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Is To Kill A Mockingbird an Optimistic or Pessimistic Novel?

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To Kill A Mockingbird involves numerous different points. The way the author has composed her novel has ensured that some parts contain ‘optimistic’ points and other parts are ‘pessimistic.’ For example large parts of the book are based on racism. This point alone is thought to be pessimistic however, some parts of it have to be thought of as optimistic- such as Atticus keeping the jury out of the court room longer than any other man, proving that things were changing and there was a chance that the black man would be acquitted. This novel contains other complex views also.

Another category that contains many views and prejudicial comments is education. Education can be interpreted in two ways; teaching in school and what the children, and in fact all of the people in the book learn out of school. Scout being dictated to telling her she must not read, is very pessimistic and the education system also appears to the reader as ironic occasionally. Such as when the teacher described Hitler as racist when a similar thing was occurring at home in Alabama. It is clear that Harper Lee had many different views on ‘The Deep South’ in the 1920s, which would have been the time she was growing up. It is also clear that Harper Lee meant to include these points and give the reader an insight into the trials and tribulations of life in Alabama. However, it is difficult to determine whether Harper Lee meant to make her only novel optimistic or pessimistic.

The novel primarily follows the lives of the children. Throughout the book, the children’s views change and as the grow older, their views diverse and expand as they become more learned. Usually the children could be considered as an optimistic part of the book. The children see the world in ‘colour,’ not in ‘black and white’ like the majority of the generation before them. This I believe is very optimistic as it shows change and is the beginning of the end of racism. Atticus mentions that things will change; says and it appears that the children are already beginning to take this to heart. However the children’s attitude could also be considered in a different way; they could be described as ignorant.

This could be said as they are not aware of what has happened in the world and have either not experienced some of the racial difficulties or have not been corrupted by racists and the society of the states that were previously Confederate. However the good thing that has come out of the children being unprejudiced is the chance that the South will change their views in the next generation. So far though, I have only been considering the children of Atticus who already is an unprejudiced and usually a fair, kind human being. Other children, such as the whelp of Bob Ewell have other views. These children are similar `to the generation of their forefathers in they believe that black people or ‘niggers’ as they refer to them are ‘trash’ and inferior. This is a contrary view to that of Scout and Jem who have been taught by Atticus that all people are equal and deserve to be treated in a fair fashion. The Children therefore could be considered either pessimistic or optimistic as each child basically believes exactly what there parents believe as that was what they have been taught is correct.

One clearly pessimistic part of the book is the way that some people live. For example Maycombe County is renowned for interbreeding, especially in families such as the Cunninghams or the Ewells. This point alone is a very pessimistic part of the book as it shows the problems in America during the depression. The way these families live is also atrocious; the families are large, and live chock-a-block in small houses in areas where no one else would build a house- such as on the edge of the dump. This all makes out that the families are poor and depressed, with troubles and illnesses. However out of the glum pessimistic expressions, come optimistic parts also. One clear example of optimism is the presents that are given to Atticus after he defended Tom Robinson. I feel that this is optimistic as, although Atticus did not succeed in the court, the black people still appreciated the effort and knew that Atticus really cared for them and would try to save Tom still. This is optimistic as it shows that the black people are not spiteful and seek revenge on white people who, for all of their lives have treated the blacks terribly. The gifts being given shows that there is still hope and that they still believe that things could possibly change.

Virtues can also appear optimistic or pessimistic. Courage can be said to be optimistic where spite and revenge- such as Bob Ewell spitting at Atticus could be said to be pessimistic. The children again could be said to be optimistic as they often are courageous. For example, after the children had been violently attacked on the return from the school on Halloween, Scout told Atticus; ‘I wasn’t scared.’ Scout clearly was scared after what had happened as she for a while believed that Jem was dead. She says she wasn’t though, which could e interpreted in two ways; that it was Southern virtues, or that she was hopeful and did not want to worry Atticus. Another character that shows great courage is the manner that Mrs. Dubose deals with her addiction of morphine.

She wants to change and ensures that before she dies she has given up the drug. Many characters seek revenge in the book though, which is pessimistic. Bob Ewell not only spat at Atticus but also attempted to break into Judge Taylor’s house and also stalked Helen Robinson. Atticus again shows optimism when Bob Ewell seeks revenge by spitting at Atticus. Instead of worrying and looking to punish Ewell, he simply turns away. Atticus later explains that; ‘if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take.’ This I feel shows that Atticus, although he had lost his case to the Ewells, still pitied Mayella and was going to treat her with the respect that no one else ever did.

Education throughout the book provides many interesting views. It is clearly evident that Scout is not fond of the compulsory education system. In fact from the day she is told that it was incorrect for her father to teach her how to read. ‘Your father does not know how to teach, you may have a seat now.’ This point shows that the teacher did not believe that the students should partake in learning out of the classroom. In fact the teacher makes Scout feel as though she has committed a crime and Scout apologizes. Instead of the teacher making Scout feel proud and happy that she has mastered how to read at such a young age, she makes Scout unhappy and regretful. This is a very pessimistic view, as children who are willing to learn should be allowed to do what they want. Another very pessimistic view that appears in the classroom is the ironic point brought forward by the teacher referring to Hitler.

The teacher states that ‘Over here (America) we don’t believe in persecuting anybody’. The reader is aware that this is nonsense as the majority of the book follows the persecuting of blacks. Scout picks up on this however and discusses it with Atticus. This shows that even a child can see the mistakes and problems in the world at the time when the book is set, which is a very optimistic point as it shows that the citizens of Alabama and probably most of the South do not see anything wrong with their actions, however, come of the children do. Education does not only take place inside the classrooms though. Outside the classroom, the children learn some of the most valuable lessons of life. They learn of prejudice, of death and of happiness. For example when Jem went to Tom Robinson’s house after Tom had been shot escaping, Jem found out what the reactions of a women in mourning are. ‘It was as if a Giant foot had stamped on her.’ This comment shows the lack of knowledge of how dear a spouse is and shows that Jem did not really know what was occurring. He learns though which is optimistic again.

Racism is the main area of controversy when seeking for optimistic and pessimistic points. Racism alone cannot in anyway be described as optimistic. People are hurt, prosecuted against and persecuted all because of their colour. The civil war in the 1860s was supposed to secure the emancipation of black slaves and make both races equal. However, even though the Southerners lost the war, and had to do as the North dictated, the attitudes in the south remained the same. The whites as a majority despise the blacks and still treat them as slaves in the time of the book, and in moderation, this still continues today. This whole part of racism is very pessimistic as it shows that although blacks and whites are equal, the whites refuse to accept this and continue living their lives in the manner that their forefathers did. This attitude is then passed down to the next generation and would appear to be never ending. However, there is a light in the darkness, which is the view of the children and the actions of the people. As pre- mentioned Scout and Jem are certainly not racist. It is also clear that Dill is not racist, as seen when Dill is obligated to leave the court because he was crying due to his belief that Mr Gilmer is being cruel to the defendant, ‘That old Mr. Gilmer doing him that way.’

This quote shows that Dill clearly is affected by Mr. Gilmer’s attitude toward Tom and does not understand that a human can treat another human in such a way. Atticus shows that he is an understanding person though by trying to explain racism and prejudice to the children by telling them to; ‘until you climb into his skin and walk around.’ which shows that Atticus understands people’s differences and tries to live with it- which he carries out very well. This point alone is very optimistic as it shows that it is possible to live in harmony with other people and that he still is respected. In fact, I believe that Atticus is probably the prominent Optimistic figure in the novel.

He lives peacefully and never offends others and, although the children originally believed he was boring, they were proved wrong when it was discovered that he was one of the best shots in Maycombe, which he proved by shooting the rabid dog. Atticus does not boast about his skills though, but is very modest- for example he allows the children to beat him at chess. Atticus also is a person that the children to rely on and he tells them the truth, no matter how inappropriate, Scout admires Atticus and listens carefully to all of the lessons he teaches her. These vary from information about life to social skills. However, not all of his virtues are optimistic however he is human so he does make mistakes and admits that he is not too fond of people- Bob Ewell, but accepts this and does not attempt to escalate the situation.

Boo Radley is a very misunderstood person. From the very beginning of the novel, Boo has intrigued not only the children but also other people such as Miss Stephanie. Their views of Boo throughout the book are that he is a dangerous and scary person. Boo is accused of stabbing his parents and of eating cats. However this is not a true reflection of his personality. Boo is really a kind person who has been locked away in his home due to religious purposes. Boo shows his generosity and that he wants to communicate with the outside world by leaving presents in a tree, ‘Two live oaks stood at the end of the Radley lot… Some tin foil was sticking out of a knothole… I reached into the hole and withdrew two pieces of chewing gum.’ These presents show that Boo was generous and contrary to the views of the children. Boo also saves both of the children at the end of the book, which Atticus was very grateful to, ‘Mr. Radley, thanks for my children.’ Boo is a very misunderstood person but this does not seem to faze him at all. He is a very sad character in the book and is treated in a similar way to the coloured folk, who are also treated inappropriately. Boo however is a decent person and the images of him are not correct. The fact that the children and other folk such as Miss Stephanie are constantly saying harsh things about Boo and making up gossip, is very pessimistic as it shows the stupidity of the people and the willingness to downgrade another innocent human being.

The attitudes of the coloured people often are optimistic. Although they are persecuted against and treated terribly, they continue with life and do not worry too much. A sad thing about this though is that they have learnt to accept that they are ‘inferior’ as this is imposed upon them all of their lives. This is pessimistic as they have lost faith and hope, which is a large sector of these people’s lives. Occasionally these coloured folk also begin to retaliate against the whites which again is pessimistic as it shows that the coloured people are beginning to partake in the same racist actions. For example when Lulu told the children to leave the ‘coloured’ church However, often these coloured people are not prejudiced and are very appreciative when a white person is not racist but helps their causes, such as the giving of great hordes of food to Atticus to thank his for attempting to acquit Tom.

Also, some people who were involved with the Robinson case began to pity the coloured people and help them. Mr Dolphis Raymond was always reasonably kind towards coloured people but it seems that he began to help them even more after the court case. For example, when Ewell began to ‘stalk’ Helen, Tom Robinsons widow. Mr. Raymond threatened Ewell with imprisonment and shortly Ewell stopped. This I feel is very optimistic as it shows that a few people understood the injustice done to Tom, and want to make up for this. Another example of the understanding of the injustice is when Tate has found Ewell dead and Atticus is afraid that Jem may be responsible. Tate tells Mr. Finch abruptly; ‘Let the dead bury the dead Mr. Finch, let the dead bury the dead.’ This shows that Tae is unwilling to do anything about this possible ‘murder’ as he knows that Tom Robinson was innocent. This shows regret and is optimistic as Tate feels sorry for the family of Tom.

Throughout the novel, there are many references to a Mockingbird. The first mention of it is Atticus saying; You can kill all the blue jays you want, if you can hit em, but remember, it’s a sin to kill a Mockingird.’ I believe that the Mockingbird represents the innocent people in society. Two examples are Tom Robinson and Boo Radley. These people have never done anything wrong to anyone however they are constantly persecuted by others. This is a very pessimistic point that people who never do anything wrong are treated unfairly and unjust. However, these people continue to live their lives as normal, not bothered by the juvenile attitude of their fellow humans until stopped by someone, like Bob Ewell. These ‘Mockingbirds’ are martyrs it seems but at the same time they are the people who make society bearable, and if only there were more people like these in society, if they were not shot, then racism, and all other areas of persecution would stop, and many lives would be saved and many hearts would not be broken.

Overall, To Kill a Mockingbird contains a variety of points and I feel that it is difficult to decide whether it is pessimistic or optimistic. Racism, persecution and miscarriages of justice form the foundations of what could be a very pessimistic novel. However, out of these dark areas of life, sprout an array of optimistic facts. There is a hope, a chance fro change and innocence, even in times of difficulty and strife. To kill a Mockingbird has to be considered an optimistic book, it would be a crime to consider it otherwise, for any people to keep their heads held high in such harsh times has to be called optimistic.

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