Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and George Eliot’s “Silas Marner”
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‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:
The setting of every story has a significant role in it as it affects how the people behave and it also gives us an insight to the way they treat each other and allows us to understand the procedure of certain events. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is set in a small town in Alabama in the southern states of America. Although Maycomb is a fictitious town, based on Harper Lee’s home town Monroeville, real places like Montgomery are referred to in the novel. In order to comprehend and be able to decipher how the atmosphere of the time affected both Harper Lee and the creation of her characters, it is necessary to consider the society and morality of both the time in which it was written (late 1950s) and the time in which it is set (1933-5). Maycomb is a microcosm (a mini-world) of American society in the 1930s. It is only concerned with its own problems mainly of poverty and unemployment, but is still anticipating drastic changes, both from within and outside its world. Its geographical position and historical background have influenced and shaped its inhabitants’ morality. The novel is set seventy years after the civil war. However attitudes and resentments were still prevalent.
In ‘Silas Marner’, George Eliot uses the town Raveloe with a small population of various social and financial backgrounds where the social classes inevitably collide. The people in Raveloe as well as in Maycomb have a big influence on their setting, as any modifications of the town or entrances of anyone has to go past them first. It is not so bad that your skin colour determined the way you would be treated; it was more of a social class struggle between individuals or groups. In ‘Silas Marner’, Silas Marner was regarded as inferior as he was suffering from fits frequently and he was not of a high social status. They thought that he was involved with the devil as he is also a weaver. Simultaneously, they thought that he was also affiliated with the heavenly powers. With this as evidence, I think that it would be sensible to say that Raveloe was a superstitious town
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:
As mentioned earlier, the characters affect the setting. Now I also agree with the statement that the events affect the characters obviously. Events such as the trial could bring about a significant change in an individual, group or even the whole society. I think that Atticus and Scout are both equally the main characters. However, as Scout is the narrator, she has more of a right to be it.
Scout (Jean-Louise Finch):
Scout’s natural warmth and friendliness are apparent in the way she behaves towards friends and neighbours. In the scene outside the jailhouse, these qualities diffuse a very ugly situation. Scout reveals her aggressive disposition after her fight with the Cunningham member and she had to be stopped by Jem. This also portrays her as a Tomboy which is understandable as her two main role models are males. She prefers her overalls while her Auntie Alexandra endeavours to try to make her more ‘ladylike’ and Scout seemed rather reluctant. Scout’s Cantankerousness and frank speeches always offend her aunt. The closest females to Scout are Calpurnia who does her best to adopt that missing figure in the house of motherhood and the other one in the unconventional Miss Maudie. The children learn by experience that adults are not always right, and Scout illustrates the significance of developing an open and unprejudiced mind of one’s own. She decides early in life that no matter how other people seek to divide up the human race into categories or types of people, there is really ‘just one kind of folks. Folks’.
At the end of the novel, we remain oblivious of the mature Scout as she steps back and is talking from the past as she is recalling all the events and in the end, she is but a mouth piece.
Atticus has a wise philosophy and passes it on to Scout. He is the teacher of morals to Scout. At the end of the story, Scout finally gets to see Boo and likes what she sees: ‘he was real nice’ (p. 309, chapter 31). Atticus replies, rounding off the story with the moral lesson that he has reiterated throughout, ‘Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them’. His philosophy is that:
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along better with all kinds of folks. 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.”
Atticus is a respected citizen of Maycomb and the town inhabitants show their faith in him by consistently electing him to represent them on the state’s law-making body.
Jem (Jeremy Atticus Finch):
He is very adventurous and always seeks for something to do when he is bored. His creative and resourceful nature is evoked in the games he plays with Dill and Scout.
Throughout the book, Jem is going through the stages of physical and mental growth; therefore atypical behaviour is a constituent of those stages and is expected from him.
Jem is one of the only characters we see mature. At the beginning of the novel, Jem showed signs of immaturity like disturbing the Radleys. In the early chapters his perception of courage and manhood are very superficial and he is ashamed of what he considers Atticus’s physical feebleness. It was only after the incident with the mad dog that he was able to appreciate the heroic nature of Atticus.
Silas was invariably a hardworking man with integrity. The changes that occurred in his life were not arbitrary, but were always a result of circumstances. His character delineates the significance of love, and that man is not an island, he cannot survive by himself, he needs somebody beside him. Silas Marner serves as a moral lesson of the consequences of obliteration when such a heavenly gift such as love is rejected.
Religion and the Position of the Church:
Religion is an element which differentiates the two novels and is a big issue which can influence many changes to the society.
To Kill a Mockingbird bird:
Harper Lee’s intention is not to be blasphemous but is to satirise not he Christian faith itself, but ridicule those people who profess Christianity but fail to implement it into their life. Moreover, there are the contrary genuine Christian believers like Atticus. For instance, he tells Scout that the only reason that he is defending Tom Robinson is that his religion obliges him to do it even though he is aware of the consequent unpopularity he will suffer from by doing so.
“…I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man” (Chapter 11)
Apart from Atticus, the only other people we know implement their religion into their lives are the black people of Maycomb. So by this, we can see that the black community live the religion and the white community simply talk it.
I have come to a conclusion that the individuals are partly composed of religion as there is no form of unity and they worship God in whatever way they wish. By this I am referring to those who are practicing Christians in To Kill a Mockingbird’. So Raveloe is more of a united society whereas Maycomb is composed of individuals. In Raveloe, religion is part of the social order which is the same as Maycomb. The only difference is that it is not implemented in Maycomb.
I have reached a conclusion about the religion and I found numerous amounts of diversities between them. To sum it up I would say that the narrowness and soul-destroying nature of religion in ‘Silas Marner’ compared in no way to the exponential racial prejudice in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird. The narrowness in religion in ‘Silas Marner’ also paralleled the narrowness and both body and spirit destructiveness present in Maycomb.
Background on Authors:
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:
We may never really know precisely how the novelist’s personal experiences influenced her to write the novel, as Harper Lee refuses all interviews. She spends most her time in Monroeville where she was brought up. By doing this, as Peter Lennon claimed The Guardian on 3 October 1995, she is essentially ‘protected by the community she is so sensitively put on the dock’. In this way, she mirrors her character, Atticus Finch, who says:
‘We’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home’ (pp. 84-5, chapter nine).
Interestingly, the book is set in the 1930s and Harper Lee would have been seven in 1933. She is therefore contemporary with Scout. Many of her personal experiences appear in the novel. Her father was a lawyer and she went to the local public schools. After that she studied law at university. Harper Lee worked on this novel for two and a half years.
This novel was written by George Eliot. There was a big difference between the two time periods which affected the two writers. George Eliot did not have the freedom of pursuing her ambition and just producing novels as a lady did not have that right then. Therefore, she had to write under a pseudonym (pen-name) of George Eliot. Her real name was Mary Ann Evans. In contrast, Harper Lee did not have to go through these pressures and was able to write freely. George Eliot was also contemporary with her character as Harper Lee was. George Eliot was also rejected the church as did Silas Marner. Although there were a few differences between the two of them, the bases of their characters were the same.
Use of language:
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’:
By inspection, it seems that Harper Lee was very fond of (descriptive) words. Part of the pleasure of reading her novel is the vast range of vocabulary. There are two dialects spoken in Maycomb. Standard English and the grammar used by the black people. When Calpurnia speaks to Scout, Scout notices straight away that it is informal and she refers to it as ‘nigger talk’. The different communities are distinguished by their use of language. Atticus uses language ironically sometimes but appropriately. Irony is a subtle technique which depends for its effects on the reader’s perception of some sort of incongruity, either between surface meaning and underlying meaning or between words and reality. It can take various forms. Although the story is written from a child’s perspective, it is not written in a child’s language. Writing from a child’s point of view has numerous advantages for the author such as being able to add irony humour and clarity of moral vision. However it will also restrict Harper Lee’s possibilities of expression to a certain extent. There is also a large degree of imagery. Scout seems to have a big admiration for imagination. She admires Dill for his ability to dream and invent and she also illustrates considerable imaginative power in her use of imagery.
Harper Lee delineates a coherent writing style and legal language permeates the novel. She has the ability to set the scene at times like when Robert Ewell attacks the children which her descriptions at times like these are rather nebulous and cinematographic.
Harper Lee uses figurative language and similes through Scout like when she said that Calpurnia’s ‘hand was as wide as a bed slat and twice as hard’. Objects are personified by Harper lee in order to add force to a symbolic structure, for example, the description of Maycomb in chapter one. These techniques highlight meaning and evoke traditions and methods of children growing up in South Alabama.
The different dialects and colloquial expressions add realism and authenticity to the novel. An example is when Scout asks Jem what the Radleys did for a living and Jem answered that they were ‘buying cotton’ which was a polite way of saying that he did nothing.
George Eliot uses a far more complicated form of English than Harper Lee. Her sentences are very long where Harper Lee uses very short ones. George Eliot also uses dialects and colloquialism to add realism to the story although it is only one dialect. She also uses all the above bullet points. However, her description is very extensive as she forms ’round’ characters. By comparison, I would say that the characters in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ are rather ‘flat’ as they can usually be described with a few sentences. Harper Lee distinguishes the two communities by their language use where George Eliot distinguishes them by their class and physical appearance as there is only one community thus there is only one dialect which is a big contrast between the two novels. Unlike Harper Lee, George Eliot is free to a sea of vocabulary as she is the author so she has no limitations with possible expressions. Like Harper Lee, George Eliot also uses pathetic fallacy to set the scene like when Eppie’s mother died in the cold snow in front of Silas’s door. The fact that it was cold and snowy sets the scene that we should feel sympathy because it is rather tragic.