Question: Analyze how the setting was central to your understanding of the writer’s purpose in the written text.
The use of setting was central to my understanding of Harper Lee’s purpose in her novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Harper Lee’s purpose was to reveal the dangers of judging others as this can lead to something as serious as racism. The settings used to improve my understanding of this purpose were; Maycomb, the courthouse, the missionary circle and the school. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a novel based on Harper Lee’s childhood, which she spent growing up in Maycomb, Alabama. She lived with her father Atticus Finch (lawyer), her brother Jem Finch ( 9-13 years old) and their African American housekeeper, Calpurnia. Harper was known as ‘Scout’ by her friends and family and she was aged 5-9 years old throughout the novel.
Through her novel, Harper Lee intended to reveal the dangers of judgement and how it can lead to suffering and oppression. Lee demonstrated this through describing the harsh and unfair racism that was directed towards the African Americans in her own community. She wanted to highlight that racism can be found anywhere and that it is capable of spreading like a disease. ‘People generally see what they look for and hear what they listen for’, is a quote by Lee that reveals the common flaw in society today.
‘Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town’, is a quote describing Harper’s childhood home. Appealing and quaint on the outside but corrupted and rotten on the inside. The town was infested with racists who treated the African Americans poorly because of their different skin color. The story is set during the tumultuous 1930’s when the Great Depression was causing worldwide suffering. However, it wasn’t only the Great Depression that inflicted pain, it was also the racism that had spread like wildfire throughout the South of America.
The courthouse was a setting that was central to my understanding of Lee’s purpose in the novel. It is first described as having an appealing ‘Victorian façade’ with with ‘Greek revival columns’ and ‘a big nineteenth century clocktower’. However, on the inside it is like a rotten apple. Upon entering the building it stank of ‘stale urine’ and it was ‘necessary to turn the lights on during the daytime’ which only served to reveal ‘the film of dust covering the rough floorboards’. A setting that is meant to stand for equality can be seen for exactly the opposite as the African Americans are segregated from everyone else, ‘The colored balcony ran along three walls of the courtroom…’. This made me realize how deep the racism ran in the uncomprehending town of Maycomb.
Secondly, the missionary circle was a setting that was central to my understanding of Lee’s purpose in the novel. A missionary circle is a group of devout women who study the Word of God and how they can implement it in the world around them. Mrs Merriweather is a member of Maycomb’s missionary circle and she is known to be the ‘most devout woman in Maycomb’ and wife to a ‘faithful Methodist’. Outwardly she is compassionate, as ‘her large brown always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed.’ However, inwardly she is corrupted by racism as seen through her racist comment ‘that darky’s wife’, which she uses to refer to Helen Robinson (Tom Robinson’s wife - African American wrongly accused of rape). She is just one of many who are blind to their own racism and this proved to me that even Christians can make harsh judgments.
Lastly, the school was a setting that was central to my understanding of Harper Lee’s purpose in her novel. Towards the end of the story, during a class lesson, Cecil Jacobs ( a boy in Scout’s class), calls to attention the rising conflict in Germany as Hitler began to persecute the Jews. Thus sparks a class discussion on the topic of ‘democracy’, which Scout defines as being ‘Equal rights for all, special privileges for none’. Scout’s teacher, Miss Gates, then proceeds to emphasise that Hitler is committing a crime against humanity and ironically says that ‘Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced.’ This irony took me aback, as this was a teacher telling a class full of young children that prejudice did not exist in their obviously racist community.
Overall, Harper Lee cleverly used multiple settings throughout her novel to improve the reader’s understanding of racism and how it can spread anyone and be found anywhere. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has revealed to me the full extent of racism and the suffering and oppression that it can inflict. I now look at my community through a different lens as Harper Lee has impacted my perceptions of others.
In conclusion, setting was central to my understanding of Harper Lee’s purpose in her famous novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.