Question: Analyse how the experiences of a character were used to comment on
Maycomb, Alabama was an extremely racist society in the 1930s. Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ tells the story of a family of three, Scout Finch (who is the main character and the one who is narrating the novel), Jem Finch (Scout’s older brother) and Atticus Finch (who is their windowing father) and how they survive in the days of ‘The Great Depression’ . Jem Finch is an important character in the novel because he starts off very innocent, but as the book progresses he gets more mature and has some traumatic experiences, like the accusation on an innocent black man that shape him into the character he is, they also helped the readers understand the other issues that were happening in society in their time.
‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is a novel that is told through the eyes of Scout Finch, this novel tells the story of her father Atticus and how he hopelessly strives to prove the innocence of a black man (Tom Robinson), who was wrongfully accused of rape. Tom Robinson also symbolises the mockingbird. It also shows us the journey to adulthood for both Jem and Scout.
Jem Finch represents many key roles in the novel, he is kind, brave, caring and he has a lot of courage. Jem’s development throughout the novel and reaction to the things happening in his society help the readers understand the importance of the racial discrimination that was happening in Maycomb, Alabama, in the time period of the 1930s (also known as ‘The Great Depression’ era). Tom Robinson’s trial has a very major effect on Jem, because he is somewhat idealistic he was shocked and felt guilt when the jury convicts Tom Robinson of a crime that he did not commit.
Jem cannot comprehend why someone would accuse an innocent man just because they are black. While Jem is watching the trial “His hands were white from gripping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each “guilty” was a separate stab between them” When Jem says “Don’t see how any jury could convict on what we heard.” This shows his innocence and how difficult it is for him to understand and cope with the injustice that happened in the courtroom. Jem believed that the jury would find Tom Robinson innocent, because it is very clear and all the evidence points to the fact that he is innocent. Jem realises after Tom is accused of the extremely racist society that he lives in.
Throughout the rest of the novel Jem still finds it difficult to come to terms with the trial and conviction of Tom Robinson, and soon after, Tom Robinson’s death. As Jem’s ‘journey to adulthood’ continues, he begins to realise the overall hypocrisy in Maycomb and how almost everyone he knows is influenced by the racist attitudes that they grew up with, or that they were taught in school. “It ain’t right.” The way that Jem reacts to the court case allows the readers to realise that not everyone in Maycomb were racist or hypocrites or ‘foot washing baptists’. This shows us that Scout and Jem were raised right by their father Atticus. The readers come to learn that in their society the idea is that just because someone is African- American they don’t deserve the same rights as everyone around them. The belief that their last name has an effect on their social standing, how they are viewed and how much money they will have. Such inequalities are expressed in both the Scout and Jems journeys of understanding the social status of Maycomb and the incidents that occur before and during Tom Robinson’s trial that reflect this status. As Scout and Jem start forming their own opinions on this matter, they spend a lot of time trying to understand what defines and creates the social strata of Maycomb.
“To Kill A Mockingbird” is strongly influenced by the events that happened between the 1930s and the 1950s, which was just before the book was published in the 1960s. These events were the Scottsboro Case in 1931, (which were nine black teenagers who were falsely accused of raping two white women), and the African-American Civil Rights Movement from 1955 till 1968 and the Great Depression in 1929, which lasted till the late 1930s. Through Jem’s experience of watching Tom Robinson’s trial we learn that Maycomb is a very opinion based town. Many decisions were taken about what people were feeling about issues. Tom Robinson was a black man living in a world of white men, where the thought on the black community was mostly negative. In the case of Tom Robinson this was the word of a white man against a black man. And of course Maycomb’s white community saw itself as superior people, and the black community as inferior beings. But when the entire reality was thrust into the jury’s face, it came down to the men’s opinions before them. Everything came down to two things: White or Black. Maycomb killed Tom Robinson who was the mockingbird, the killed the hope for all those who cared about Tom the hope that people could see the real truth, they ruined his life hopes by throwing him in jail they shattered him. Their thoughts destroyed him. How innocent they choose the lies, their wrong beliefs, culpable in the trial instead of choosing the facts. Atticus brought the black community hope when he showed that he could protect Tom Robinson, when he fought for him as hard as he could. “I simply wanted to tell you that there are some men in this world who were born to do our unpleasant jobs for us. Your father Is one of them.”
Towards the ending of the novel Jem begins to come to terms with Tom Robinson’s death, but he continues to find it difficult to believe. “It was Jem’s turn to cry. His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheerful crowd.” This shows how much this experience has affected Jem. Jem helps the readers realise that “Tom’s death was a senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children.” Tom died for the sins of others, he can be related to Jesus Christ because they both died for the sins of others and not for their own wrong doing. “Maycomb was interested by the news of Tom’s death for perhaps two days; two days was enough for the information to spread through the country… To Maycomb Tom’s death was typical. Typical of a nigger to cut and run. Typical of a nigger’s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw.” This quote shows us the mentality of the society in Maycomb, they hardly care because of how ‘typical’ it is for a black man to do these things, so after only two days they forget about it. Most people would probably never remember the name Tom Robinson, because it was just something that happened so often it was almost normal.
In conclusion Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” is a very important novel that discusses the challenges faced by African- Americans in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s. It helps us understand the society and how they react to the accusation and slaughtering of an innocent black man through the eyes of a young white boy, Jem Finch. Who’s journey to adulthood is majorly affected by the experiences he had and the way that he was brought up by his father, Atticus Finch.