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The beauty of writing a novel lies in the idea where the author has an ultimate freedom to depict his or her perspective and interpretation towards certain subjects in boundless imagination. In the same context, “To Kill A Mockingbird” is the example of how an author assimilates the autobiographical element into the imagination thus results in the production of a splendid novel. Harper Lee, who is the writer of the novel, delivers an intriguing account of her childhood life through the character of Jean Louise Finch or frequently referred as Scout and her timeless masterpiece centres around major themes that are still relevant in today’s society.
A theme can be defined as the fundamental and often universal idea explored in a literary work (Ward, 2002). One of the pivotal themes in the novel is upholding the goodness. Initially, the readers must be wondering about the significance of the title “To Kill A Mockingbird” that shows little connection with the plot. The title is actually a symbolism used rather extensively in the novel.
Mockingbird is a harmless bird which lives in tranquility and entertains people by singing beautifully.
During Christmas, when Jem and Scout receive air guns as a present, Atticus warned his children that if they must shoot at living creatures, they are forbidden from shooting at the mockingbirds. Mockingbird is the symbolic of true goodness and purity in which the action of killing it is considered as unacceptable. For instance, the character of Boo Radley can somehow be represented as the mockingbird.
After thorough analysis, he proves to be harmless to anyone and only acts as an observer towards his surroundings. In an event, he acts as a hero by killing Bob Ewells who threatens Jem’s and Scout’s lives. The event is classified as an accident by the sheriff in order to avoid Boo from being convicted thus it clearly depicts the wise action of protecting the goodness.
Another significant theme in the novel is social inequality. Maycomb’s society exercises the practice of stratifying the people according to the family’s status. The literary device used by Lee to highlight the theme is contrast where Atticus’s characteristic that accepts others as who they are and refuses to judge them based on their race and social status is contrasting with Aunt Alexandra characteristic that is arrogance and prejudice towards others. It is difficult for Scout to comprehend on why must people be divided and discriminated as she strongly believes that everyone is the same and should receives equal treatment. There is an event in which Aunt Alexandra does not permit Scout to spend more time with Walter Cunningham just because she belongs to a higher family status proves by the following quote in the novel:One must always remember that human should always protect the goodness and the act of destroying it would be totally inexcusable. It is closely related to Malaysia’s context specifically in the issue of child abuse.
Despite the needs to uphold the goodness, a dramatic increase in the case of child abuse had been witnessed from 2002 until 2007 and it is steadily increasing thenceforth (Department of Community Welfare, 2008). The goodness in the innocent children was demolished as they were abused physically and mentally. Therefore, something has to be done so that the goodness can once again prevail.
“Don’t be silly, Jean Louise. The thing is, you can scrub Walter Cunningham till her shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem. Besides, there’s a drinking streak in that family a mile wide. Finch women aren’t interested in that sort of people.” (page 224)
The situation creates an inner conflict for Scout as she does not have freedom to choose her own friends. She reckons that morality is what makes a good person, not which family that the person belongs to.
Scout’s way of thinking is definitely undeniable as every person is indeed equal to one another. If the theme is viewed from a global context, social inequality that is happening in India is someway connected. It is widely acknowledged among social scientists that caste is a persistent determinant of power, economic inequality, and poverty in contemporary India. According to the research, the groups in India that are generally considered disadvantaged (known as Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes) have, as one would expect, substantially lower wealth than the forward castes group (Zacharias & Vakulabharanam, 2009). The social strata ought to be eradicated a long time ago judging from the drawbacks that arise from the practice. As Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States stated, ‘equal right for all, special privileges for none’.
In relation to the theme of social inequality, another theme can also be derived from the novel that is racism towards African American or commonly referred as black people. Many events that are portrayed in the novels reflect on Lee’s experience during the Great Depression Era where the blacks were discriminated (Baker, 2009). Physical separation that involves the distinction between black and white residential areas, the state of not being allowed to mingle with the white in public places and the certainty of being downgraded if a white marries a black are the examples of discrimination that the African American had to suffer during that era. The repetition of word ‘nigger’ which is offensive for the black is noticeable as an effort to accentuate the sense of racial prejudice in the novel. The climax in To Kill A Mockingbird is the event in which Tom Robinson who is a black is sentenced to death for the accusation of beating and raping Mayella Ewell who is a white. Lee deliberately chooses that event to emphasise on the issue of racism as Tom Robinson is clearly innocent and he is convicted just because he is a black. Another example of symbolism is shown by Lee in her novel through Tom’s characteristics of being innocent, gentle and harmless that symbolises a mockingbird. In a different aspect, Tom parallels the mockingbirds that Atticus mentioned to his children which is another literary device used in the story.
In today’s context, although Barrack Obama has been appointed to be the first African American president of America, research shown that racism towards black people is still occurring (Revolution, n.d.). One of the testaments is from the angle of employment. In the United States, employers prefer to take a white people with a criminal record rather than a black who is clean. Besides, the black still face the fate of being placed in neglected neighborhoods with no proper facilities such as hospitals, grocery stores and so on. Another example would be from the education aspect. Some African Americans children are placed in schools which lack of resources and are meant to prevent them from achieving success in their life. In short, the points mentioned prove that the proclamation of America as a post-racial country is a complete fabrication.
The theme does not exclusively apply on American citizens but it can also give something for Malaysians to ponder. Recently, Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak, the prime minister of Malaysia has introduced One Malaysia policy that emphasises on the importance of unity as it will lead towards the realisation of Vision 2020. It is widely acknowledged that Malaysia is a multi-racial country thus the effort of preventing racism among one another is essential in order to preserve the unity in diversity. The policy is the latest issue that everybody talks about and its content is closely related to the value of the theme.
Apart from that, Lee also highlights the defection of educational system as one of the themes in the novel. In an event, Scout was reprimanded by Miss Caroline Fisher who is her teacher for being ahead in class. In this case, the element of irony can be seen in which a teacher should praise and encourage the students for their advancement instead of showing a sense of disapproval towards them. Miss Caroline actually focuses on the guidelines of what the students should learn even though it requires her to hold a child’s back in terms of his intellectual ability. Scout actually gains more knowledge from her father than her teacher in school. In addition, Atticus is concern about the situation but he encourages his daughter to go on with it because he is aware that in order for Scout to be accepted in the society, she must abide by the system.
As far as education is concern, it is unwise to hold children back in terms of their ability because no one can predict what they can achieve and offer the society in future. In Malaysia’s context, the case of a genius boy by the name of Adi Putra Ghani is a perfect example to relate the theme in today’s society. The boy was issued a warning letter by the school for his reluctance to go to school as he was bored with the basic syllabus of counting, writing and reading (The Star, 2006). Adi’s dilemma is certainly understood due to his outstanding achievement of having the ability to read at the age of four and was able to provide solutions for complex Additional Mathematics questions at the age of twelve. It is a new breed of challenge for the Ministry of Education as the system certainly needs to be revised in order to provide a holistic approach to cater to every student’s need especially in Adi’s case.
Bravery is also one of the major themes in To Kill A Mockingbird and it is represented in various forms. One of them is Atticus’s bravery in defending a black despite the social critics and threats, and also in the event where he does not show any sign of fear when facing with a furious mob outside the jailhouse. Atticus also tells Scout that to be able to response on other people cruelty without involving violent is the utmost form of bravery proves by the following quote in the novel:
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” (page 112)
Boo Radley’s heroic act of saving Jem and Scout from being killed by Bob Ewell is another form of bravery that is potrayed in the novel. The event leads to the change of Scout’s impression towards Boo as she learns to appreciate him and also to understand more about his life. In other words, Boo’s bravery is essential in the development of Scout’s characteristic throughout the story that makes her a round or dynamic character.
In today’s context, bravery is vital in order to face vicious challenge in life. As a matter of fact, in order to do good deeds, bravery is also needed. Specifically, the bravery of the volunteer team of Malaysia that was sent to a conflict zone in Palestine is extraordinary. It was estimated that 5300 Palestinians have been injured, including at least 1855 children and 795 women resulted from the catastrophic war between Palestine and Israel (Malaysian Medical Relief Society, 2009). Four teams which comprised mainly of logistics personnel and medical specialists were formed by the Malaysian Medical Relief Society (MERCY) to provide the population in Gaza affected by Isrealis attack with humanitarian support. The volunteers serve bravely in the name of humanity although they were aware of the collateral damage in the conflict in which their lives were put at stake.
In a nutshell, To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel in which the author beautifully blends the literary elements and devices with an appealing storyline and the major themes are gloriously highlighted to the extent of delivering a positive impacts towards the readers. As Herman Melville stated, “To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on the flea, though many there be that have tried it.”
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