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To Kill A Mockingbird
Choose any novel that you have read and comment on its historical content.
To Kill A Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, is set in the imaginary town called Maycomb, Alabama during the depression of the 1930s. It is a coming-of-age story whose narrator and protagonist is Jean Louise Finch, or Scout. Although the story itself takes place from the time Scout is aged 6 to 9, it is told by Scout as an adult. Lee uses the unprejudiced observations of a child to reveal the discrimination that took place toward African Americans during this time. It also provides accounts, such as the Tom Robinson trial, that are parallel to actual historical events.
In the novel, Scout’s father (Atticus Finch) is the lawyer for Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white girl named Mayella. Although the jury knows that Tom is innocent, he is nonetheless found guilty because he is black. Tom Robinson is sent to jail and is lynched by a mob. Harper Lee uses the Soroboro Trials of 1931 as an example for the Robinson case. In the Soroboro case, two white women accused nine black men of raping them as they traveled from Tennessee to Alabama. Although a doctor’s examination showed no signs of forced intercourse or any sort of struggle, eight of the nine men were sentenced to death. The Supreme Court ordered a second trial, in which the women withdrew their testimony and admitted that they had never been raped. However, the eight men were convicted a second time and sent to jail. By presenting a case almost identical to the Soroboro case, Lee criticizes the unfair actions of the Supreme Court.
At the time Lee wrote this book, white people had control of the communities they lived in, but they feared that African Americans would try to invade their world by marrying and having children with whites. Because of this fear, interracial marriages were banned. (Ironically, children who were born to black mothers were not considered a threat, so most people tolerated white men marrying black women. An example of this is Dolphus Raymond, who, in the novel, has chosen to marry a black woman.) The fear of interracial marriages led to an unrealistic fear that black men would rape white women in order to break into white society. Whites began to lynch any blacks that were convicted of rape. It was this fear and hatred of blacks that caused Tom Robinson to be convicted and lynched. In spite of all the evidence, the whites were not willing to let a black person win over another white one.
Another historical concept that was prevalent in the South during the 1930s was the Jim Crow laws, in which blacks and whites were not allowed to use the same public facilities. For example, blacks and whites would use separate entrances into public buildings, have separate drinking fountains and restrooms, and even be buried in different cemeteries. This segregation is very visible in the novel. In the courtroom, the blacks sit in the back, while the whites enjoy the front seats. The blacks and whites attend different churches, have different newspapers, go to different schools, and live in segregated communities. The whites enjoy their power and advantage over the blacks; the blacks, instead of ending the oppression, try to cope with it.
To Kill A Mockingbird is considered a masterpiece in American Literature because it does a wonderful job in presenting history as it is. All the characters and situations are fictional, but their struggles are not – they are directly derived from actual historical events in the 1930s.
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To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, Harper Lee, Lynching, Mockingbird
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