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To Kill a Mockingbird
Literature Art Encounter
December 13, 2004
To Kill a Mockingbird:
The most important theme of the 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird is author Harper Leeís exploration of the moral nature of human beings, especially the struggle in every human soul between discrimination and tolerance. The novel is very effective in not only revealing prejudice, but in examining the nature of prejudice, how it works, and its consequences. One of the ways it accomplishes this is by dramatizing the main charactersí, Scout and Jemís, maturing transition from a perspective of childhood innocence. Initially, because they have never seen or experienced evil themselves, they assume that all people are good by nature and tolerant of others. It is not until they see things from a more realistic adult perspective that they are able to confront evil, as well as prejudice, and incorporate it into their understanding of the world
As a result of this skillful literary portrayal by Harper Lee of the psychological transition from innocence to experience to realization, To Kill a Mockingbird succeeds admirably in portraying the very real threat that hatred, prejudice, and ignorance have always posed to the innocent. Simple, trusting, good-hearted characters such as Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are tragically unprepared. They are ill equipped emotionally and psychologically to deal with the unexpected depths of the prejudice they encounter -- and as a result, they are destroyed. Even Jem is victimized to a certain extent by his discovery of the evil of prejudice and its hidden power over so many people during and after the controversial trial.
In the end, Scout is able to maintain her basic faith in human nature despite the shock and unfairness of Tom Robinsonís courtroom conviction.
However, on the other hand, Jemís faith in truth, justice and humanity is very badly damaged. He does not understand why all of this is happening. Prejudice and racism do not make any sense to Jem, as they are so unfamiliar to him that he thought they did not exist. When the shameful courtroom proceedings are over he retreats into a troubled state of deep disillusionment.
In contrast, Atticus Finch has experienced and understood evil throughout his life. He has been confronted with prejudice and racism, but has not lost his faith in the human capacity for goodness. Atticus understands from his own experiences and reflection that, rather than being simply creatures of good or creatures of evil, most people have both good and bad qualities. Jem and Scout only learn this after their troubling experiences with racism and prejudice during the trial. When they do, itís a revelation that eases some of the burden of their discovery of prejudice.
One of the most powerful scenes in the novel to me is when Jem asks, ďIf thereís just one kind of folks, why canít they get along with each other? If theyíre all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?Ē He sadly declares, ďScout, I think Iím beginning to understand something, I think Iím beginning to understand why Boo Radleyís stayed shut up in the house all this time. Itís because he wants to stay inside.Ē In Jem, the sadness is deep and lasting. Lee proceeds to demonstrate the range of prejudice and tolerance in people by emphasizing the point very effectively through the sheriffís explanation that, ďIím not a very good man, sir, but I am sheriff of Maycomb County. Iíve lived in this town all my life aní I\'m goiní on forty-three years old. Know everything thatís happened here since before I was born. Thereís a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for itís dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch, let the dead bury the deadĒ
Lee goes on to say through Atticus that the important thing in life is to appreciate the good qualities and understand the bad qualities by treating others with sympathy and trying to see life from their perspective. He tries to teach this ultimate moral lesson to Jem and Scout to show them that it is possible to live with conscience without losing hope or becoming cynical. For example, in this way, Atticus is able to admire Mrs. Duboseís courage even while deploring
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To Kill a Mockingbird, Social philosophy, Discrimination, Atticus Finch, Harper Lee, Jem, Atticus, Gregory Peck, Conscience, Good and evil, Mockingbird, Racism
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