To Kill A Mocking Bird: Racisim In The South

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 10th grade May 2001

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In many novels set within a particular time period, there is always a tendency for the theme to be based around the era itself. In To Kill A Mocking Bird there is a theme of effects of racism in the 1930's in the south. Although racism is one distinct theme, ignorance is another underlying theme. Harper Lee develops this theme by having two storylines going on at once and eventually linking in the end. Dill, and Jem and Scout Finch are three children who have an obsession with their neighbor, Boo Radley, who is much of a mystery to them and the rest of the town of Maycomb.

Throughout the story the children play games with Boo, never actually meeting him in the beginning. Jem, Dill, and Scout even sneak into the Radley property to get a glimpse of Boo but are shot at and Jem ended up getting his pants stuck to the fence ripped off while running away.

To the children's astonishment the pants were mended and hung over the fence neatly the next day. Also when there was a fire at a neighbor's house someone had placed a blanket across Scouts shoulders. The children were convinced that the mended pants and the blanket were both from Boo. Much of the time the children do not realize the effect anything they do towards Boo. Boo, being the town mystery constantly had rumors flying about him, his identity, and also stories made about him. The initial reason the children began to their wonderment of Boo was due to horror stories rumored in the town. Jem, Scout, and Dill were the only people who ever got past the ignorance and rumors to know Boo, which is learned when the two storylines come together.

Racism is a prevalent theme within To Kill A Mocking Bird. Atticus Finch, who is Jem and Scouts father, is a lawyer in the south in the 1930's. Atticus agrees to defend a black man named Tom Robinson in a rape case in his small town of Maycomb. Due to Atticus's controversial decision to take this case, Jem and Scout are both subjected to abuse from other children, even when they celebrate Christmas at the family compound at Finch's Landing. As Tom Robinson's trial approaches and he is placed in a local jail, a mob of local men gathers to lynch him. Atticus faces the mob down the night before the trial and his children sneak out of the house to join him. Scout's innocence and ignorance to the significance of the situation shames the mob into dispersing. At the trial itself, Atticus provides adequate evidence that Mayella Ewell and her father Bob are lying. He proves that in fact, Mayella propositioned the black man, was caught by her father, and then accused him of rape to cover her shame and guilt. However, the all-white jury convicts Tom despite the evidence. Later Tom tries to escape from the prison and is shot. Despite the guilty verdict, Bob Ewell still feels humiliated and like Atticus and the judge made a fool out of him and he vows revenge.

Bob Ewell menaces Tom's Robinson's wife, tries to break into the judges house, and even tries to attack Jem and Scout while the two were walking home from a Halloween party. This is the point in the storylines where the two meet. During Bob's attack on Jem and Scout, Boo Radley intervenes to save the two children, and Bob is accidentally killed in the struggle. Boo ends up carrying the wounded Jem home, and sits with Scout for a while, and then once again disappears into the Radley home.

Harper Lee carries across the main theme of racism in the south of the 1930's by using many allusions and idioms of the time. These techniques helped explain the attitudes and mind frames of the people in the town. This storyline only takes place within just a year from one summer to another, with all main events take places in the two summers. For people who did not live during the 1930's or in the south, or both, this book explains the lifestyle and attitudes of whites and blacks in the south. Racism, ignorance and injustices of the south are clearly shown and understood within the storyline. I personally feel this book left no questions left in my mind. This book definitely makes me want to learn more about the time period and the south because the novel opened my eyes to environments I had never seen or been a part of. To Kill A Mocking Bird was easy reading and never left me bored, over all I enjoyed the book and the lessons learned in it.