Question: Analyze how at least one setting influenced your response to the text as a whole
Harper Lee used multiple settings in her novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to influence the reader’s response to the text as a whole. Settings such as the courthouse, missionary circle and school all influenced the way in which I perceived Maycomb overall.
This novel follows Harper Lee’s (Scout) childhood, which she spent in Maycomb, Alabama, with her older brother Jem (Jeremy Finch - 8 to 13 years old), her father Atticus (lawyer) and their African American housekeeper, Calpurnia. The story is set during the tumultuous 1930’s when the Great Depression struck and caused worldwide grief and suffering.
The author, Harper Lee, wrote this novel with the intent of revealing the underlying racism that existed within her childhood community. She highlights that little judgements which may seem insignificant, can lead to greater problems like racism. ‘People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for’ is a quote by Lee that relates to a common mistake made by many of us today.
‘Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town’, is a perfect description of the town in which the story is set. On the outside, it is a sleepy little town with folks who all know each other by name if not by appearance. Quaint and appealing at first glance becomes corrupted and cruel upon closer inspection.
The courthouse is used as a setting to influence the reader’s response to the novel because it highlights that injustice and inequality are at the heart of Maycomb society. It is first described as having ‘an appealing façade’ with ‘Greek revival columns’ and ‘a big nineteenth-century clocktower’. Like Maycomb, it is lovely to look at, but upon closer inspection, it is more like a rotten apple. Inside it stank of ‘stale urine’ and it was necessary ‘to turn the lights on during the day’ which only served to reveal the ‘film of dust covering the rough floorboards’. Not only this but the courthouse that is meant to stand for justice and equality represents exactly the opposite. ‘The Coloured-balcony ran along three walls of the courtroom…’ is a quote which shows the segregation within Maycomb.
Secondly, the missionary circle is used as a setting to influence the reader’s response to the novel because it showcases the blindness of the citizens to their own racism. A missionary circle is a group of devout women who study God’s Word and how they can implement it in the world around them. Mrs Merriweather, known as the ‘most devout woman in Maycomb’ and wife to ‘a faithful Methodist’, is a member of Maycomb’s missionary circle. Outwardly she is a compassionate lady as her ‘…large brown eyes always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed’. However, she is blind to her own racism, highlighted through her racist comment of ‘that darky’s wife’, as she referred to Helen Robinson (Tom Robinson’s wife - African American accused of rape).
Lastly, the school is used as a setting to influence the reader’s response to the novel because it reveals that racism is present in even an educational institute. Towards the end of the novel, during a lesson, Cecil Jacobs (a boy in Scout’s class) calls to attention the rising conflict in Germany as Hitler started persecuting the Jews. This sparks a conversation on the topic of democracy, which Scout defines as being ‘equal rights for all, special privileges for none’. Miss Gates (Scout’s teacher) teaches the children about the injustice of Hitler’s actions and ironically points out that, ‘over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced’. This quote is ironic as she herself, along with many others in Maycomb, all persecute the African Americans in one or another.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ influenced the way in which I look at society around me. It has taught me that any judgements made towards another person should not be made at all. In our world today, there are millions of people who suffer judgement and discrimination because of their ethnicity, background, gender, age and religion. If we wish to make the world a better place, I believe that we should leave all our judgements at the door and instead try to understand people and their point of view.
In conclusion, lee used multiple settings in her novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ to influence the reader’s response to the text as a whole.