To Kill a Mockingbird
- Length: 2533 words (7.2 double-spaced pages)
- Rating: Excellent
Nelle Harper Lee was born in1926 in the small southwestern Alabama town of Monroeville. She is the youngest of four children of Amasa Coleman Lee and Frances Finch Lee. Harper Lee attended Huntingdon College 1944-45, studied law at University of Alabama 1945-49, and studied one year at Oxford University. In the 1950s she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines in New York City. In order to concentrate on writing Harper Lee gave up her position and moved into a cold-water apartment with makeshift furniture. Lee published her first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, in 1960, after a two-year period of revising and rewriting. To Kill a Mockingbird won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, despite mixed critical reviews. The novel was highly popular, selling more than fifteen million copies. Though she delved into her own experiences as a child in Monroeville, Lee intended for the book to impart the sense of any small Deep South town and the universal characteristics of people everywhere. The book was made into a successful movie in 1962 .
Lee was named to the National Council of Arts in June of 1966 by President Johnson, and has received numerous honorary doctorates since then. She continues to live in New York and Monroeville but prefers to live a relatively private existence, granting few interviews or and giving few speeches. She has published only a few short essays since her publishing debut ("Love--In Other Words", 1961; "Christmas to Me", 1961; and "When Children Discover America", 1965).
The story of To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in Alabama in the Depression, and is narrated by the main character, a little girl named Scout Finch. Her father, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer with high moral standards. She and her brother, Jem, and their friend Dill are intrigued by the local rumors about a man named Boo Radley who lives in their neighborhood but never sets foot from his house. Legend has it that he once stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors, and he is made out to be a kind of monster.
The children are curious to know more about Boo, and create a mini-drama to enact which tells the events of his life as they know them. They slowly begin moving closer to the house itself, which is said to be haunted. They try leaving notes for Boo on his windowsill, but are caught by Atticus, who firmly reprimands them.
Then they try sneaking to the house at night and looking through its windows. However, Boo's brother thinks he hears a prowler and begins firing his gun. The children get away, though Jem loses his pants in a gate. When he returns, his ripped pants have been folded and roughly sewn up.
Other mysterious things happen to the Finch children. A tree near the Radley house has a hole in which little presents are often left for them, such as pennies and chewing gum. When they leave a note for the giver of these gifts, Boo's brother plugs up the hole the next day with cement. The next winter brings unexpected cold and snows, and the house of the kind neighbor Miss Maudie catches on fire. While Jem and Scout, shivering, watch the blaze from near the Radley house, someone puts a blanket around Scout. She doesn't realize until afterwards that Boo Radley must have been the one to do this.
Atticus decides to take on a case involving a black man named Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping a very poor white girl named Mayella Ewell, a member of the notorious Ewell family, who belong to the layer of Maycomb society that people refer to as "trash." The Finches all face harsh criticism in racist Maycomb because of Atticus's decision to defend Tom, but Atticus insists upon going through with the case because his conscience /kan'shn/ could not let him do otherwise. He knows that Tom has almost no chance, because the white jury will never believe his story, but he wants to reveal the truth of what happened to his fellow townspeople as well as expose their bigotry.
Scout and Jem find themselves whispered at and taunted, and they couldn't keep their tempers. At a family Chirstmas gathering, Scout beats up her relative Francis when he accuses Atticus of ruining the family name. Jem cuts off the tops of an old neighbor's flower bushes after she derides Atticus, and then as punishment he has to read out loud to her every day while she breaks her morphine addiction. Atticus holds this old woman up as an example of true courage: the will to keep fighting even when you know you can't win.
The time for the trial draws closer. The night before the trial, Tom is moved into the county jail, and Atticus, fearing a possible lynching, stands guard outside the jail door all night. Jem is concerned about him, and the three children sneak into town to find him. A group of men arrives ready to cause some violence to Tom, but Scout runs out and begins to speak to one of the men, the father of one of her classmates in school. Her innocence pesuaded them to leave.
The trial pits the evidence of the white Ewells against Tom's evidence. According to the Ewells, Mayella asked Tom to do some work for her while her father was out, and Tom came into their house and forcibly beat and raped her until her father appeared and scared him away. Tom says that Mayella invited him inside, then threw her arms around him and began to kiss him. When her father arrived, he flew into a rage and beat her, while Tom ran away in fright. According to the sheriff's testimony, Mayella's bruises were on the right side of her face. Tom Robinson's left arm is useless due to an old accident, whereas Mr. Ewell leads with his left. Given the evidence, Tom should go free, but after hours of deliberation, the jury pronounces him guilty.
Though the verdict is unfortunate, Atticus feels some satisfaction that the jury took so long to decide. Usually the decision would be made in minutes, because a black man's word would not be trusted. Atticus is hoping for an appeal, but unfortunately Tom tries to escape from his prison and is shot to death. Jem has trouble handling the results of the trial, feeling that his trust in the goodness and rationality of humanity has been betrayed.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ewell has been threatening Atticus and other people connected with the trial because he feels he was humiliated. He gets his revenge one night while Jem and Scout are walking home from Halloween play at their school. He follows them home in the dark, then runs at them and attempts to kill them. Jem breaks his arm, and Scout, who wearing a confining costume, is helpless throughout the attack. However, the elusive Boo Radley stabs Mr. Ewell and saves them. Scout finally has a chance to meet the shy and nervous Boo. The sheriff declares that Mr. Ewell fell on his own knife so that Boo won't have to be tried for murder. Scout walks Boo home. He goes inside and she never sees him again.
The prime messages observed in this novel is that of racism, how the actions of a community, not just a parent, can affect a child, and how rumors and invalidated facts can destroy anyone's reputation. The easiest way to observe this may be the town's actions toward Tom Robinson, the "negro" on trial. The townspeople, for the most part, dismissed the entire trial on the basis on that it does not matter what Atticus can do, Mr. Robinson is automatically guilty. This message can also be seen in a severely symbolic manner, Tom Robinson's death. The manner in which he dies is that he escapes and attempts to climb the fence to freedom, however he only has one good arm. It slows him up enough to allow the police to shoot him numerous times. Symbolically this can be viewed as a glimmer of hope to end this suppression. As this glimmer of hope is about to reach the mainstream and acceptance that racism is evil, it is shot down and dead, thus ending the opportunity. The jury gave a racist verdict, despite numerous evidence to the contrary, showing Harper Lee's opinion of the evil a racist society can do to a minority. One can observe that this verdict influenced the town in a manner no one expected, it twisted the minds of many children. Despite Atticus' "plans" to raise children who do not have this type of hate within them, they have these feelings due to some community actions . A prime example is Scout's answer to the question of the manner in which the prosecuting lawyer addressed Tom during his cross examination. Her answer was that he could do that because "...he's just a negro." This issue is not just the white community pressing an idea into someone's head. It can also happen in the black community,where some people bear a deep hate towards white ones.What both races have done is shun the other race, now what happens if a child is born with blood from both races. What happens is an isolated race that is exiled from both races because that child has blood from the other race. This evil act can be seen in the novel. The county practically exiles the children of Dolphus
Raymond and his black spouse to the non-racist north. The town does not look down on him, it actually feels sorry for him. Why, because the town does not know the real story, they base their feelings on unsubstantiated rumors. Rumors, no matter how false, can destroy an individual's reputation. Two different people, other than Mr. Raymond, are the subject of these rumors: Atticus and "Boo" Radley. Atticus is portrayed as a "nigger lover," something sinful in Maycomb. "Boo" Radley is the subject of much worse rumors. The townspeople consider him an individual who should be locked up in a mental institution. These messages and others help to show why this novel is considered a "classic." This novel is more of a political statement than a story, displaying the evils of our society and the consequences of living in such a society.
Miss Harper Lee has chosen Scout as a first person narrator in this story. This narrative technique has many strengths and some weaknesses. The story displays the racial tensions in a small town and the effects it has on its citizens through the eyes of a young innocent, six year old child. Scout is a bright, sensitive and intelligent little girl. For all her intelligence, she is still a child and does not always fully understand the implications of the events she reports. Yet she is not aware of the prejudice state surrounding her. Ultimately she represents the innocence within society. As well as being the story of childhood, it is also the story of the struggle for equality of the American Negro. To Kill A Mockingbird can be read as the story of a child's growth and maturation. Almost every incident in the novel contributes something to Scout's perception of the world. On her first day of school she finds that there are both social and poor classes in society, some are respectable and others not. She also learns that her father is an extra-ordinary man, fighting for a Negro's rights in court. At the trial of Tom Robinson Scout learns about equality and inequality, about justice and injustice and finally about racial prejudice. Many times during the course of the novel the idea of the mockingbird comes to mind. We first hear of the bird when the children are given there first air rifles for Christmas, Their father warns them to never shoot the songbird, saying to do so would be a sin. Mockingbirds don t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don t eat up people s gardens, don t nest in corncribs, they don t do one thing butsing their heads out for us. That s why it s a sin to kill a mockingbird. Its a sin to kill a mocking bird, During the trial of Tom Robinson, it occurs to the reader that the Negro has many characteristics he shares with the mockingbird, He is a gentle man, who has never harmed anyone and only tried to help. His murder is as much a sin as the killing of any innocent creature. By the end of the novel we see that the hermit Boo Radley is also like the mockingbird. He is shy and gentle, living quietly and harming no one. Near the end of the novel, Boo saves the children from being killed. Scout realizes that bringing Boo into the limelight would only be like killing the songbird. Many themes and ideas are presented in this novel, the sympathy theme is one of the main. Throughout the novel, Atticus repeats to Scout an Jem the importance of seeing things from another point of view in order to understand what the other person is feeling. The theme of childhood is also another important one. The story takes place over a period of years, and the reader takes part in the adventure of the child growing up in a small Southern town.
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, these are the words spoken by Atticus Finch when giving advice to his little girl, Jean Louise, Scout. This theme, do not judge a person before you get to know them, is something most children, during this day and age, are taught when they are very young, and is the reoccurring theme in To Kill A Mocking Bird. The two clear examples of this theme are with Arthur Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. When the characters are first met, they are introduced as bad and maybe even evil people. However, when the characters start to develop, it can be noticed that they are actually good people.
Books, as we all know, have very short shelf lives these days. Most new books remain on bookstore display tables for only a few weeks, and on the shelves for a few months at best. To obtain a book two years after publication is rare; for a book to be accessible forty years after it was first published is close to miraculous. To kill a mockingbird is that rare book. Since its publication in 1960 it has never been out of print. And with good reason --- it is one of the finest novels written in this century, and one of the most widely celebrated and read. And the question arises, from time to time, whatever happened to its author, Harper Lee? After she wrote the book, she dropped out of sight. In an era when authors become instant celebrities, appearing on countless talk shows and at book readings and signings, she is an enigma.