Tuesday, May 17, 2011


‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is set in the 1930s in the sleepy town of Maycomb, Alabama.  It is set in a time when racial discrimination was extremely prevalent in the United States.  The story is about courage and innocence as a lawyer named Atticus Finch fights in court to save a black man who is falsely accused of raping a white girl.

            The story is told by Atticus’ daughter Scout as she looks back on her childhood.  Thus it is told through the eyes of a child.  Scout (Jean Louis) lives with her elder brother Jem and their father Atticus who has had to raise them himself with the help of their African-American housekeeper, Calphurnia.  She tells us the story that covers three years of her childhood.  We see the children grow from innocence to understanding as the novel progresses.

            The main plot highlights Atticus’ fight against racism as he defends Tom Robinson who is unjustly accused of raping Mayella Ewell.  A rigid social structure exists in Maycomb and African-Americans are at the very bottom of it.  They are segregated from the white people and we see this when Aunt Alexandra does not allow Scout to visit Calphurnia’s home.  The town’s racist attitude comes from blind prejudice.  The children had a superstitious fear of Boo Radley which did not come from any logical cause.  In fact he watched over them and when “Boo’s children needed him,” he came to save them.  Similarly, the town and the jury hold Tom guilty without any logical reason even though he helped Mayella out of kindness.

            As Atticus fights for justice, he also tries to teach his children the true meaning of courage.  Their childish concept of courage is touching the wall of the Radley Place because “in all his life, Jem had never declined a dare.”  Then they see their father kill a mad dog with a single shot.  However Atticus tells his children that real courage is more than a man with a gun.  He gives them the example of Mrs. Dubose who fought her morphine addiction.  Atticus says real courage is “when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”  Thus when Atticus is facing a mob outside the jail house, Jem holds his ground and refuses to go home.  The children learn not to fight back when they are taunted about their father’s decision to defend Tom.

            By promising Atticus that they will not respond to taunts, the children also learn to understand people.  Their father tells them, You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  He teaches them to accept good and evil and to understand that they both may co-exist, even in the same person.

            As the children grow from innocence to understanding, Tom’s innocence is destroyed as he is killed.  Miss Maudie explains that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird as mockingbirds do no harm and only make sweet music.  Similarly, the jury and all of Maycomb committed the sin of sentencing Tom to death when all he did was help a girl whom he pitied.  Boo then saves the children from the revengeful Bob Ewell.  After having witnessed Tom’s trial, Scout is mature enough to understand that exposing a shy man like Boo to the public would be “sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird.”  She finally sees Boo as a man, not a monster and learns to look at the world through his eyes.  At the end of the novel she realizes the truth of what Atticus tells her, that most people are really nice when you finally see them.

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