‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ was written by Harper Lee. The novel is set in 1930’s America. In the 1930’s America was still in the middle of an economic depression. In 1931 the number of unemployed people rose to thirteen million. The government distributed relief in the form of money, food, clothing and other necessities. The south was hit hard by the depression as the prices of cotton fell. Black people received relief last and were the first to be cut off from it. Most of the Blacks worked on the land, they were forced to do the dirtiest and worst paid jobs. Instead of wages, at harvest they would receive a share of the cotton crops. Before slavery was abolished, blacks were not allowed the privilege of going to school. Instead they would attend illegal schools.
After slavery was abolished they were able to have an education, however in the South, blacks were not allowed to go to school with whites. Blacks schools were badly equipped and more crowded than whites schools. The separation of blacks and whites was called segregation. Some whites hated blacks so much they formed groups like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK.) They attacked blacks and anyone associated with blacks. Segregation took away the rights given to blacks when slavery was abolished. Segregation was everywhere, schools, public transport, public toilets and restaurants. The blacks facilities were always inferior, where the same services were used, blacks were served last.
The novel is about a young girl called Jean Louise Finch. She lives with her father, Atticus, her brother, Jem and their black cook Calpurnia. Jean Louise (Scout) narrates the book. In the beginning of the novel she starts off by saying when Jem was thirteen he broke his arm. This then leads onto a family history. Throughout the book racism is present. Even if Scout does not recognise it and understand it, it is still present. There are many other issues in the book as well. The use of child narration reflects on the innocence of Scout and the misunderstanding of more than one incident.
The mockingbird is used as a symbol in this book. A mockingbird is a long tailed American songbird with greyish plumage, noted for mocking the calls of other birds. It is a symbol for innocence in this book because all it does is sing for Humanity to listen to, it does not kill or disturb. Therefore the bird itself is innocent.
‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.
That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’
Miss Maudie said this after Scout asked her why Atticus told her it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. This sentence explains the mockingbird’s innocence, hence the authors choice of the mockingbird to represent innocence in the novel.
Tom Robinson is a black worker who is accused of rape by a white woman named Mayella Ewell, Daughter of Robert. E. Lee Ewell. Tom had a wife called Helen and five children. From the beginning of the trial there was no hope for Tom, it was inevitable he would be found guilty.
‘Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella
Ewell opened her mouth and screamed’
During his time in prison, Tom was shot dead. This shows that Tom went mad, being accused of such a crime when he was innocent must have ate him alive. During the daily exercise he broke out into a sprint and headed for the fence. He was shot down, seventeen bullet wounds.
Everyone thought Tom Robinson was guilty, the whole of Maycomb County thought he was guilty. During the trial when the jury’s votes were read out all but one vote bared the word “guilty.” He is seen as a mockingbird in this novel because he had done no harm to the people of Maycomb. All he had done was provide a service to Mr Link Deas and Mayella Ewell (on a few occasions.) However, Maycomb County still convicted him and sent him to jail, even though evidence was read out in court, which proved Mr Ewell was the man that beat Mayella, not Tom. The jury did not consider this evidence while deciding if Tom was guilty or not, because they could not see past racism, as in the 1930’s it was a part of normal life to them. Even after Tom’s death in prison, people were still naive about Negroes.
‘To Maycomb, Tom’s death was typical. Typical of a nigger to cut and run. Typical of a nigger’s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw.’
Most of Maycomb knew Mr Ewell had a drink problem and he had hurt Mayella, they still condemned Tom as a ‘typical nigger’ and felt no sorrow for his family. Scout does not understand how the people in her town are so hypocritical as they claim they hate Hitler because he persecuted Jewish people, because of their religion, yet they punish blacks themselves for having a different colour skin. This is also representing innocence by using Scout’s sympathy towards blacks.
Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley lives in the Finches neighbourhood. He lives with his brother Nathan and previously his father. Jem and Scout know Arthur as Boo, as he is seen as a monster. The speculation of Boo being a monster comes from a story saying he stabbed his mother with a pair of scissors. But later in the novel, Boo tries to make contact with the children by hiding gifts in the old oak tree. However Nathan finds out and cements the tree up. This shows how selfish Nathan is and how badly he wants Boo to be left to suffer alone. This automatically shows his innocence, as he does not retaliate to his brother cutting him off from the world and the children. Dill, Jem and Scout made up a drama in which they acted out Boo’s life as they saw it. When Atticus found out about it, he forbid the children to play it again. This again shows innocence as Atticus had to stand up for Boo, because the children are being prejudice, as they don’t know Boo, yet they condemn him as a monster. The children have a mental picture in their heads of a big ghoul, which is what they expect Boo to look like.
‘Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained-if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.’
In comparison to what he really looks like, this is a terrible description to have of him. He had obviously had a label put upon him because he was different to everyone else. This is a perfect example of Boo’s innocence, as he is the victim of prejudice. The people of Maycomb county have a habit of gossiping and not getting their facts right. Boo later proves that he is not a monster. On three occasions he helps the children. The first occasion was on Dills last night in Maycomb before he went home, the children looked through a window in the Radley place, Nathan shoots at them however the children get away.
In the process Jem removed his trousers as they became caught on the fence in the Boo’s backyard. He came back later that night to find Boo had fixed his trousers and folded them across the fence. This gave Jem a different opinion on Boo. The second was when a fire broke out at Miss Maudie’s, later on into the night Scout discovers someone has put a blanket around her. Miss Maudie and Atticus knew Boo had put it there but Scout worked it out herself. The third occasion was when Bob Ewell attacked they children, Jem’s arm was broken and Boo stepped in and turned the knife on Bob, killing him. He then carried Jem home, followed by Scout, to their father where Scout first saw Boo in person. This shows how Boo was helping humanity, doing no harm like a mockingbird. When Scout first meets Boo, he does not say anything but shows what he wants with his body language. This shows how shy he is. Boo’s true appearance is described as:
‘ I looked from his hands to his sand-stained khaki pants; my eyes travelled up his thin frame to his torn shirt. His face was as white as his hands, but for a shadow on his jutting chin. His cheeks were thin to hollowness; his mouth was wide; there were shallow, almost delicate indentations at his temples, and his grey eyes were so colourless I thought he was blind. His hair was dead and thin, almost feathery on top of his head.’
This description makes him sound like a frail old man, instead of a monster. Finally Boo’s label of ‘monster’ has been pulled away. The fact he is deadly quiet and the fact he hides in a dark corner away from the activity, helps prove how innocent he is.
My conclusion is Tom and Boo are the mockingbirds in this novel, due to prejudice, racism and their innocence, innocence in more way than one. The only people in Maycomb who show sympathy and respect to these two ‘mockingbirds’ are the ones who are like them. They provide a ‘service’ to humanity, like the mockingbird. They are the Finches.