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Wrong or Right, Black or White: An Analysis of “To Kill a Mockingbird”

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    “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” is a popular saying that means one should not prejudice the worth of someone or something by its outer appearance. The prevalence of this prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird, is shown through the unfair treatment of African-Americans based on racial, societal, and gender stereotypes. By juxtapositioning good and evil, transitioning innocence to impurity, and symbolizing the Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird demonstrates the devastating outcome of racial injustice in Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. One of the ways Harper Lee explores racial injustice is due to the moral nature of good and evil human beings.

    Tom Robinson’s trial is an important event juxtapositioning good and evil. The “good” is Tom Robinson; he is an honorable black man who cares for Mayella even though she repeatedly accuses him of assaulting her. Atticus describes Tom as, ‘A quiet, respectable humble Negro who had the unmitigated temerity to ‘feel sorry’ for a white woman.” Meaning that although the harsh evidence piles up against Tom, he still recognizes that Mayella is deeply insecure and a person in need. This is why on the witness stand, he gladly helps her because he knows neither her father nor her siblings will come to her rescue. The trial shows how deeply caring Tom is for narrow-minded people who do nothing but try to hurt him. In contrast to Tom, Bob Ewell is “evil.” During the trial, Bob Ewell constantly blames Tom for hurting his daughter when he is indeed the one that makes up the story to get attention. His actions of harboring grudges against Atticus and wrongfully accusing Tom illustrates his malicious personality. The hearing is unjustly biased because even though Atticus and Tom prove Tom’s innocence with supporting points, the jury looks past this and sees only the colour of Tom’s skin. Most importantly, the men are judging character solely due to race. “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.” (Lee 33) Atticus states this to Scout in order for her to comprehend the different lifestyles of the rich and poor, and the black and white. The people in Maycomb, Alabama are insensitive to Tom because of his upbringing and his appearance. Most people who live in Southern Alabama during the Great Depression are fair-skinned. Therefore, they presume Tom Robinson as a lesser human being than Bob Ewell because of the lack of diversity during the late 1930s. Another reason racial injustice is evident in this novel is because of the growth from innocence to impurity showing how views of people can change in an instant.

    Furthermore, as Jem and Scout transition from children to young adults, they shed their childhood innocence and begin to see the world with new eyes. Their belief that all humans are primarily good change due to acts of discrimination and racial injustice in Maycomb. For example, when Tom Robinson is wrongly accused of raping Mayella Ewell, Jem strongly believes that Atticus has no reason to lose the case. However, he does not take into consideration the jury’s racial bias because he presumes that all humans are treated fair and just. Atticus teaches Jem, “There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads—they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life. ” (Lee 251) After hearing this verdict, Jem is crushed and loses a great deal of his childhood innocence. Likewise, another character who evidently matures is Aunt Alexandra. When she first meets Calpurnia, the Finch’s African-American maid, she immediately takes to a despising behaviour of all Calpurnia’s doings. Per contra, after Tom Robinson’s trial and being around the Finch’s unprejudiced household, Aunt Alexandra grows to be accepting of black customs and decides that Calpurnia is actually a charming person. As these characters mature, they represent a deeper meaning; also known as a symbol.

    Moreover, the mockingbird carries great symbolic weight in this novel. The title, To Kill a Mockingbird refers to injuring or destroying innocence with acts of evil. Jem, Tom Robinson, and Boo Radley are all characters who are considered mockingbirds. Miss Maudie explains to Scout, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but…sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” (Lee 103) Mockingbirds are sweet birds that provide beautiful music to humans without any harm. In a sense, it is a sin to destroy pure people who do no wrong. Tom is a mockingbird because he is mercilessly shot and killed but without good reason. After his death, even a blatant racist such as Mr. Underwood describes Tom’s death as a “miscarriage of justice” (Lee 275) and a tragedy, because for Tom’s troubles, he receives a rape trial and the loss of his liberty; which is similar to wounding a mockingbird. Jem learns this lesson when he and Scout are having a disagreement about Scout disturbing a roly poly bug. “Because they don’t bother you.” (Lee 273) is what Jem says to Scout when she asks why she should not be cruel to the little creature. Jem, although young is beginning to understand that there is no good reason to be inhumane when someone or something is not doing the same; understanding the importance of being unprejudiced to all humans, the intention of Harper Lee’s novel.

    To Kill a Mockingbird weaves complex characters that are essentially good or evil, the growth of children’s innocence, and the powerful symbol of the mockingbird to showcase how people in Maycomb, Alabama acted towards black people during the Great Depression. To elaborate, the good and evil nature shows the division of prejudiced humans to the fair, and the viewpoint from innocent Scout demonstrates that children’s views change due to their surroundings and how humans act and talk with one another. In addition, mockingbirds are a major symbol of the harsh effects of breaking honest people down to feel worthless and the heavy apartheid of it. With the world more divided than ever, Atticus Finch reminds people that humans are defined by the way they treat others and beliefs can never justify cruel behaviour.

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    Wrong or Right, Black or White: An Analysis of “To Kill a Mockingbird”. (2021, Dec 16). Retrieved from

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