The 1930s Justice System of America, in Maycomb, in contrast to that of todays portrays a society, which is full of racial discrimination, especially against the Black community. Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” explores in detail a typical prejudiced culture and how the unjust views of the general public can affect the lives of some individuals severely. She bases her novel on a court case where it is a white man’s word against a black’s and how racism takes its position and can manipulate views for the worst. Within the Justice System, there were two types, one of which was the “official” system and the other, the “private”. The official type was the one that allowed Tom Robinson, a black man, to be given a fair trial in court whereas the private type was where the judge and jury was made up of, often, white people (perhaps from the country) and it would be a private opinion given as an overall verdict. In the novel, Harper Lee has given us an idea of how these two systems were in motion. I will now discuss some of the main problems of the black community and what led them to being treated this way.
Throughout Maycomb there were signs of inequity and anti-black attitudes. The way the black people were treated was often chauvinistic. They were rarely ever given the opportunity to be educated so instead, they worked in fields or maybe at home as carpenters. They were restricted to manual labour and were treated like slaves. In the novel, Tom Robinson is a typical example of a person who is restricted to manual labour. During the court scenes when Tom is giving his testimony he describes what he does for Mr. Link Deas at the fields: he picks cotton and he looks after the pecan trees. This was a good job for a black person. Harper Lee however does not show us how some black people were verbally abused if they were working for a white person. A vast majority of the blacks couldn’t drive because they did not have the money for lessons let alone a vehicle to drive. They simply could not be a professional.
There were also separate Churches with different traditions even though both were of the Christian Faith. Harper Lee shows this to us when the children visit Calpurnia’s church and a black lady called Lula says that Cal has no business bringing “…white chillun here- they got their church, we got our’n…”. This shows that not only are the whites racist towards the blacks but visa-versa. Lee does not show this throughout the book so we, as the readers, are ignorant of it as an issue. Nowadays, we see people are less racist and there are multi-racial schools, multi-racial buses and everyone can be what they want to be: “profession-wise”. Even the Justice System is one whole system, unless some kind of illegal action is going on, but the jury is fair.
Their status in the courtroom was lower than that of a white person’s because they would have had to wait to sit down after all the white people had sat down. They would have had to sit separately in what was called “The Coloured Balcony” which was further away from the centre and higher up. This, though, this was highly ironic as the black people would technically be looking down on everyone else. At the time of the Robinson Court case, we are told that the children: Scout, Jem and Dill were sitting in the coloured balcony which shows that not everybody was racist. The blacks were seen as inferior, due to racism, and this led them to being singled out and led to the private justice system being applied more ruthlessly.
There were many problems within the black community at the time of when this novel was written and through writing this novel Harper Lee gives us a very detailed insight. We are informed that this novel was set during the 1930s, during the Great Depression, which Harper Lee has ingeniously depicted by quoting Franklin. D. Roosevelt: “that Maycomb had nothing to fear but fear itself.” During the time of the Great Depression Agriculture and Business had deteriorated. In the novel Atticus Finch, father of Jem and Scout, has a small chat with his son and tells of the status of people in the town. He says: “…professional people were poor because the farmers were poor…” (Chapter 2). This shows the situation of the poorest farmers. He talks about entailment and how that’s the Cunningham’s (a typical poor family) way of paying them because it is the only way etc. Atticus shows his “down-to-earth” like nature as even through the depression he still tries to help as many people as possible.
After World War 2, in 1945, ended, after the effort the blacks, whites and all the other races put in together people felt that there may be a change in spirit and the Racism era may have been overcome but to the horror of the black community nothing had actually changed. Therefore, people began to move north. This led to more racism in the county.
The Civil War, which was mainly concerning the “separate directions” i.e. the North against the South, was due to the dissimilarity of views on Slavery. The white people saw the blacks as animals and belittled them. This insulting behaviour is shown in the book where Mayella Ewell verbally abuses Tom Robinson and refers to him as a “nigger” which is the impolite term for a black person not to mention the fact that the whites still carried on using it. At the tea party in chapter 24, we see the racist attitudes of the women and how they differed. Mrs. Merriweather and Mrs. Farrow both represented the stereo-typed view of a white lady at the time. They both felt that Atticus is wasting his time protecting Tom Robinson. Miss Maudie, on the other hand, isn’t racist and discreetly manipulates the conversation by saying a bitter-sweet comment: “His food doesn’t stick going down, does it?” By saying this Lee gives us a small idea of the different aspects of racism and how some ladies felt differently towards the blacks.
Also, the hypocrisy of views is distinguished. Harper Lee uses the attitude of Adolf Hitler and how he felt towards the Jews in contrast to how white people feel towards blacks. This is depicted in a classroom discussion and leads Scout, who is also known as Jean-Louise Finch, to recognising how the views are so similar and how some people act just as racist themselves alike to Adolf Hitler. By using this “innocent” classroom scene Harper Lee, to an extent, uses the attitudes of the general public to correspond with the hypocritical views.
The Racism in the 1930s courtroom towards black people was undignified and the white people were favoured. An example of Injustice in the courtroom is Tom Robinson’s case against Miss Mayella Ewell. It was easily said by the White jury, where the private Justice System was being applied, that Tom was guilty because that was the way it was; even if we knew the irony that he wasn’t really guilty. At that time if it was a “White man’s word against a Black man’s word” and the white always won. People found Tom Robinson guilty from the very start and the mob, which included the Cunninghams, tried to lynch Tom because of this verdict but then Scout made the people look really appalling when she questions Mr. Cunningham about his entailment. By doing this, Mr, Cunningham was reminded, by Scout, of how much Atticus has done for him and tries to gain his respect. We also realise that after the court case one of the jury members was uncertain of his verdict because of the amount of time taken to give the actual verdict. We assume it was one of the Cunninghams who also just happens to be kin of the Finch family by being a double first cousin. However, Atticus chose not to “strike him” as he says.
There were many precautionary measures taken to protect Tom whilst he was in the prison-house on the night before the trial. Above the Maycomb Tribune office, “Mr Underwood and a double-barrelled shotgun were leaning out his window” This shows us how some of the local residents are not as racist and some actually support Atticus. The fact that Atticus chose to protect Tom in the first place reveals his own nature and that he is a brave and courageous man. When he took up the case, it was partially because if he didn’t, he felt wouldn’t even have been able to look at his own kids in the eye ever again. He would feel shameful. Harper Lee puts the readers in the perspective of an unbiased lawyer who as a symbol of hope to the black community is facing the difficulties being put before him by a racist hierarchy.
Atticus was not racist in any way and he tried to encourage this optimistic view among his children by allowing a black housekeeper: Calpurnia to bring them up and take them to Church that Sunday. We see Atticus Finch as one of the only residents in Maycomb who is not racist and doesn’t reveal any biased opinions. By consenting to Calpurnia’s methods of discipline the kids will eventually see that Cal is just the same as any other person. “Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side.” Scout and Jem are disciplined by her and Atticus never racially abuses Calpurnia.
This case obviously meant a lot to Atticus. Even though, overall, the court was generally racist Judge Taylor was not and he ran the court with ease. When Mr. Gilmer, the prosecution, objected towards Atticus’ approach to Mayella, Judge Taylor replied: “…he’s doing nothing of the sort. If anything, the witness’s browbeating Atticus.” This quote shows the judge’s balance towards the racial side of the case. It is also revealed to us that Mr. Heck Tate, the town sheriff, was not as racist as he may seem as he tries to protect Tom from danger. When he is testifying Heck Tate changes his testimony in mid-sentence to which leads to Tom looking innocent: “… Oh yes, that would make it her right….” Immediately, Tom’s innocence was shown because we are also told that Tom’s left arm is limp and useless and it is also shown to us that Bob Ewell is left-handed, when Atticus asks Bob to write his name. Also, Heck Tate puts Tom in the prison. This was for his safety as Tate knew that if Tom was left outside the mob would kill him. By doing this, Heck shows his multi-racial attitude but in a discreet way.
Mr, Gilmer, the prosecution, was generally racist; even it was his job to protect Mayella and fight the case, meaning he would have to be racist even if he wasn’t, we can see that he was racist on the whole. Scout, as a child, understands Mr. Gilmer’s job as she tries to comfort Dill when he is crying because of the way Mr. Gilmer approaches Tom Robinson. She Says: “Dill, that’s his job. Why if we didn’t have prosecutors- well, we couldn’t have defence attorneys, I reckon.” She understands and uses her knowledge wisely. Mr. Gilmer tried to show his priority. He calls Tom Robinson “boy”. Not “sir” or even better but no: “Mr. Robinson”. This shows Mr. Gilmer’s approach towards Tom was definitely impolite. He showed lack of respect here because when he addressed Bob Ewell he called him “Mr. Ewell”. Mr. Gilmer also addresses Tom as “… a bid buck like you?” This is rude in a way that he doesn’t treat Tom as a proper person.
The jury was made up of white because black people were simply not allowed to serve as jury members. However it could be argued that the official Justice System was fair and that it was the people serving in it that were racist which made up a private system. A white man would undergo the same trial as a black man but if the jury was racist then obviously we would be able to predict the verdict. We have seen an example of this in the book where Jem, as the child, is aware of the case scenario and predicts that there is no hope at all. Atticus predicts in the novel that the verdict would be “guilty” but Jem, who because he had 100% faith in Tom Robinson’s case, felt that there was hope. However, this was only at first but then when Jem did experience the lack of justice within the courts he literally was shattered and mentally affected. He was dumbfounded by the trial but eventually it sunk into him and he began to witness the reality behind the whole “whites against blacks” situation. Atticus, on the other hand, because of his past experiences foresaw this and it did not hit him as it hit Jem. When Jem asked if Tom would be let go soon “Atticus opened his mouth to answer, but shut it and left…” This reaction was straightforward and simple to comprehend. Atticus saw there was no hope.
As said, black people were not given the opportunities to be a learned person therefore this meant that they would not be allowed to participate in the Political World and they could not teach etc. In the case of Tom Robinson we see the court’s jury is made up of learned white men who “know how to make judgements according to what evidence they have”. We all know that Tom Robinson was actually a good man as told to us in the book when Mr. Link Deas shouts out and defends Tom by saying that he was a good man and had never given any trouble. Personally speaking I derive from the situation that the fact that people see the Ewells as just as bad as a black family enraged them which probably led to this false accusation. There also may have been evidence that Mayella was spinning yarns with Atticus when she didn’t answer the questions about home-life with Mr. Ewell and whether he had ever beaten her.
Even with all this evidence, Tom was guilty as charged. The fact that there was no real sufficient evidence from the Ewell family gives us the implication that the Jury had to be racist and yet again the private justice system was active. In this novel, Harper Lee stereotypes a typical “white trash” family i.e. the Ewells and a “typical” black man and she shows how even though they comprise of the same lifestyles (even though Tom’s was more controlled and cleaner) because the Ewells were white, or might I say pure, they were accepted in society but because Tom was coloured he was rejected. These were just purely unjust views of the public.
In conclusion, I believe that the Justice System, itself, was fair. At that time a White man would go through the same trial stages as a Black man however it was the people and the influence in the court that affected a jury’s decision and if there was an all-white jury against a black then the verdict would be GUILTY AS CHARGED. Also through writing this novel we can deduce that the case of there being these two different systems can really make a difference on one whole court. Harper Lee’s portrait of the black society’s problems does enforce the injustices of the “Justice System”. By communicating to us, as the reader, through the point of view of a child, it helps us to learn and develop our understanding of the problems that overrode the black society of the time in the 1930s and it is as if our minds are just as naive as a child’s. We learn and witness the reality. I feel that the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” was just for us to understand the concept of the past and raise our awareness of the injustices against a coloured person.