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Harper Lee also highlights the social prejudices in court and church. A church is supposed to be a place where everyone can worship and no one is discriminated upon. It is to be a place of peace and worship. In the book, the white and black people had separate church. When Calpurnia took Jem and Scout to church for African American, some people did not like that. They questioned why were they in their church. Likewise, a court is a place where the law is executed and maintained.
Before the eyes of the law, everyone is equal and deserves the same. Guilty will be punished and innocents freed. That was not the case of Tom Robinson. The readers could clearly see how Atticus proved Tom’s innocence through various evidence but the jury found him guilty. The law could not protect the innocent and wrongly punished a person because of his skin colour. This discusses the major flaws in the system that affects a person’s life just like it did to Tom Robinson’s life.
Contrary to how Harper Lee highlights the unfair treatment of African American in the book, she is also symbolising a change in how people like Tom Robinson are treated. When the book was released in the 1960s, the civil unrest was already starting between the northern states and southern states. One of the main reasons the United States of America and the Confederate State of America was fighting was because of the issue of slavery.
Even in deep south like Alabama, people were already changing their view about slavery. Harper Lee signifies the change in how African American was treated in Maycomb, Alabama. Though fictional, Maycomb was situated in Alabama. Alabama, a deeply southern state played a significant role in the American civil war to defend slavery. In the book, there are instances where Harper Lee is signifying the changes in how people treat African American.
“Did it ever strike you that Judge Taylor naming Atticus to defend that boy was no accident?”(238). By law, every accused gets a lawyer to defend him if they can’t afford it. Hardly ever is African American defended, but judge Tom appointed Atticus to be his lawyer, knowing that Atticus is a good lawyer. Though the Maycomb folks bash Atticus for taking Tom’s case, Atticus defends him to the best of his ability and truthfully. Harper Lee also shows how the jury took a long time to deliberate a decision. “That jury took a few hours. An inevitable verdict, maybe, but usually it takes’ em just a few minutes.”(245)The book specifies how in the 1960s, cases like this took a few minutes for the jury to decide against a black man, this case manages to make the jury think at least think about their decision. Though small, these changes are significant growth in direction of abolition of slavery.
Both the characters were the mockingbird of the book. Their innocence and purity tarnished by the evils of people. Tom Robinson tried and convicted of rape because a white girl accused him. The book implies that Atticus managed to make everyone believe the truth of what happened because of Ewell’s conflicting testimonies and proving how Tom Robinson could not have possibly hurt Mayella Ewell as his left hand is handicapped. But in the end, because of Tom Robinson’s skin colour, the jury found him guilty and send him to jail. His innocence and kindness killed. Likewise, Arthur “Boo” Radley’s innocence killed because of his uniqueness. The town of Maycomb did not like that the Radleys kept to themselves and did not attend Sunday church, which in Maycomb city was a sin. They ostracised people who were different from them and cooked up spiteful stories about their son who was an evil criminal. Though both of them were mockingbirds of the book, the innocents of the book, both of them were prejudiced for different reasons. Tom Robinson because of his skin colour and Arthur “Boo” Radley because of his difference.
Courage is also seen in both tom and Arthur “Boo”. Tom Robinson knowing the risk and consequences helped Mayella Ewell with her house. He did not let the difference in skin colour take away kindness and humility from his character. That took courage, to remain true to your character despite the risk. Arthur “Boo” Radley extended his friendship to Scout and Jem in his own quiet way. In the town of Maycomb, it is hard being different from others. People are very judgemental and anything out of their “normal” is not accepted. Despite the environment, Arthur “Boo” was honest and had the courage to live the way he wanted. The social pressure did not make him a different person as it would to a lot of people. He was brave enough to help those who needed it even at great personal expense. He went out of his way to help Jem and Scout with everything. From blankets to gifts to saving their lives, he got out of his comfort zone and did what he believed was right.
Then onwards the story progressed quite different for both of them. Tom Robinson after being sent to jail, tried to escape and was shot down by the prison guards. While Arthur “Boo” gets recognition for his heroic act by Finch family and the sheriff. He quietly goes back to his home after saving Scout and Jem but in their eyes, their image of Arthur “Boo” Radley was changed forever. It could be argued that the way in how in the end, both the characters found themselves in different situations also shows prejudice or discrimination in a way. Even though both of them were prejudiced, Arthur “Boo” Radleys story ended on a happier note than Tom Robinson as he gets shot.
The novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” represents the prejudices in depth and reasons the readers to question themselves and how they are prejudged about a lot of things. Harper Lee talks about a lot of social prejudices in the book. The killing of innocents, the toxic thoughts and how it affects a person’s life. Two of the main characters Tom Robinson and Arthur “Boo” Radley represents lots of things but mainly prejudices in the society, especially in the 1960s. Though the timeline was set in the 1930s, the theme was very much relevant in 1960s and nowadays too. Both the characters were prejudged by people and effected drastically so because of one’s race and difference. Their kindness and innocence were exploited and killed.
Harper Lee uses the characters and the storyline to show prejudices in the society. The author is highlighting the root of society’s problem. Two of the main such problems are rumours and racial discrimination. Arthur “Boo” Radley proved how rumours can be deadly and Tom Robinson proved the absurdity of racial discrimination especially in the face of church and law.
The book definitely challenged the community when first released. Harper Lee manages to use her characters to symbolise the prejudices. Even though the book faced some criticism, it surely sowed the seed of equality in many.
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