To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of those amazing novels that everyone should read before they die. It is truly a classic. Dealing with the hypocrisy, prejudice, violence and the terrible attitudes people had towards race and class in the 1930’s, it is a moving tale that can bring tears to the eyes of the most stoic person.
When Atticus, a lawyer and father of two – Jean Louise “Scout” Finch and Jeremy Atticus “Jem” Finch – defends the mockingbird of Harper Lee’s novel, a black man charged with the rape of a white girl, it leads to an unexpected set of events. This tragic and thought provoking tale is told through the young and innocent eyes of Scout and Jem. Harper Lee has an extraordinary gift, being able to tell such a tale that deals with the dark times of the 1930’s which are full of racism and violent issues, through the eyes of such young children. The town of Maycomb has the carpet pulled from under its feet by a race against time as a man fights for justice.
It takes someone special to tell a tale like this in such a way that the blows and horror don’t hit you till later on and even then, somehow, Harper Lee manages to convince you that there is not all bad in the world – she manages to convince you that the world is still a place worthy of hope. The book starts off with Scout and her family, she tells us the inner workings of her home life. The meeting of Dill and how he becomes a fast friend with Scout and Jem, their many adventures trying to seek out Boo Radley and even getting as close as the front door or trapped in the fence as Mr Radley shoots wildly in the front.
Scout is an innocent, funny and intelligent young girl. She is the one who carries us through this journey and all the while she makes us laugh and love her character. Through her we meet many of the book’s colourful and vibrant characters, Miss Maudie, Calpurnia, her aunt Alexandra and Arthur Radley “Boo”. She is the perfect narrator in this novel, she is so likable and so funny, she manages to include everything a narrator should have and then some. Her relationship with her father and brother are to be envied, their strong family relationship, is something many families don’t have and even through such a dark time, an uncertain and unsettling time even, they manage to stick together. Her mind set and way of thinking is true of a child, many questions and thoughts that open up questions for ourselves to ponder. She, in that way, and many other ways is a very smart girl. Her love of books and speaking openly with her father about his cases, is something that is nice to see from someone so young. She questions the unfairness of the time, the harsh ways and the hypocrisy of some people – asking why it is okay for her teacher to hate Hitler and yet be racist against black people. In fact, she is asking how can a person do that. How can they do one thing or say one thing and do another or how can they excuse they way they think and feel about a certain race but think that it’s terrible what Hitler was doing (it was, but so was white supremacy). She voices everything we think and everything Jem, Atticus and all the characters of the novel who are not ignorant and prejudiced, think.
Jem is another character who I really liked. He is the perfect older brother. He looks after and cares for Scout but also teases her and quite funnily, as it usually happens with siblings, tells her they can’t be friends at school. I think it was quite refreshing to read about siblings who play together, go to school together and come home together, play with their friends in their little group and have adventures together. No one is left out, well not until later when Jem starts to get older and become more grown up. He starts to experience things older boys do, get on the football team and go out with his own friends while Scout is left to her own devices. She, in this way, becomes closer to Calpurnia. However, Jem does not completely forget his sister, he is always there for her and they still have fun together. When they’re younger, their adventures with Dill and the teasing of Boo Radley is something that is quite thrilling and funny. Boo Radley, the man who stays indoors all the time, has this mysterious essence that draws the children to him. They try to make him outside, Jem even getting caught in the Radley’s fence wire. Jem and Dill often tease Scout about being scared of Boo and their many adventures up to his house, trying to make him come out, or knocking on his door, wheeling a wheel with Scout inside to the front garden or even peeping into his shutters. At the time, as a reader you begin to believe that Boo is this scary man but in the end it turns how he’s quite the opposite.
Atticus is a caring and loving father. He has a special relationship with his children, in that he trusts them and admires their honesty. He tells them a lot of what happens in his life and cases, especially the Tom Robinson case. Atticus looks after them in such a trusting, open and free way, he protects them and gives them what they need or want, he is a great father. He gives them knowledge, books, comics and allows they to play out with their friends. But he also has a firm side too, he is able to discipline his children without being harsh. I will also note that the children look after him and he looks after them – the children go to extreme lengths to protect their father when he is threatened at his work and Atticus goes to lengths to keep his children safe. He is also a man free from prejudice and hatred, he defends Tom and cares for Calpurnia. He does not see Tom as any different and believes in him. He goes over to Tom’s later on and is brought to tears when his family and friends thank him for everything he has done. He is fair and sees that black people should be treated equally.
Dill is a lovable character. He is the best friend. He provides comic relief but also he is quite an emotional character. He cares and loves his friends, developing a bond with Scout. He is deeply affected by Tom Robinson’s case, as is Scout and Jem (Jem being more affected by it than Scout however, as he is older and understands more). Dill openly breaks down and asks why is Tom being blamed, why is he being punished and why Mr Glimer was treating Tom that way. He asks why he’s so harsh when Atticus wasn’t, the Judge Taylor wasn’t but Mr Glimer was. What stuck out me most was:
“I don’t care one speck. It ain’t right, somehow it ain’t right to do ‘em that way. Hasn’t anybody got any business talkin’ like that – it just makes me sick.”
He, like Scout, Jem, Atticus, Miss Maudie, Mr Tate and any others who were against racism, thought it was wrong to treat any human that way, no matter their skin colour.
Harper Lee’s pen is swift and strong. She tells the story with no lies. She shows racism up – all the nastiness and horrid mind sets people had are there in plain sight. She shows how unfair it is for a man who is wrongly accused is still found guilty. How a man who had a family, did no harm, helped the Ewell’s and was always respectful, was found guilty and not because of his crimes but because of his skin colour. He was innocent. He did nothing. He was a kind hearted man. He was framed. It was never his fault. Mayella had been the one to try and tempt him, he refused and her father tried to blame him. Bob Ewell beat up his own daughter to make it look believable and to punish her for being nice to a black man. All because he was a difference race. Just because of his skin colour, Bob couldn’t take it. He had to lash out. Bob Ewell, the disgusting man he was, out of hatred and an inability to see the good in others or see that having a different skin colour was not in any way shape or form a bad thing, because he was so ignorant and harsh, because he was so against others of a different race, had a man charged for a crime he didn’t commit. It’s an unfair and cruel world, but a blunt and honest interpretation. For in those times, this happened and worse.
What makes this all the more horrible, is that Tom never stood a chance. He had a trail with a lawyer that fought tooth and nail for him, Atticus. He would’ve won – Tom was in no shape to do such a thing, having a limp arm and because of the good nature of his heart and the lying, dirty ways of the Ewell’s. He would’ve won, had he been a white man. He lost on account for his skin colour. All because he was a different race. The jury were so unable to see past his race, unable to see past their prejudice attitudes and see that all evidence points to innocent. That made no difference, he was guilty in their eyes. As Scout says, “Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.”
And it’s true. Oh so very true. Sick. But true. Harper Lee confronts this problem with a sharp tale, one that makes you think, if times hadn’t changed and people hadn’t fought for freedom, would it still be the same?
Towards the end of the book, something strange and frightening happens. Bob Ewell goes after Jem and Scout, he tries to kill them. He tries and fails, as Jem screams to Scout, “Run, Scout! Run! Run!”, he fights of the man who tries to harm him and his sister. Poor Scout is unable to see anything in her costume (she has to wear for a production at school), she feels Jem helping her and then being ripped away from her. She hears a crunch (Jem’s arm being broken), his scream and him trying to fight against someone. It is then unclear as to what happens. Scout is grabbed by someone (this someone is then killed) and Scout rescued by someone. Scout at first is sure that it is Jem who saved her but when she finally sees up ahead (after being freed), Jem is being carried by a man. This is one of my favourite parts of the book, it shows how no matter how horrible people can be, there always is someone willing to do good and that someone may be unexpected. It is revealed that the person who saved Scout and Jem is Boo Radley, or Arthur Radley. Scout recognises him, despite not knowing what he looked like. She knows it’s him and he smiles. “Boo” or Arthur, the man that the children were scared of, that the town spread stories about, the man who left gifts for Scout and Jem, the man who stayed indoors because the world was too horrible, is the one who saved them.
It is ambiguous as to how he saved them however. Scout couldn’t see who saved her, so it could’ve may well have been Jem, but that doesn’t entirely fit in. Jem was busy fighting Bob and then when Scout sees him again, he’s out cold, meaning that when his arm was broken he passed out. So, it couldn’t have been Jem who killed Bob Ewell (although he would’ve done so if he had been awake, to save his sister), so it must’ve been Arthur who rushed in, having heard Jem’s scream, saved Scout, killed Bob in defence and carried Jem back to the house. It’s a debatable ending, but it seems that the more effective answer is that it was Arthur. The person who seemed so strange, ended up saving them, ended up being kind and helpful.
In that way there are two mockingbirds to this tale. Tom Robinson and Arthur Radley. Tom Robinson because he was innocent and still shot at despite doing no harm. As Miss Maudie says the mockingbird sings and does no harm, they help and keep to themselves, likening Tom to a mockingbird – he was innocent. He helped people and did no wrong, yet he was wrongfully committed. Mocked, betrayed and put up in front of a court when he stood no chance. As the quote goes:
“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
Tom was a difference race. Mockingbird’s a different birds, both Tom and these birds are shot at for no reason. They do no harm and because they are different, they are treated horribly – therefore, it is a sin to kill either. To kill Tom because of prejudice and hatred, because of his skin and race – it is just his skin, how does that make him any different from the other characters? It does not. But to them, it made all the difference in the world.
Arthur is also a mockingbird. When he finally comes out of his house, he defends the children, Bob Ewell is dead, killed by either Jem or Arthur (most thinking it’s Arthur in defence). Boo carries Jem to the Finch house and Scout knows him. However, his heroics are covered up by Atticus, Tate and Scout. This can be read in many ways – one, is refusal of fame. Boo would be sent all kinds of gifts and his life would change, he wouldn’t be able to stay away, like he wants. Scout sees this as a danger which brings me onto the next reason. She says it would be like, “kill[ing] the mockingbird” – Boo is this mysterious person who shows up at the right times to help others. If this changed, he wouldn’t like it, everything would change and in that way “kill the mockingbird.” He could be seen as potent and in that way the others save him (like he saved them), when he needs saving. Also, he seen as the mockingbird because he is as innocent as the bird and as Tom, capable of helping others when need be, despite all the rumours. Another reason could be, that Arthur would be taken as guilty of murder because of his character and be charged like Tom, despite both being good people, be shot at like the mockingbird.
As Scout says that night after reading, “…they all thought it was Stoner’s Boy messin’ up their clubhouse an’ throwin’ ink all over it an’ they chased him ‘n’ chased him ‘n’ never could catch him ’cause they didn’t know what he looked like, an’ Atticus, when they finally saw him, why he hadn’t done any of those things…Atticus he was real nice…”
And in reply Atticus says, “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
There is a clear and moving message here (worthy of bringing tears to people’s eyes):
Do not judge others based on appearances, history, age, family, race, class, gender or any other unneeded prejudice. Don’t judge them because they are different than you, because they look different, have a different religion, come from somewhere else, speak differently. Never judge a person before know them and never judge a person after you know them. You need to get to know someone to “finally see them”, it’s more than just meeting them or seeing them. You need to make an effort, see them as a person, their likes, dislikes, their history and motives but even then do not judge them. For you will never then truly understand them. It also goes to show that while it is not always easy to see the good in people, there will be some good there and while even in the darkest or unlikely of people, there is something there, no matter how deeply it is hidden.