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To Kill a Mockingbird College

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  • Pages: 10
  • Word count: 2379
  • Category: Novel

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To Kill a Mockingbird is set during the 1930’s in a small, isolated town in Maycomb County, Alabama. The 1930’s was a period of great change with new ideas coming to the forefront of the Western world. America was fast becoming one of the most powerful countries in the world and therefore its ideas and ways of living were being copied in every far corner of the western world. Economically America was not quite so sound. Only a year earlier America had sustained a massive crash in share prices that had affected the whole nation from the richest to the poorest everybody was facing bankruptcy and poverty.

In the early 1930’s racism was a large factor in the way that everyone lived their lives. A true reflection of this came on March 25th 1931; it was the day of a trial of nine black teenagers who were accused of the alleged rape of two young white women; Ruby Bates and Victoria Price. It took place in a small, isolated town (much like the one in Maycomb County) in Scottsboro, Ala. The trial was significant because it was the sign of recognition from the white population that racism was not right. Eight of the boys were sentenced to death while another was sentenced to life imprisonment. After the trial the U.S. Supreme court twice turned over the convictions and one woman even recanted her testimony, but the nine boys were still tied up in the criminal justice system. Finally, in 1937, an agreement was made that the four youngest defendants would be released immediately; with the other five to follow a year later but despite this agreement the last imprisoned man was not freed from prison until 1950, nineteen years after the case had begun.

The nine black teenagers were tried in conjunction with the Jim Crow Laws. The Jim Crow Laws were legal punishments on people consorting with members of another race. The most common laws forbade inter-marriage and sexual relations between two people of different races. The laws also ordered business owners and public institutions to keep members of separate races separated. Examples of this included separate drinking fountains, separate toilets and separate eating opportunities.

Langston Hughes or “the poet laureate of Harlem,” as he was better known, was a poet, a journalist, a dramatist and a children’s author, throughout his illustrious life. He was most famous for his poetry that tells us of the joys and miseries of the ordinary black man in America. It is widely speculated that the miseries he writes about are those he confronted during his short stay at Colombia University, New York City. He was so unhappy he left after one year. His writing was famous all over the world and he won a Harmon gold medal while portraying African American life with idiomatic realism, in a novel called “Not without Laughter”.

Scout is the narrator, the novel is written in adult style despite the fact that she is only six at the start; this is because she is recounting the memories of her childhood. Despite this the novel is still written through a child’s eyes rather than that of an adult.

Scout is a bit of a tomboy (for want of a better description) she prefers to quite boyish activities. She is influenced in her activities by her brother Jem and her best friend Dill (Charles Baker Harris). In their spare time the trio enjoy acting out rather exaggerated events of Maycomb County. Their favourite story is that of Boo (Arthur) Radley who is rumoured to have attacked his father with a pair of scissors and is now locked away in the cellar of the Radley house.

Jem is Scouts older brother and is ten at the beginning. He is very protective of Scout but their relationship is left at the school gates as Jem finds his little sister embarrassing. The novel shows Jem approaching adolescence. At the beginning of the novel Jem enjoys normal childhood pursuits such as playing football, having numerous toys and inventing games like that of “the adventures of Boo Radley”.

Dill is a friend of both Scout and Jem and comes to visit in the summer holidays with his Aunt Rachel, a close neighbour of the Finches. It was Dill that thought up “the adventures of Boo Radley” and this is properly the reason for his popularity with Scout and Jem.

The novel starts in the summer of 1933; Scout is set to start school after the summer break, Jem has just hit ten and Dill has just arrived to visit from Meridian. The children’s summer begins by passing in routine contentment, which consisted of improving there tree house, running through there list of dramas based on the work of Oliver Optic, Victor Appleton and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Scout was pleased to have Dill around because he would play the parts formerly thrust upon herself – the ape in Tarzan, Mr Crabtree in The rover boys and Mr Damon in Tom Swift. Dill brought a new sense of inspiration to the dramas. Scout makes this clear hen she says:

“Thus we came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings and quaint fancies”

When Scout describes Dill as a “pocket Merlin” she is saying that Dill is useful and very helpful when the trio are performing their dramas. This is backed up when she describes Dills head as “Teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings and quaint fancies” this gives us idea that it is Dill that comes up with all the ideas for the dramas. This is reiterated later as she goes on to explain that it was Dill who came up with the idea of making Boo Radley come out of his house. She describes Dills fascination with the Radley house by saying:

“The Radley place fascinated Dill…it drew him as the moon draws water…”

Harper Lee uses a simile to compare how the moon draws water to the idea of the Radley place draws Dill. Despite his fascination with the Radley house Dill still doesn’t have the nerve to go near the house, Scout and Jem don’t like going near the house either and would always run past the house when on their own. Scout shows Dills fear of the house when she says:

“…but drew him no nearer than the light-pole on the corner”

Scout is saying that despite having a wild sense of adventure and a massive desire to explore the house. Dill was still terrified because of the rumours surrounding Boo’s existence. Boo is described as;

“Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom…people said he went out at night when the moon was down, and peeped in the windows. When peoples azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them.”

This quote shows that the three children are very easily influenced and don’t quite understand the way stories can be manipulated as they pass around the rumour mill.

Although Jem is the oldest he is still susceptible to extravagant ideas. His wild description of Boo Radley is an example of this:

“Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall…he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch…there was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped and he drooled most of the time.

The description Jem gives is one that you are more likely to find in a 1980’s horror movie than in a small town in the 1930’s. The picture he draws is widely exaggerated and is probably the cause of an over active imagination.

When Scout finds a “wad” of chewing in the knot-hole of an oak tree that gutted out of the Radley place she is immediately inclined to take it, but she also shows a recognition of the concept of stealing;

“…hastily looked around once more”

The way Harper Lee describes her, as hastily looking around shows that she doesn’t want to get caught so won’t rush what she is doing but is still impatient to get the chewing gum into her mouth and the fact that she is looking around for a second time once more shows that she is scared of the consequences that come from stealing. Jem shows the same fear of consequences when he and Scout find there second trinket in the old oak.

“Jem looked around…and gingerly pocketed a tiny shiny package”

Harper Lee describes Jem as Gingerly pocketing the package this shows that he is cautious so as to not get caught. He also displays the same cautious act looking around to check for witnesses.

The children decided to try and get a look at Boo Radley, there plan seemed safe enough through the eyes of Jem and Dill which shows that they do not always realise the consequences of there actions. Jem shows his innocence when he says:

“…were simply going to peep in the window…”

The way he says simply shows the very simplicity of his grasp on the rights and wrongs in the mind of an adult. This is because to simply peep in the window is a serious a criminal offence not just another one of his childlike games. Their plan does not actually go to plan and the trio are nearly killed when Mr. Radley starts firing his shotgun and as they clamber over one another to get out of his garden Jem loses his trousers on a fence and lacks an excuse when facing five adults in his shorts. Dill’s quick wit saves the day in the end but in the strictly religious atmosphere the adult’s reaction is somewhat perplexing to Scout;

“The neighbours seemed satisfied, they all stiffened”

Scouts innocence makes her think that the adults are satisfied with Dills outrageous explanation, but she is yet posses the ability to understand the reactions of adults. When in fact the adults are appalled by such goings on by children of such a young age.

Later that night Jem goes back to get his trousers but he finds them mended and hanging on the fence that he caught them in. This makes him suspect Boo Radley of both mending his trousers but also leaving the gifts in the oak tree. Jem feels his suspicions are confirmed when Boo’s brother Nathan cements up the oak tree so as to stop any communication between Boo and the Finches this shows that Jem is more perceptive than Scout, and his perception has improved since the beginning of the novel whilst Scout’s perception of events is still that of a young child yet the older Scout, the narrator, is able to convey Jem’s understanding of events.

The fact that Jem cries when he discovers of Nathan Radleys plan to stop his relationship with Boo shows that despite he has grown up and is acting more maturely he still has emotions like that of a child.

Not long later the Finches neighbour Miss Maudie Atkinson’s house burns down. As the children stand and watch a blanket is wrapped around Scout without her noticing and it is not till later when all the excitement has gone down that she notices it and wonders where it had come from. It is Jem that first realises that it was Boo that had wrapped the blanket around Scouts shoulders but it takes Scout a while to work this out. This is another sign that Scouts ability to percept the goings on around her is not yet fully matured. The idea that Boo is menacing and evil is one that the children have come to believe, but his actions tend to point to a more friendly caring man, this is the children’s first contact with idea of prejudice.

Over the next year the children begin to learn a lot by watching the build up to the trial and they almost certainly forget about Boo, one of the main reasons for this is that Jem has grown up and does not want to play childish games or hang out with Scout at all for that matter. This is showing that Jem sees Boo more as a childhood fantasy than a real person.

The children’s next encounter with Boo comes nearer the end of the novel. The children are dressing up to go to the Halloween pageant and it is decided that they will go and come back unaccompanied, during the pageant Scout misses her queue and is so embarrassed that she wants to wait for everybody to go home before she and Jem leave, this shows that Scout still has a very ‘foolish’ embarrassment. On the way home the two of them are attacked by Bob Ewell who has a vendetta against Atticus. Jem shows that he sees himself old enough to fight to protect Scout but is badly whilst Scout, who is still in her costume, is knocked to the floor and unable to get up or see anything, but she does sense a fourth person on the scene and can here a struggle between the mystery person and Bob Ewell. Not long later she wakes up in her house and finds Jem in bed badly hurt. Outside Atticus and Heck Tate (the sheriff) are talking Scout wanders out to find out what had happened and discovers that it was Boo Radley that had saved them. Scout finally gets her chance to meet him and see who he really is and what he’s really like.

Throughout the Novel Jem and Scout learn a lot about judging people and seeing things through other peoples eyes. Jem can do this a lot better because he is much Scouts senior but Scout to learns a lot about judging people without knowing them but also learns that adults are not always what they seem on the outside. Dill however does not learn has much from his experiences because he is around during certain crucial events but he does learn a lot about prejudice and the consequences of peoples actions.

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