‘The topic of justice is relevant to both individuals and society as a whole.’ In this essay, I will discuss this statement in relation to the prescribed text TKMB and two other related texts. One of these texts will be the writer’s own choice.
In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee addresses the issue of racial prejudice and social injustice in a community. The author presents Atticus Finch as a role model for moral and legal justice, as he is both an honorable man and lawyer who strives for justice for all. This same theme of social injustice and prejudice is also explored in the documentary Murder on a Sunday Morning, directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestade, and the film I am Sam, directed by Jessie Nelson. Both texts convey the idea that certain individuals experience intolerable injustices in society due to their race or mental capacity.
Harper Lee utilizes various techniques to highlight the perpetuity of the struggle for justice among individuals and society. The title of the novel not only directly relates to the plot, but also carries significant symbolic weight throughout the book. In a tale depicting the destruction of innocence by evil, the mockingbird represents purity and those subjected to social discrimination. Therefore, Atticus advises his children against harming a mockingbird, both literally and metaphorically, as it is considered “a sin to kill a mockingbird.” This symbolism is closely tied to the unfair trial and subsequent death of Tom Robinson, which is likened to the cruel hunting of songbirds. It symbolizes the shooting down of a mockingbird when Tom is falsely accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white girl, thus pitting his word as a “sorry negro” against that of a white woman. His supposed wrongdoing stems from feeling compassion for a white woman and perpetuates the notion that “all Negros lie” and are inherently immoral. Through this, the author effectively portrays the targeted racial prejudice aimed specifically at the African-American community.
The novel illustrates the idea that justice is always an issue for individuals, using the injustice towards Boo Radley as an example. Boo is not only a symbol of the Mockingbird, but also a subject of childhood superstition for Jem and Scout. Maycomb’s “usual disease” fuels this superstition. However, Scout learns that it doesn’t matter how society perceives Boo; one can only truly understand someone by putting themselves in their shoes and experiencing their perspective. She has personally witnessed and comprehended the injustice inflicted upon Boo due to his misunderstood nature within Maycomb’s society.
Irony is used throughout the novel to highlight the injustice faced by individuals and society. Scout’s teacher, Miss Gates, ironically fails to recognize the parallels between Maycomb’s treatment of its African-American residents and the persecution of Jews in Germany. She confidently claims that Maycomb does not engage in prejudice or persecution, yet her reaction to Tom Robinson’s trial reveals her own ignorance and reinforces the extent of prejudice within Maycomb society. Thus, the novel emphasizes how this injustice affects both individuals and the community as a whole.
The documentary Murder on a Sunday Morning delves into the concept that justice is a perpetual concern for individuals and society as a whole. De Lestade, the filmmaker, allows the individuals involved in the case to speak for themselves, occasionally featuring key figures like defense attorney Patrick McGuinness addressing the camera directly. From the beginning of the documentary, McGuinness presents himself as a charismatic and honorable man of law. He discusses his initial reaction to the story of Brenton Butler, expressing his increasing anger as he learned more about it. This conveys both his perspective on the incident and the moral principles he upholds. McGuinness utilizes his anger and values to defend Butler and prevent an unjust outcome. At just 15 years old, Butler found himself embroiled in the criminal justice system simply because he was a black person near the crime scene – the presumed ideal culprit.
De Lestade communicates the issue of injustice to individuals by presenting the film in a straightforward manner, focusing on the preparations for the trial and the trial itself, all from the perspective of the defense. This perspective highlights the laziness of the police and law enforcement involved in the case, who are more likely to believe a white witness than a black defendant. The actions of the police, particularly Det. Michael Glover, clearly demonstrate the cruel and incompetent attitude and prejudice faced by minority individuals in the community. For instance, Glover’s statement “it’s niggers like you that make me mad” directly targets Brenton Butler due to his race.
The film I Am Sam sheds light on the ongoing issue of justice in both individuals and society. The viewers are provided with an opportunity to understand Sam’s perspective as an autistic man living alone with his young daughter. The community’s prejudiced and sometimes pitying stares towards Sam’s fatherhood are depicted through subtle camera shots, highlighting their opposition due to his condition. Throughout the film, Sam faces challenges in obtaining legal custody of his daughter who has surpassed him in intelligence. Unfortunately, he continues to experience social injustice and discrimination due to his illness within the community.
The court officials and Sam’s lawyer all contribute to the perception of justice for individuals, while the community’s unfounded assumptions about Sam due to his illness are also expressed. The film’s bitter music underscores the unsympathetic position held by the court towards Sam, based solely on his mental illness, and their belief that he is incapable of caring for his own daughter Lucy. This discrimination echoes the mistreatment faced by certain individuals in To Kill a Mockingbird, particularly the false assumptions made about Boo Radley by society.
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird, along with the related texts Murder on a Sunday Morning and I am Sam, all demonstrate the enduring presence of justice as a problem for both individuals and society. Through the portrayal of racial prejudice and discrimination against the mentally ill, each composer utilizes their own distinct styles of writing and filmmaking to emphasize that justice has perpetually plagued society and certain individuals, and will persist unless there is a change.