In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee portrays a wrong view of human equality through the hierarchy that was common in the Deep South, and offers a correction to that wrong view through Atticus’ biblical worldview.Through elements of artistry, Lee draws parallels between relevant issues of the time and the fictional, but honest trial of Tom Robinson.
In “To Kill A Mockingbird”, the author sets the story in the fictional town of Maycomb which is a town set in the deep south. From the beginning, Lee informs you that there is a distinct hierarchy in Maycomb that is broken into four distinct categories: upper class, middle working class, white trash and blacks, this class system is represented through not only the adults but the children as well. When Walter Cunningham, a farmers son, comes to the Finches home for dinner he speaks of farming and other subjects that are regular topics in his home but irregular to the ears of Scout, the protagonist and a child of the “upper” classes,(27). But one of the most common and even humorous encounters is, to Scouts amazement, when Walter “drowns” his dinner in molasses, after criticizing him on this she’s reprimanded by Cal, the house help who informs her that ” Some folks don’t eat like us”, bringing the point that during the depression food was scarce and for a lower class farmers son, this was a luxury. At the time set in which TKM is presented, the depression was supposed to be ending and the citizens of Maycomb “Had nothing to fear but fear itself”, for the “upper class” families it was a blow but to the poor it was just another bump on their walk of poverty. The poor economy brought desperation for jobs in spite of the efforts of FDR, the President of the time, who set up legions of programs to eradicate the problems in the failing economy; the desperation of finding employment led to severe competition between blacks and whites, and the war for a job led to many cruelties fueled by hierarchy and a wrong sense of equality. The main example of the injustice and inequality is of course seen at the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man convicted of rapping a white girl. At the trial, despite the overwhelming evidence presented by Atticus proclaiming his innocence, Tom is still convicted, not because of he was guilty but because he was black. For Tom Robinson it was over before it started.
This fictional court case made countless aware of the injustice that was going on in the south. However, the court case presented by Lee echoes eerily of the Scottsboro case in Alabama, 1931. In Paint Rock, Alabama nine black youths were arrested for raping two white women who where riding on the same freight train as them. The parallels of the Scottsboro trial and the one that took place in the novel go very deep. Both were charged with the same crime, both juries consisted of impartial southern businessmen, both had mobs of “hill country” farmers coming to lynch the accused, and in both instances it was white trash women who were “victims” of the crimes. The latter of these parallels probably held the most weight. The illustration of Mayella Ewell, her attitude on the witness stand and her testimony, are strongly similar to Victoria Price, one of the rape “victims”, who was later proven to be a prostitute. These women had extremely low social standing in the towns they resided in, however ” both Mayella in Lee’s novel and Victoria Price in the Scottsboro trial complicate the attempt to uphold pure southern womanhood: Mayella, a lonely woman and the victim of incest, attempts to seduce the black man, Tom, while Victoria Price was commonly known to be a prostitute, was afraid of being arrested on a morals charge.” There attitudes towards the more educated attorney’s lack all refinement. Indeed Victoria’s response is identical to Mayella’s posture towards Atticus:” Mrs.Price looked at Leibowitz (the attorney for the accused) with such venom that one reporter thought for a moment she was going to strike her tormentor”
Mayella’s actions went as follows” I never saw anybody stare at anyone with the hatred Mayella showed when she left and walked by Atticus’s table”. Yet despite the brash, unpolished attitudes of these women sympathy is requested, not because of what they were “victim” to but because of there pitiful even pathetic characters and the symbolic force attached to being white defenseless females as Atticus verbalizes on pg. 231 in TKM. The crimes pressed in these trials rocked the stability of both the fictional and non-fictional towns, exposing an underlying belief that this was a threat to the Souths social structure. Both fueled by a wrong view of equality.
Harper Lee offers a means of rectification for this wrong view of equality by using Atticus and his experiment in living. Atticus impresses to his children the importance of morality and justice and throughout the book expresses that a man should succeed by his own merits and not because he was of a higher class or was white. “We know all men are not created equal in the sense that some have us believe, some are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it…. Some people are born beyond the normal scope of most men…. But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal, there is one institution that makes us equal and it is our courts… in this country our courts are the leveler and all men are created equal.” By saying and acting as he did Atticus rose above the injustice and inequality that surrounded him and took a major risk in the name of equation. Indeed Atticus is the moral backbone of the novel by not only giving wisdom to everyone in the town but raising Maycomb’s awareness of the injustice given not only to blacks but to the lower ” white trash” farmers like Mr. Ewell, the father of Mayella. The lawyer explained to his children that, though the Ewell’s won the case, they still weren’t respected, Atticus further explains that the outcome of the case was flippant and back handed like it was ‘okay we’ll convict this negro but get back to your dump” (pg.287). He challenged every means of inequality in Maycomb by treating everyone with the same level of respect and deference. Atticus took the time to instill morality in the hearts and minds of his children, creating a legacy that will live on. We as the reader are also subject to taking on the mindset and actions of Atticus. His worldview is one to emulate. Harper Lee brilliantly presents an hero whose actions and lifestyle are achievable and within the everyday realm.
The message of TKM reflects Matthew 22: 39 “Love your neighbor as yourself”. When putting it against the Bible it’s consistent with a biblical perspective that everyone is created and should be treated equally. God gives different roles and talents to different people and all are all imperative and equal in the running of everyday life as seen in Romans 13:3-8. This is what Harper Lee attempts to present through the voice of Atticus, by presenting the point that segregation is a fact of life that it will never go away, however that doesn’t mean one has more value than the other. In fact one of Atticus’s most well known quotes emulates The Golden Rule “You never really understand a person till you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” All are created by God, for God and his works, the segregation that was relevant to the era in which Harper Lee writes the novel is one of the main undertones of the story and the fact that its spoken/told from the perspective of an innocent child gave a completely new point of view on the injustice of inequality.
The author brilliantly gives the reader, through its childlike tone, an unfiltered view of Tom Robinson’s trial through Scout, the protagonist. By writing it in this way we’re not only able to see the affect of the trial on the town, but the personal effect on Scout and her older brother Jem, over the span of 3 summers you see how Jem and Scout evolve from children to mature youths. The siblings, namely Jem, have major conflicts in dealing with the injustice of the trial, so much so that they begin to question there faith in human kindness and morality. Fortunately, with Atticus’s wise logic, their doubts are settled and grow from their experiences. But beyond this, Scouts understanding of what it means to “walk around in someone else’s skin” was never so prominent as when she meets Boo Radley for the first time and by just standing on the Radley porch, is able to see things through Boo’s eyes. The coming of age of these children is sad and humorous, but most importantly it represents the rising awareness in the country over the iniquity of segregation.
Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel is more than worthy of the awards it’s won. She has been able to present a wrong view of equality through the trial of a black man and has offer a means of reconciliation for that wrong view through Atticus, a brilliant hero to everyday day life, and, To Kill A Mockingbird was written in a way that is consistent to a biblical perspective.