Analyse how important ideas were developed throughout the text.
Harper Lee’s use of language features emphasises the idea of injustice, its effects and consequences, and also helps the readers to think beyond the plot and to understand the deeper message. The novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is a story set in the 1930s where the influence of racial prejudice is prevalent. Harper Lee utilises a variety of language features to convey the theme of injustice in an easy and understandable manner. Lee uses allusions from the Bible, symbolism and irony to highlight how horrible injustice is.
The American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s was significant and led to major change in American society. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks and others were all a part of the public landscape as they fought for racial equality. Lee’s audience would have been aware of these events as they read her novel and would have seen the real life parallels in their own society. In this way, Lee contributed to the Civil Rights Movement by highlighting important issues in a manner that was easy to understand and emphasised the possibility for positive change and racial harmony.
Lee’s use of allusions from the Bible demonstrates that fighting for equality is a challenge and has horrible consequences. The town of Maycomb has the disease of racism and almost everyone is blind to their racist beliefs. When Atticus and Uncle Jack are talking about Tom Robinson’s rape case, Uncle Jack says, “Let this cup pass from you, eh?” This is a biblical reference. Jesus said this the night before his crucifixion. Jesus is afraid but he still does it for the salvation of all people. The same applies to Atticus. He is afraid of this case and its potential consequences. He cares for the safety of his children. By defending Tom Robinson, he is exposing himself and his family to the anger of the white community. However, he knows that defending Tom Robinson is the morally right thing to do. He knows that no one is willing to start fighting against injustice besides him. Atticus symbolises what a Christian should be. By the use of the biblical reference, the readers are able to understand Atticus’ circumstances and situation. The readers are also able to understand his feelings. The readers can understand how hard it is to fight against injustice as the whole community and its people are blinded by their racist beliefs.
The symbolism in the text is used to demonstrate the horrible injustices people keep committing onto one another and the hope within. The symbol of the mockingbird is used and mentioned a lot in the text. Mockingbird symbolizes innocence and beauty in the novel. Miss Maudie explains that “mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy.” Tom Robinson is a mockingbird as he is an innocent and humble man unjustly accused of rape and suffers for the sins of others. He symbolises all the mockingbirds that are unjustly harmed and the horrible injustice they face when “they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Another is the symbol of light. Lee uses the symbol of light to symbolise hope. When Atticus is in the prison jail to stop the mob of farmers from lynching Tom Robinson as they are blinded by their racist beliefs, he is illuminated by light. Lee uses the light as a symbol of what is good and just. The fact that Atticus is illuminated by the light is symbolic that he is shedding light on prejudice in Maycomb as he fights for justice. Atticus is an oasis of morality amidst the darkness of sin in Maycomb. By the use of symbolism, the readers are encouraged to think beyond the plot and actually understand the effects of racial prejudice to innocent people.
Irony is used a lot in the text to highlight how common racial prejudice and injustice is in the town of Maycomb. In Scout’s school, Cecil Jacobs reads an article about Hitler and his mistreatment of the Jews. “There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and why Hitler doesn’t think so is a mystery to me… They contribute to every society they live in, and most of all, they are deeply religious people.” This whole conversation is very ironic as they act all decent and humble when they do not realise that they themselves are doing the same thing to African-Americans. They think the oppression of Jews is wrong because they “contribute to the society they live in” and “are deeply religious people,” yet they fail to see that the coloured people, whom they oppress, are good people like the Jews too. Cecil says he cannot see why anyone would persecute the Jews, “they’re white, aren’t they.” The school highlights injustice within society at all levels. Lee shows us that racism is irrational and unjust. It causes us to lose our empathy. She incites the audience to change their beliefs and prejudices.
In 1931, a group of nine black teenagers are unjustly accused of raping two white women aboard a train near Scottsboro, Alabama. This is the same time when Harper Lee was able to start reading newspapers. The trials that occurred are called the Scottsboro trials. The trial of Tom Robinson in the novel and the Scottsboro trials are a parallel. Atticus Finch is like Judge James Horton in the Scottsboro trials who was also against racial prejudice and injustice. He prevented the teenagers from suffering a terrible fate due to people’s prejudices. There are also people from the audience of the trial who stood up for the teenagers, just like Mr. Cunningham in the novel. The readers of the novel at the time would have been aware of these events. Harper Lee utilises these events that happened in the past to convey that racial prejudice is destroying our humanity and empathy to other people. Lee highlights the horrible injustices that people keep committing onto other people. This is also her way of contributing to the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 60s. This is her way of highlighting the possibility for equality and harmony.
By the use of language features throughout the text, such as allusions, symbolism and irony, Harper Lee is able to convey the idea of racial prejudice and injustice, how it affects other people and its consequences. Harper Lee is able to address major issues that is happening at the time this novel was published and also in this modern world, and she does this in an easy to understand manner.