How to improve this essay? Is it at an excellence level?
Question 7: Analyse how specific events reinforced your understanding of one or more idea. “Ideas” may refer to character, theme or setting.
Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ highlights specific events that reinforced my understanding that discrimination against the African America community is prevalent in the society of Maycomb. The reader can see that the African Americans are discriminated against in the many micro settings within Maycomb, Alabama.
Harper Lee wrote ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. She did this to highlight the racial inequality that black people experienced during this time. Harper Lee wrote ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ based on her observations of her family and neighbor’s, as well as a significant court case that occurred when she was five years old near Scottsboro, Alabama. Nine black men were accused of raping two white women and were consequently sentenced to a long period of time in prison. There were false testimonies and no real evidence they had committed the crime.
The school that Scout (the narrator of the novel) attends, deals with many events that display the racial injustices that black people faced during the 1930s. When Atticus (Scout’s father) took up the case of defending Tom Robinson, (an African American facing the accusation that he has raped a young white woman) the news spread around Maycomb like wildfire. Parents of the children attending Maycomb School proclaimed their opinions to their children. One boy called Cecil Jacobs told Scout “My folks think your daddy’s a disgrace and that nigger ought to hang from a water tank.” This hatred of black people and the fact that Cecil’s family wish death on a person shows the reader the high level of racism that can be seen amongst families in the Maycomb community. The use of the racist word dehumanises Tom Robinson and shows the level of discrimination that black people experience in Maycomb within families and institutions. Another example of racism within the school, is when Scout asks Atticus “Do you defend niggers, Atticus?” The reader can see that Scout has heard the racist term at school because Atticus has kept his children from using the term. He tells her “Don’t use the word “nigger” Scout.” It shows that families and people within Maycomb use this term a lot as it can be found in the school (from students spewing forth the hate they learn from their parents)with teachers turning a blind eye to children uttering the word. This means that racism is at the core of Maycomb society due to it being found in the educational institutions.
Two societal places that deal with discrimination within Maycomb are: The First Purchase Church and The Missionary Circle. When Calpurnia (a mother-like figure to Scout and Jem - Scout’s brother - who cooks for their family) takes Jem and Scout to her church one Sunday, Jem observes that no hymn books are used for music. Jem tells Calpurnia that the church congregation should save up to buy some hymn books, to which she replies saying “They can’t read.” This emphasises the discrimination black people face - due to their race - as they are not entitled to the human right of receiving a decent education. Effectively, the black people in Maycomb are slaves because they cannot have control over their lives without an education. The ability to read is fundamental to having any chance of a successful life. The Missionary Circle also contributes towards the idea of racism within Maycomb. It can be seen when they meet for tea and one of the members - Mrs Merriweather gossips about Tom Robinson’s wife, Helen. Scout asks who Mrs Merriweather is referring to and she says “That darky’s wife…”. This shows how lowly some in the white community think of African American people - they treat them as if they are subhuman, calling them by their skin colour, rather than their name. It also highlights that they are blinded by the colour of someone’s skin, rather than a person’s character and morals. However, the hypocrisy of this statement is when Mrs Merriweather previously cried about how terribly the Mruna Tribe had been treated by the white community. “Mrs Merriweather’s large brown eyes filled with tears when she considered the oppressed.” This is an example of the level of hypocrisy within The Missionary Circle because they feel terrible about a minor tribe who suffer from oppression, and yet they fail to see the level of oppression and discrimination that the black community face every day of their lives from people and institutions treating them as if they are subhuman.
The courthouse is another micro setting that deals with discrimination against black people. This can be seen in the quote “The coloured balcony ran along the walls of the courtroom like a second storey verandah.” This is ironic because it highlights racial inequality within a building where everyone is supposed to be considered equal before the law. The segregation shows that Maycomb courthouse is a place of inequality where some people are more equal than others. The courtroom “smelled of decaying record books, mingled with old damp cement and stale urine.” This emphasises the fact that despite its grand features and palatial designs from the outside, the system is rotten to the core with discrimination and racial inequality. Another example of segregational racism can be seen in the following: “they waited patiently behind the white families.” This shows that the white community of Maycomb view their race as being superior to the African American race, which can be seen in the courthouse.
Tom Robinson’s court case, that occurred in Maycomb courthouse, dealt with racism at the center of it. When the verdict was released, it became very clear to the reader the high level of racism within the justice system. The reader could see that Tom was innocent due to physical evidence, provided by Atticus, proving that Mayella’s (the young woman who accused Tom of raping her) father may be guilty of the crime. However, the jury are blinded by the prejudices that they hold against Tom Robinson’s skin colour, thus believing he was guilty. The evidence that Tom did not commit the crime was so clear, that even a child understood he was not guilty. “Jem was jumping in excitement “We’ve won haven’t we?”” This highlights Jem’s innocence and child-like beliefs that good people always win and bad people do not. In this case, the “bad” people won. “…His hands were white from gripping the balcony rail and his shoulders jerked as if each ‘guilty’ were a separate stab between them.” Jem’s reaction to the court case verdict tells the reader how shocked he is from the results. Again, the “guilty” verdict emphasised the discrimination and racism that has rotten the judicial system to its core.
The discrimination towards black people in this novel, can be linked to what we, as people, experience in the real world. At some stage during life, people will deal with a form of discrimination towards them. Many examples of discrimination can be seen across the world in various countries by authoritarian forces - where religious groups and minorities are targeted for having different beliefs to what they are being forced to believe. This can be linked to the racism and hatred that the African American community dealt with in Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. In America during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the black community could face the possibility of being lynched due to people discriminating against the colour of their skin. This level of hatred stems from the petty prejudices that people hold against somebody different to them.
In conclusion, Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, highlights specific events within the micro settings of Maycomb that reinforced my understanding of the discrimination that black people faced. The most significant event where racism and discrimination could be found is from Tom Robinson’s court case verdict. Humans still have a long journey to go until discrimination becomes something of the past.