50 and Still Fitting

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
To Kill a Mockingbird left the world in awe over fifty years ago, but does this text still pack such a powerful punch in our contemporary world?

Submitted: October 16, 2013

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Submitted: October 16, 2013

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After its release in 1960, To Kill A Mockingbird became an immediate success selling over 30 million copies to date. This novel connected deeply with its readers in the 1960’s, stirring a longing for change and becoming a driving force behind movements committed to achieving equality. But has this novel retained its powerful impact on the contemporary readers of today?

Released in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was set in the docile Maycomb, Alabama in the deep South of America from 1933 – 1935. Narrated by young Scout Finch, who is 6 when the novel begins and 8 when it ends, the novel follows what she learns over these two years. She learns four major lessons some from her father Atticus Finch and other she gleans from her own wisdom, which grows more profound as the novel unfolds. Firstly, she learns that you must put yourself in other people’s shoes. This lesson is most famously portrayed through Atticus’ paternal advice when he tells her, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it”. The second lesson is to not kill mockingbirds, which can be taken both literally and metaphorically. The third lesson is to keep fighting even if you know you will lose, which is primarily demonstrated by Atticus Finch defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, knowing full well that no white jury would ever acquit a black man of such charges. The last lesson learned is that the world is very unfair, which is shown through the conviction of Tom Robinson, regardless of the stacks of evidence pointing towards his innocence.

During the time of the publication of the novel, there was much liberal unrest. Many groups were striving for social change, such as the hippy movement and civil rights movements. The Civil Rights movement lasted from the 1950’s-1970’s when many people including the more liberal thinking hippies protested against discrimination and racism towards African Americans. The Hippie Movement was greatly impacted by the Civil Rights movement, however both were inspired to protest against the racism and prejudice present in this time period. These movements fostered a society with much optimism and open-minded attitudes. With the addition of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, movements such as these received even more motivation to end racism and prejudice. The novel provided a striking and powerful reminder of the prevalence of racism, especially in the South.

The impact of the novel was not just reserved for prominent movements; individuals in this time period had their own attitudes, values and beliefs questioned by To Kill a Mockingbird. James Carville,  an American political commentator and prominent figure in the Democratic Party who has spent his childhood steeped inthe intolerant world of the south, had his views completed flipped at just 16, an age in which many school children study this novel in contemporary schools. After reading the novel he stated unequivocally, “They're right and we're wrong. The issue was literally black and white, and we were absolutely, positively on the wrong side.”

To Kill A Mockingbird changed the attitudes of an entire generation. Its release sparked a cultural shift in America towards acceptance, tolerance and equality, as such values were promoted as American Ideals.

Not since Uncle Tom’s Cabin, released in 1852, has a novel had such a profound impact on an entire generation. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was accredited with helping fuel the abolitionist cause in the 1850’s which ultimately led to the civil war. In a similar way To Kill A Mockingbird inspired a generation to support the civil rights movement and protest a level playing field.

Racism and prejudice aren’t the sole focus of To Kill A Mockingbird, but also the four lessons which were learned by Scout Finch throughout the course of the novel. These such lessons are still greatly applicable to the lives of contemporary readers. The conviction of Tom Robinson shattered young Scout and Jem, proving to them just how unjust the world is. Atticus however, by defending Tom Robinson has taught the children that they must fight for what is right even if you know you are going to lose, because “the one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rules is a person’s conscience” – Atticus Finch.

To Kill a Mockingbird has more than left its mark in history, and like all things from our past, it has led us to where we are today. We have, as a society come a long way since the 1960’s where racism and prejudice were the norm, however we are still far from perfect. Just over a decade ago, an African American man was brutally beaten by five Los Angeles police officers following a high-speed car chase on March 3, 1991. Only four out of the five officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force, however they were later acquitted of their charges. This act was a violation of Rodney King’s Civil Rights, which enraged the African American community, leading to the Los Angeles riots of 1992. For reasons such as this, the novel still contains many imperative teachings for contemporary readers, which can be as simple as Joseph King’s plea during the trial “Why can’t we all just get along?” In words this concept is so simple, yet the deep prejudice and racist values of a select few in our contemporary society fail to see it.

While social media proves to be the most common text amongst contemporary audiences, we can’t afford to overlook the power of classic texts to affect deep change. It is hard to envision a future where Atticus’ words of wisdom “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” are no longer relevant.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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