To kill A Mockingbird Critical Evaluation Jennifer McLaren
‘She was white, and she tempted a negro. She did something that our society is unspeakable: She kissed a black man ‘
These words from chapter 18 of the novel “To Kill Mockingbird” by Harper Lee;
This quote shows just how racist and prejudiced the town Maycomb was. The society just cannot accept that a white woman likes a black man. The words illustrate a major theme in the novel that of the existence of social inequality. In my essay I plan to discuss two main characters and at least one of the novel’s central themes.
The main events of to “Kill A Mockingbird” consist of a lawyer named Atticus Finch defending a black man who has been accused of the rape of Mayella Ewell. It’s patently obvious the defendant didn’t do it. Through the eyes and ears of young Jem and Scout we can see how racism affected lives in Alabama in the 1930’sJem and Scout and their friend Dill are fascinated by their neighbour “Boo Radley” whom only a few people have seen over the years. The children fill their heads up of why he keeps himself hidden. When Atticus goes to court and humiliates Bob Ewell who is the father of the alleged rape “victim” Mayella Ewell, and he seeks revenge. He does this by attacking the helpless Scout and jem as they return from a school pageant. To our surprise, “Boo” emerges from his house and stabs Bob Ewell to death saving the children’s lives.
The first character I am going to discuss is Mayella Ewell. She is supposed to be a victim of rape but as you read the novel you can see that she is the victim of poverty and ignorance also neglect by her father Bob Ewell this is linked to the theme of moral education. She appears to be very childlike, shy and unconfident. She dresses very plain and she has long dark brown hair. The reason why she claims that Tom Robertson raped her is because she could have never admitted to liking a black man, the idea that she tried to seduce a black man would have never been accepted in that society she was in, so therefore rape was her only “defence”. She’s lonely and gets no love or affection from anyone, she has no friends, and no one to talk to. A girl at her age should be out socialising. However poverty and ignorance has trapped her at home.
This extract gives us an image of how she is when we first see meet her in the court room.
“a young girl walked to the witness stand as she raised her hands and swore that the evidence she gave was the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth help her God, she seemed somehow fragile looking, but when she sat facing us in the witness chair she became what she was, a thick bodied girl accustomed to strenuous labour”
This is when we first meet Magellan. We get the impression that she is fragile and shy, but when she swears that she is telling the truth any ounce of sympathy that I had for her disappeared: she is blatantly lying just to stop it been revealed that she tried to seduce Tom.
Harper Lee uses dialogue to reveal Mayella’s character to us in more detail.
“I got something to say an ‘then I ain’t gonna say no more. That nigger yonder took advantage of me, an’ if you fine fancy gentleman don’t want to do nothing about it then you’re all stinking yellow belly cowards
These words are basically a desperate outcry by Mayella. She knows fine perfectly she’s lying but is determined that she’s sticking to her story she is selfishly putting young Toms Robertson’s life at risk, she is morally wrong. This incident is linked to the theme moral education. Mayella has no sense of moral education because she has been brought up in the company of her evil father Bob Ewell and witnessed his way of dealing with things and his morals are wrong so she has had no role model.
Even though everything in Mayella’s world was full of evil and horror, we can see from these next few words that she tried to keep something in her life nice so she had a sense of belonging and or something to look after and be responsible for.
“Mayella looked as if she tried to keep clean; I was reminded of the row of red geraniums.”
In I sense I pity Mayella, she obviously has no one and nothing, so by keeping the flowers it’s almost like she has a desire for things to be nice. This is linked to the coexistence of good in evil in the sense that even though there is no sense of normality in her life, looking after the flowers gives her a hint of security and lets her escape the harsh reality of her world and those in it.
The second character I am going to discuss is Atticus Finch; He is the father of Scout and Jem Finch and the lawyer to the case of Tom Robertson. He is an older parent and you can tell by the novel that he loves his children more than anything and does everything to make sure there happy and safe. He is a tall man, smartly dressed and he is very intelligent. The theme that Atticus relates to is moral education him obviously having a good sense of this.
“I simply want tell you there are some men in the world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father’s one of them “
Miss Maudie says this of Atticus when he is set to defend Tom Robertson. It was totally unacceptable then to defend a black man charged with rape, so everyone was looking down on Atticus and they were obviously shocked that he would defend a black man in court. This is therefore linked to the theme of existence of social inequality. This is exposed further in my next section.
In this extract from the novel, Atticus speaks about catching Maycombs usual “disease”
“Without catching Maycomb's usual disease. Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up..."
In this example Atticus is basically saying that he doesn’t want Jem and Scout to turn out to be racists, and have the view point of everyone else in Maycomb witch that is black men rape white woman, all black people are lazy and other such appalling views
This next example is words from Atticus demonstrating how he treats everyone the same and therefore I link this to the theme social inequality.
“It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name, it just shows how poor that person is – it doesn’t hurt you”
Atticus is such a strong character in this novel; he is a walking example of what a mature and open minded person should be. He does not judge people, his moral views are very good and he treats everyone equally, this then is linked to the theme of moral education. To him the way Toms been treated is disgraceful and just the consequence of a cultural norm.
One of the main themes in “To Kill a Mockingbird” is the coexistence of good and evil. Scout and Jem learn a vast amount in the course of the novel Jem is more affected by the awareness of evil and understands the consequences. For example he just couldn’t come to terms that even though the evidence of Tom not raping Mayella was very strong and obviously showed that he was innocent he still got a guilty sentence.
In conclusion a really enjoyed the novel and thought it showed how severe racism was and how badly it could affect lives of the innocent. Atticus is right when he uses the term Maycombs “usual disease” but that in my mind is how I seen it as I read the novel. Racism and prejudiced covered the whole town and they were totally unaware of how ignorant and wrong their actions where.