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Harper Lee and Robert Louis Stevenson use two very different towns to provide the setting for their novels. Harper Lee sets “To Kill A Mocking Bird” in Maycomb in the Southern states of America in the 1930s. Robert Louis Stevenson sets “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” in Victorian London. Although these are two very different social settings at two different times in history, there are both similarities and some contrasts in the way the authors use a sense of place to develop the main themes of their stories and to provide an appropriate world for the characters they create. In this essay I will explore some of the ways in which they do this.
Maycomb is described in the book as ” a tired old town”. There is a main square and a county court house. The main family in the book the Finches live on the main residential street. They sit out on their front porches in summer and Lee gives us a feeling of a closely-knit community where everybody knows everything about one another, or so they think.. She goes on to show later that all is not as idyllic as it seems at first on the surface. In contrast, the London that Stevenson portrays in “Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde” is seen as a big, distant and impersonal community where there seems to be a lot of conflict and discomfort between the characters and, in particular, the social classes as they go about their everyday lives. Stevenson describes the streets in London as dirty, narrow and winding and the buildings as dark and oppressive to create a depressing atmosphere and provide a backdrop of gloom and evil for Stevenson’s story.
The characters in “To kill a Mocking Bird” overall seem on the surface to be good, honest hard-working people who are friendly and take everyday problems in their stride. This conceals, however, a deeply engrained hatred towards Negroes and their way of life based on prejudice. Basically, everybody in Maycomb, with a few exceptions, is racist, looks at blacks as inferior to themselves and treats them badly by giving them the hardest manual jobs with the lowest pay. This deep division in the community is reflected in the physical segregation of black from white, with the blacks living in their own poor housing apart from the whites. In Stevenson’s London, there is also a sense of social division, but this time it is between rich and poor. Colour is replaced by social class to separate out the different parts of the community.
“In To Kill a Mocking Bird” The Finch Family provide some of the central characters. Atticus, father to Jem and Scout is a good lawyer and a well-respected leader of the community whom many people look up to and respect his views especially his children Jem and Scout who he tries to teach them from what is right from what is wrong by teaching them important morals. In Particular, he won’t tolerate racism and sees it as a destructive dividing line, which shouldn’t exist.
An example in the book of racial discrimination is that Negroes had few educational opportunities. Calpurnia taught her son Zeebo to read from the bible and a law book. Zeebo’s job (Dustman) shows the limited job prospects for blacks but Zeebo considers his job as a good job for a Negro. This shows how far Negroes were down the social spectrum and that they accepted their lowly social position and had low expectations. The white people also do not question this social status quo as they feel superior.
At the Missionary tea party all the ladies enjoy Calpurnia’s cooking but they treat Calpurnia as if she’s not even there, showing no recognition towards her. All through the book Blacks were constantly derided and insulted, referred to as “niggers” and practically viewed as immoral and potentially criminal. The tensions which arise from this relationship between black and white in Maycomb is a main theme throughout the book.
There is a dividing line when it comes to social class in Maycomb, with different types of people seen as inferior to others i.e. blacks, and the poor whites. The people who are seen as poor and inferior are usually the ones that do a lot of the hard working manual jobs to satisfy and provide for other member s of the community. Another poor community in Maycomb is the Cunninghams, who are all farmers and the Euells who are really poor and live next to the dump yard. The Negroes are seen as lower down the social spectrum even than the embarrassment to the town (The Euells). What at first sight seems to be an ordinary town full of respectable moral people is gradually revealed to be full of spite and prejudice. Harper Lee uses the layout of the town and the contrast between living conditions to emphasise this point.
The people in Maycomb who are well off are the people with the good jobs and the power to govern the town.
There is also a theme of social division in Jekyll and Hyde with things not always as respectable as they seem. “Jekyll and Hyde.” There is an upper class of people who have good, well-paid and respectable jobs just like Jekyll who was a doctor and Utterson who was a lawyer. Both had wealth and nice houses. But, there are two sides to the matter. Although seeming respectable, Jekyll was not happy with his life, He even called upon prostitution to satisfy his needs, Even that wasn’t enough and he used his position as a doctor to make up a concoction to change his physical appearance for a short amount of time so that he could experience what it would be like to be different and poor on the murky streets of London.
The weather in “To Kill a Mocking Bird” is used to reflect the mood the town is in, and where the town is positioned it is usually very hot a lot of the time. Often, when the weather is described as hot in the book there is usually some kind of confrontation going on or some sort of tension thus symbolising conflict. Lee also uses the changing seasons to emphasis some of the points she wishes to make. When the weather is described as autumn it gives the impression of a dull grey period. When it’s winter in the book it says it snows and that it doesn’t snow ever. This brings in a kind of mystical cold sensation, which is linked in with Boo Radley. When winter turns to spring it emphasis new life and a warm comfortable feeling. All these different seasons are used to represent the act of time passing and each season represents different events which occur in the novel.
The weather in London is somewhat of a strange atmosphere. It is described as a lot of the time as being foggy and murky, givingus the impression of a cold and dark situation occurring, London is basically being described as depressing and dangerous which causes tension and disturbance. Stevenson perhapsused the fog to hide the surroundings or to make it hazy like it is not quite all there, “the next moment the fog settled down again upon that port” but beyond the fog shows the true picture. The fog is merely there to create a sense of duplicity, that there is more than one side to everything. By Stevenson using such dramatic atmospheric devices, he wanted to show the readers that not everything is what it seems on the outside, you have to look twice to see the reality.
In “To Kill A Mockingbird” Maycomb the sleepy little town seems to have a very warm sense of community and friendship among the locals. The houses in Maycomb are fairly straight forward, basic and overall very adequate situated fairly close together to give a close feel of a community but they also have their privacy. Some people don’t like the insides of their houses for example, Miss Maudie who lives next door to Atticus Jem and Scout absolutely hates being cooped up inside all the time she detests it greatly and finds the great out doors more her kind of thing as she spends most of her time outside in her beautiful garden. To contrast with this, there are some people who just stay inside all day every day for example Boo Radley who doesn’t go out at all. In fact, he hadn’t been seen for many years outside he just observes and watches life past by. Lee uses this contrast between inside and outside to good effect to emphasise things about her characters and add depth to their characterisation.
In “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” London the busy, vibrant, gloomy city has a very distant sense of community and friendship. The houses in Victorian London are described as being dark and pretty derelict on the outside but on the inside it shows a different interpretation of the interior, which is stylish, and a big contrast to the exterior. For example in the inside of Jekyll’s house Stevenson describes “a bright open fire, and furnished with costly cabinets of oak.” This gives us the impression that Jekyll is well off. The front of Jeykll’s house is really grand and elegant, and fits a successful man, whereas the back is a total contrast to the front.
The back is really dingy and dirt- ridden and you would expect an unemployed tramp to live there. Stevenson uses this contrast to show us two sides to Jekyll’s house and two sides to him, the good side (the front) where Jekyll goes in and looks respectable and the bad side (the back) where Hyde comes out and represents evil. This shows that the duplicity in Jekyll/Hyde is reflected in the house, a respectable “front” conceals a sinister and dark “back”. Stevenson shows us through this device that everything is not always as it seems.
This difference between what something seems to be on the surface and what it is really like is also a theme in “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Maycomb seems like a tiresome little town where not much action or politics ever happens and that everybody gets on and lives in harmony. However, the outside is not always what it seems and there is a lot of hidden conflict among the townsfolk. They are very intolerant of anything or anybody who is different to what they in their small-minded way think of as “normal”. For example, Boo Radley, who never goes outside, was dubbed as a “monster” by the kids who live in the town. Also Dolphus Raymond, who lives with a black women and has “All sorts of mixed children”, people think that he drinks whisky from the bag he carries round all day and he is labelled an “evil man”.
The truth is he doesn’t drink whisky all day, he gives that impression because the townsfolk of Maycomb could never understand why he lives his life like he does and he gives them a reason to hate him by pretending to be a drunkard. These two people show the harsh reality of people’s beliefs in Maycomb and how they label people because they’re different or associated with other people that are seen as immoral and wrong. For example, when Miss Gates comments on the importance of democracy and discusses Hitler’s wrong doings of persecuting the Jews as being immoral and pathetic, she later demonstrates some of the same prejudice complaining that “Negroes are getting way above themselves”. Lee illustrates Miss Gates’ hypocrisy from talking about Hitler’s wrong doings and commenting that it is wrong she later does basically the same to Negroes as Hitler did to the Jews. Lee uses examples like this to show that, basically, lots of the people in Maycomb were two-faced and could not see the wrong in undermining the Negroes, which shows their total hypocrisy. The true harsh reality in Maycomb was that nearly everyone was racist with a few exceptions and that the people didn’t like anything to be different from what was considered “normal” life.
In this essay I have explored briefly some of the main themes running through “Jekyll and Hyde” and “To kill a Mocking Bird.” In both novels everything is not what it appears to be on the surface. The people who live in the worlds of these novels are not always what they seem. There is deep social division and tension in the two communities that leads to conflict and a clash between good and evil. Stevenson and Lee use the geography of London and Maycomb, their climates and their social settings to put over their themes. They use these places to give their novels atmosphere and to create an appropriate setting for there characters. They use their towns effectively to reinforce their main messages. Stevenson uses London to expose some of the hypocrisies of Victorian life where respectable people often exploited the poor. Lee uses Maycomb to challenge racial prejudice and intolerance of people who are different at a time when the civil rights movement in America was beginning to gather momentum.