her.”
all women have to dress and act in a certain way, there is the constant recurring issue throughout the book of Scout not being ladylike and not meeting the standards expected of a lady. One day, Scout is in a dress at a meeting with all the local ladies, when Miss Maudie asks “Where are your britches today?” Scout replies, “Under my dress”. This shows that by wearing the dress, Scout is not becoming more of a lady, she is just covering up her real self, because of the expectations of the way she should be. Although it is not as blatant as the racist issues in the story, this is another form of prejudice.
, so the Ewell’s cannot have a chance to change.
“One corner of the yard [The Ewell’s scrap yard], though, bewildered Maycomb. Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson…People said they were Mayella Ewell’s.”
This shows that Mayella is not pure evil, she does have a bit of good in her and there is hope. There are a few things that give the same impression: the fact that she does not judge Tom because he’s black and she does seem to genuinely care for him a little, the way she sometimes looks after the younger Ewells and a few more things. But any good in her heart is restrained because of her fathers prejudice, because she fears what might happen to her if she lets anybody see the real her. She was trapped by two prejudices, as Scout shows here, “She was as sad, I thought, as what Jem called a mixed child: white people wouldn’t have anything to do with her because she lived among pigs; Negroes wouldn’t have anything to do with her because she was white”.
“their relief cheque was far from enough to feed the family, and there was strong suspicion that Papa drank it up anyway – he sometimes went off in the swamp for days and came home sick; the weather was seldom cold enough to require shoes, but when it was, you could make dandy ones from strips of old tyres; the family hauled its water in buckets from a spring that ran out at one end of the dump – they kept the surrounding area clear of trash – and it was everybody for himself as far as keeping clean went: if you wanted to wash you hauled your own water; the younger children had perpetual colds and suffered from chronic ground-itch; there was a lady who came round sometimes and asked Mayella why she didn’t stay in school – she wrote down the answer; with two members of the family reading and writing, there was no need for the rest of them to learn – Papa needed them at home”