Greer Porter, “To Kill A Mockingbird” essay 2.4
Analyse how one or more significant events were used to comment on an aspect of society in the written text(s).
The novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee uses many significant events to explore aspects of society. One of the main aspects is racial prejudice, racism is showed extensively during Tom Robinson’s unfair trial. It is displayed in a way where we understand the high level of racial prejudice that was present in 1930’s America. Another aspect that was shown in the Tom Robinson trial was the class system. The class system in Maycomb was a typical hierarchy that was common in America in the south during the time period of the novel. Finally, ageism was also presented in the text showing us how people discriminate against others because of their age. Ageism was shown multiple times in the novel, a prominent time being the Finches Christmas at Finch’s Landing with Aunt Alexandra.
One significant event in the novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” was the Tom Robinson trial. The Tom Robinson trial was an important event for many reasons, the trial displayed racial stereotypes in the town of Maycomb County in the years of 1933-35. The Tom Robinson trial was the trial deciding whether Tom Robinson, a Negro man would be found guilty and sentenced for the accused act of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. The Ewells are known around Maycomb County for being lazy and not contributing to society. They live from welfare checks and the knowledge that they know the town cannot do anything about them residing there, because for as long as anyone remembers they have always been there, and in their minds will always be there. In the text the Ewell’s are described as “the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations.” This quote describes how the town look down on the Ewells as they do not care about the welfare or prosperity of Maycomb living on the outskirts, separated from society only being a hindrance.
In the trial, Mayella Ewell was claiming that Tom Robinson, a Negro middle-aged man had raped her. This accusation has been heavily denied by Tom himself, stating he had only ever helped Mayella as she had sometimes asked Tom on his way home from work, to do odd jobs like ‘chopping’ kindling’, totin’ water.’ As Tom was a kind fellow, he helped her out sometimes, in the trial he even admitted “he felt sorry for her.” Admitting this was Tom’s mistake, as in the racially discriminative town they lived in, the fact that a negro could feel sorry for a white woman, even if it was just a Ewell was still unimaginable. In the trial Atticus was appointed as Toms defendant, trying to utilize the fact that Tom was a cripple, having only one good hand to prove that he could not have inflicted the injuries that Mayella was allegedly accusing him of, such as “the defendant choked and beat you.” “Blacked your left eye.” These increasingly violent
acts seem hard to imagine a cripple could inflict upon Mayella with ease, particularly when Mayella stated she “hollered for all I was worth, kicked and hollered loud as I could.” This proves she put up a fair fight, and that it wouldn’t have been the easiest act for Tom to hold down her down. Showing the readers that Mayella’s claim’s of Tom raping and beating her is quite a feat for a cripple, who has always been known in town to be a kind and honest man. This gives us insight into the idea that Mayella could have possibly been lying, relying on old racial stereotypes that negroes are liars and bad people in order to have him found guilty. Atticus phrases this concept perfectly in his closing speech “ To begin with, this case should have never have come to trial. This case is as simple as black and white. “The state has not produced one iota of medical evidence to `the effect that the crime Tom Robinson is charged with ever took place.” This proves the evidence presented in the trial is not reliable, with it being solely based on two witnesses, whose evidence was highly denied by the defendant. All of this states that Mayella was lying, and hoping that racial stereotypes would allow Tom to be accused of being guilty with no proper evidence.
All throughout history Negroes have been discriminated against and found guilty of crimes they did not commit, simply because of the color of their skin, the trial talked about above is an exact example of an innocent man being convicted of a crime only because of his race, no other solid incriminating evidence. The Tom Robinson trial has many similarities to the Scottsboro trial that occurred in America in the 1930’s, the same time period as the novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” was set in. Two white women were pressured into accusing nine young Negroes of rape charges. of the nine boys were sentenced to death, with the youngest 13 being sentenced to life imprisonment. The case was finally sent to the US supreme court in 1937, after one of the woman prosecuting them changed her testimony, the nine boys were found not guilty, however it was 20 years later until the final man was freed from jail. The Scottsboro trial and the Tom Robinson trial in the novel are both perfect examples of the racial prejudice in America, during the time period were the Jim Crow laws were implemented, and how people were charged with crimes simply on the bias of the colour of their skin.
Many in the town believed that the trial was unnecessary, the racial prejudice they showed towards Negroes made them believe that obviously, the Negro man had to be in the wrong. Due to the way they had been raised, they knew nothing different, having ingrained prejudices towards Negroes since childhood, even if it was unintentional. “The evil assumption—that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption that one associates with minds of their caliber”. This quote backs up my earlier statement about how most of the citizens of Maycomb County, cannot begin to believe or understand that Tom Robinson, a Negro was innocent, as they have not be raised to think of whites citizens and Negroes as equals. This shows that they have not developed a moral compass for themselves like Atticus has. Atticus puts the townspeople down by saying minds of their caliber think and view Negroes as second class citizens, but in reality, it is only years and years of history that is causing most people think in this way, the prejudices only there because humans have created them. Racial prejudice in Maycomb doesn’t seem wrong just normal, due to it being all they have ever known. Many in the town were quite shocked that Atticus was able to sway the jury’s opinion, creating an almost hung jury, because in their minds the Negro should always be in the wrong. However, in the end, the majority of the jury resorted to their old prejudices and racial discrimination, sentencing Tom guilty, ignoring all the evidence that points to the fact the Tom did not commit the crime he was being imprisoned for. Racial prejudice is shown in the trial because had the act Tom was being found guilty off, been accused on a white man, the jury would have most likely would have voted not guilty, because of the dismal evidence that was shown in the court case, and the racial favoritism they clearly show. If prejudices were not clouding their view, they would have seen the rape accusation was false. However, because of the racial prejudices they believe in, Tom was found guilty of an act he did not commit, simply because of the colour of his skin.
Another aspect of society present in Maycomb County in the 1933-35’s era, that was shown clearly in the important event that was the Tom Robinson trial, was the social hierarchy in Maycomb. The Town of Maycomb has a very clear social hierarchy, with the people like Atticus Finch, Heck Tate and Judge John Taylor at the top of the hierarchy, due to their highly regarded positions that they hold in the town, also due to the fact that they are white and male. Below them are white females, and finally at the bottom of the social class system, are Negro men and woman. The Ewells are placed differently on the hierarchy by certain members of the community. Some of the members of the town consider negroes to be of a higher social class than the Ewells, this is shown very evidently in this quote describing the Ewells. “The disgrace of Maycomb for three generations.” This quote allows us to realize that even Negroes must be considered by some more respected within the society of Maycomb county, than the Ewells as it is calling the Ewells the disgrace, not the Negroes. This is because Negros help and contribute to society not just leech of everyone else’s honest work, like the Ewells do. “Every town the size of Maycomb had families like the Ewells. No economic fluctuations changed their status- people like the Ewells lived as guests of the country in prosperity as well as in the depths of depression.” This quote backs up what I was saying earlier, how the Ewells contribute nothing to society, surviving solely on the good grace of others.
There is however, some residents of Maycomb, who still fall back on their laurels and resort to their old drilled in prejudices, that all white people are better that Negroes, no matter how immoral and rude they are. It is simply because of how they were raised and the society they live in, for their reasoning to think and view Negroes in such a discriminative way. In the trial, this social hierarchy was highlighted clearly, in the way Atticus composed himself and held respect for himself, compared to Bob Ewell. This shows the very clear class difference between the citizens of Maycomb, even though they are both white males they have different standards of respect towards themselves and others. Bob Ewell has never known anything different to how he was raised, he then went on to raise his own children in a similar fashion. We learn that no one has ever taught him how to handle himself with dignity. He presents this lack of respect for himself in the way he gives his testimony and speaks during the trial. He doesn’t respect himself saying things rude unnecessary comments, for example, in response to being asked if he is Mayella’s father he says. “Well if I ain’t I can’t do nothing about it now, her ma’s dead.” He also says, “I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!” This shows the supremacy he thinks he deserves and should hold over a black man simply because of his skin colour, but really his presentation of himself is disgraceful, and he allows and forces himself to be at the bottom of the class system, as he makes no attempt to better himself.
Atticus on the other hand, holds himself in a respectful manner, not putting others down. He is even called out by Mayella Ewell for calling her “Miss Mayella”, as she was so not used to the people from the town of Maycomb showing respect towards her, she believed Atticus was making fun of her. “‘Won’t answer a word you say long as you keep on mockin’ me’ she said. Ma’am asked Atticus startled…. ‘Long as he keeps callin’ me ma’am an’ saying Miss Mayella. I don’t hafta take his sass.” It was so foreign to her being treated with even the littlest of respect, she couldn’t believe he was being truthful.
These difference in how the two men present themselves during the trial shows us the class and hierarchy system in Maycomb. This is due to it displaying those at the very top at the hierarchy, Atticus, Judge Taylor and Heck Tate, while also showing the lowest of the low, the Ewells. This discussion that the Ewells are at the bottom of the social hierarchy is disputed, as some people in Maycomb believe the Ewells are clearly the lowest, as they contribute nothing to society. Others however, still believe even the best Negroes in town, who contribute in a benefiting way to society such as Calpurnia, are still lower than the Ewells simply because it is all they have ever known. The Ewells in the novel are most definitely made out to be the lowest in the Maycomb class system, simply because of all the times throughout the novel where people talk down on the Ewells, the way they present themselves is also a disgraceful manner. The Negroes contribute more than the Ewells to society, while also holding for respect for themselves.
In New Zealand, while our society is not as racist as America was back in the 1900’s, we still have groups that get discriminated against, because of their appearance or behavior. A good example of this would be Maoris, the indigenous people of New Zealand. They have had racial tension and trouble all throughout history. When European settlers first came and wanted to settle and take the lands of New Zealand for themselves. The European settlers didn’t respect the Maori ancestry. Maoris were treated like second-class citizens in their own country, forced to move there large tribes who had lived on the same land for all of history, into smaller settlements that they were forced into. This discrimination of Maoris started thousands of years ago and is still present to this day. Maoris are often regarded as lazy, destructive and not a positive influence on society, simply because of their race. This discrimination, while not as awful as what is shown in the text “To Kill A Mockingbird” is still unacceptable and needs to change. They are just stereotypes we have created, nothing else. This idea of respecting oneself was shown in the trial, allowing the trial to shine a light on the Maycomb class system, and help us understand it better and how it is justified by many that the Ewells, are at the bottom of the hierarchy. The class system while not a good thing, due to it being discriminatory in factors such as gender and race, is necessary for the town to function and to create a distribution of power, which is needed for any society to function correctly.
Finally, another event that was significant in the novel, was the event that occurred at Finch’s Landing between Scout and Francis Hancock. The event at Finch’s Landing is significant for a numerous amount of reasons, some of these include how it shows the reader the Finches family old money and obvious history with slaves, it also displays the restricted lives that women in the South were forced to live. The idea of learning racial stereotypes at a young age is depicted in the text, while also discussing the issue of ageism, discrimination against someone because of their age.
These ideas are brought to the reader’s’ attention specifically during the event at Finch’s Landing on Christmas day. Atticus takes his family to visit Aunt Alexandra and her family at their family home. Scout and Francis engage in a fight over Atticus, with Francis accusing him of being a “nigger lover”. This event shows how Racial prejudice is taught and learnt at a young age, while also allowing the reader to understand that in America in the 1930’s, if you grew up with parents who have unjust racial prejudices, their ideals and opinion will be passed on to you and you will know nothing better, and will grow up believing it is okay to discriminate against Negroes, as we see with Francis Hancock. Francis wasn’t intentionally meaning to show racial bias and be rude, he had simply been mimicking what his grandmother, Aunt Alexandra had clearly been mouthing off about. He didn’t completely understand what he was talking about, only repeating what he had heard his role models, the people who raised him talking about because racial prejudice and discriminating beliefs is a learned behavior, not something we are born with. We can see this in the way Scout was raised by Atticus who taught her to be accepting of all people, no matter what color their skin is compared to the upbringing Francis had, who grew up in a very racist southern family, so now has learned their racist beliefs.
The event at Finch’s Landing between Scout and Francis also shows Ageism. It is presented by how Aunt Alexandra, and Francis’ family, raised Francis, compared to the way Atticus raised Jem and Scout. Atticus trusts his kids and because he trusts them he treats them with respect, not like other children who have been raised in a family where their thoughts, opinions and beliefs are not valid or accepted because they are only “children” and how could they say or do anything of use. Francis Hancock battled with the discrimination against his age his whole life, with being raised by Aunt Alexandra at Finch’s Landing. Aunt Alexandra is very stuck in her old mindset, believing the idea that kids cannot be anything more than kids, as they are too juvenile to understand concepts and ideas that adults can. She was incredibly adamant that Francis is raised with the traditional ideals of the South, that have been passed down through generations of the family history.
Ageism is most clearly shown when for Christmas, Francis receives books and toys, typical children gifts, while Scout and Jem are given air rifles. “What’d you get for Christmas?… ‘Just what I asked for;… a pair of knee-pants, a red leather booksack, five shirts and an untied bow tie. That’s nice I lied. ” This quote displays the very kid-like and boring gifts Francis receives, this shows how his parents view him as a kid and only a kid, while Atticus respects his kids and treats them as they deserve to be treated, not judging them by their age. Giving Scout and Jem air rifles is an incredible display of trust from Atticus, giving his young children gifts that a typically considered adult things that children shouldn’t have. It shows how Atticus doesn’t discriminate against age, he judges people based on what they have to offer, and how much he respects and trusts a person, not on their age. This shows he doesn’t have a prejudice against someone because of their age.
At the Finches Christmas dinner, Scout is isolated at a table by herself, as Aunt Alexandra considers her still too young to eat with the adults, “I often wondered what she thought I’d do, get up and throw something? I would prove to her how civilized I could be; after all, I ate at home everyday with no major mishaps.” This ‘ shows Aunt Alexandra discrimination against youth, she views young people on the sole reason of how long they have been alive when really scout is one of the few townspeople of Maycomb to understand what discrimination really is. “ 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.” This quote shows us Scout’s maturity and how she see’s the world through a quite unbiased and honest perspective she is saying how to Maycomb, Tom’s death was normal and she struggled to come to terms with this idea struggling as she didn’t not have the same racial discrimination of others in the town. Ageism is shown in the novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” so the reader can learn that no matter your age, young or old you can sometimes be the only person to really see the truth in people actions, and differentiate between what is right and wrong. This is what Scout realizes when she hears of Tom’s brutal death. Aunt Alexandra never saw how mature scout really was and thus discriminated against her solely because of her age.
In the novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee we see many different significant events, that allow us to understand key aspects of society that were present in the text. Tom Robinson’s trial exhibited multiple aspects of society, firstly it taught us the racism present in 1930’s America, and how unjust people’s views of Negroes still were, years after slavery had been made illegal.The trial also informed the readers of the classism in Maycomb. It showed the highest of the hierarchy, while also showing the two lowest groups the Ewells and Negroes, the clear contrast of the different classes presentation during the trial allowed us to see the class system that would have been common in small towns in the South of America in 1930’s. Finally, Christmas day at Finch’s Landing highlighted Ageism in the book and how discrimination against not only race and class was present in the novel but also age. Scout was discriminated because of her age unjustly by her Aunt, this discrimination against children in very common and a relevant issue as older people tend to believe children cannot grasp ideas and concepts when in reality they can. Overall “To Kill A Mockingbird” utilized key events to highlight vital aspects of society that were present in the novel and in the end influenced the outcome of the book.