The iconic novel of to Kill a Mockingbird was written by Harper Lee. It is all about the observations of the child, aged 10, in times when racism was rife in the United States of America. The story takes place in Alabama, a state known for its conservative ideals and religious dogmatism. Harper Lee rarely gives interviews about her novel, famously saying that novel speaks for itself and indeed it does. This wonderful book of 281 pages won Lee the Pulitzer Prize and has been used as a text talk to many students in classrooms all over the world for many years.
As mentioned, the story takes place in one of the southern states in the USA. At the time that the novel was set, there was deep poverty for the black community. Segregation was employed and black and whites did not mix. The culture was deeply ignorant and racism was commonplace throughout the state and throughout the whole of the country.
A reason as to why Harper Lee succeeded so well in her novel was because of the way that she portrayed characters. There are a number of different characters in the novel, the most prominent being the following:
The main protagonist of the novel is Jean Louise Finch, more commonly known as Scout by her friends and family. She is the young and keen individual who unfortunately has to discover the dark side of people around her. She appears and gazes at the world through the lens of a curious child.
Scout has an older brother called Jeremy who is a rather provocative character in the novel and the two of them are fathered by Atticus who has a high moral compass. Atticus is a figure who is very proud of who he is and treats everybody with dignity and respect. There is a person who is being accused and is on trial for egregious crimes called Tom Robinson whom Atticus is trying to defend as a lawyer.
It is the theme of judgement which is central to Lee’s work. Some of the most poignant examples of where judgement has been passed are when Scout passes judgement to her friend Boo Radley until afterwards, she discovers that they are actually very kind and brave. Towards the end of the novel, most of the town is against the wrong person in the trial, judging a man just because of the colour of the skin. This is something that the novel is very good at drawing towards – the theme of racism ties into the theme of judgement.
The iconic mockingbird is a symbol that highlights innocence within the novel. At the beginning of the novel, Scout is an innocent child who is just looking at the world like any other child would that the end of the novel we see that her innocence is taken away from her. The innocence of other characters is also lost, for instance, Jeremy’s innocence after Tom Robinson’s wrongful trial and conviction for rape. Everybody seems broken towards the end of the novel.
This novel is told by a six-year-old girl, Scout, in her hometown of Maycomb, Alabama. Scout and her elder brother live with their father, Atticus. Unfortunately, Atticus no longer has a wife and is widowed, but they have a bubbly and kindhearted African-American housekeeper, Calpurnia. The family unit seems very close-knit and tied together.
The story is set during the great depression. This was a very hard time for America, where segregation of races was everywhere. In general, the whole country was experiencing economic decline and a lot of this was blamed on African-Americans. It was a very harsh time for everybody, especially those being subjugated to racism by the white population.
It is within the plot that we get to see the two major themes of the novel at play, merely justice and judgement. Innocent Scout and her brother are always trying to learn more about their mysterious neighbour, Boo Radley. It is their innocence that leads to them passing judgement, but they are only kids after all. They learn valuable lessons towards the end of the novel together.
Judgement is passed in the form of racism and in the plot, there is a trial which Atticus is on the defence team. The investigation takes place with the accused, Tom Robinson, who has allegedly raped someone named Mayella Ewell. The girl hails from a very rough white family and she is the daughter to Bob who often beats her and treats her unfairly. Tom Robinson feels sorry for the alleged victim and tries to help her, yet he is accused of raping her and is on trial. Despite the overwhelming lack of evidence for the crime that was alleged to have taken place and the overwhelming evidence pointing to mitigating circumstances, such as the testimony from Bob which discredits the case, unfortunately, the jury still judges Tom Robinson to be guilty and he is sentenced.
Towards the later stage of the book, Bob tries to get revenge on Atticus as a result of his defence and he is killed. Justice has not been done, or has it? Lee plays on justice and this scheme is a very powerful one in this book. We certainly see that Scout’s innocence has been lost when the book is over.
The central style of the novel is storytelling, i.e. the story is being told through the eyes of an innocent young child. It is a brilliant way of betraying all of the themes in the novel. The narrative style can be broken down into two different ways. First of all, you have the young girl growing up in hard times and secondly, you have the same girl reflecting on her childhood memories. When Lee adopts the young girl’s perspective, this makes it a brilliant way of applying parity, irony and satire.
Another has been set in the genre which has been classified most commonly as “Southern Gothic”. It is the strange sections about one of the characters, Boo Radley, which makes it part of this genre and gives it the Gothic feel.
One reason why this novel has been so powerful is that it showcases true legal talent in the form of Atticus Finch. Atticus is an integral character and shows his integrity for the legal system. He conducts his practice with such dignity and grace, with a very focused moral compass. Unfortunately, in the novel, racism prevails and so justice is not served correctly, that one can look up to Atticus as the perfect lawyer.
It is this brilliant book that Harper Lee wrote which has influenced people as early as the 1960s. It was actually voted the best novel of the 20th century by readers of the Library Journal. It is no wonder that this novel has gained such wide recognition all around the world. It is truly a testament to the innocence of children, racism and other central themes that were so culturally relevant at the time of the great depression.
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