Question: Analyse how ideas were presented to be thought provoking and relevant.
Harper Lee’s masterpiece was aimed to open the eyes of her audience about the reality of their society at the time. In Lee’s novel, she writes about the injustice and discrimiation inside a small American town in the 1930’s. The purpose of her novel was to unveil the corruption of the country, and attempt to influence her readers to take a stand against racism. She reaches out to her audience by writing about cruel racially influenced events that commonly occurred at the time of the book’s release, and how these events affected the lives of two innocent children who are the main characters of the text. These events highlight some main ideas in the text which include the theme of racism, the character Jem Finch, and the setting of the text, Maycomb Alabama. These ideas were thought provoking her readers into realising their mistakes, and taking a stand against racism.
The American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and ’60s was significant and led to major changes in American society. Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and others were all 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 society. In this way, Lee contributed to the civil rights movement by highlighting important issues that were easy to understand and emphasized the possibility for positive change and racial harmony. Unfortunately, 60 years later, despite improvements, America still suffers from some racial inequality.
Firstly, an idea presented as thought provoking and relevant to Lee’s 1960 audience was the theme of racism. This is seen with the attempted lynching of an innocent black man Tom Robinson. Tom has been accused of rape, and is having to spend the night in a jail cell, whilst waiting out the night a group of middle aged drunk local men approach the cell with murder on their minds. However one man stands in their way, as Atticus Finch, father of main character Jem, and Tom’s defendant for the case, stands in front of the mob and their racist attitudes. A quote which highlights the heartless mindsets of the group is when a member tells Atticus “Get a side the door Mr Finch, you know what we want” as well as multiple threats to Atticus and his children.
This quote identifies the idea of racism, obviously with the mob’s knowledge on the situation being very minimal, they wouldn’t be wanting to hang Tom based on anything other than the colour of his skin, and that he’s been accused of attacking a younger white girl. This idea of racism was presented by Lee to provoke a up rising at the time of the books release, with there being so much discrimination and injustice going around, she uses the inhuman lynch mob actions to make her audience realise the sevreness of their current situation, by reading something that seems so outrageous that humans could do such a thing, then realise that’s whats happening in their own real world. This was Harper Lee’s purpose of her entire book, to make an impact on her readers lives, to take a stand against discrimination, to make her world a better place to live in, all through making the real world obvious by writing about it in her own imaginary story.
Furthermore, Harper Lee reaches out to her audience promoting a change through the main character of the story, Jem Finch. Jem starts the story as a young boy, aged 10, living his life as any other 10 year old would, causing mischief, hanging with mates, no real awareness of what’s happening outside his own day to day adventures. However as the story progresses, Atticus teaches his son on the realities of his small hometown, most importantly the plague of discrimination is his town. Jem is still uneducated on racist attitudes in his society until the court case of Tom Robinson, and the jury pleading him guilty. Despite conclusive evidence provided by Atticus for Tom’s innocence, the racist blinded jury sentenced him to the chair.
A quote which identifies the significant change in Jem is during the jury’s decision announcement when Scout (Jems brother who’s eyes the text is spoken through) describes the look of Jem “his (Jem) hands were white from gripping the balcony railing, and his shoulders jerked as if each guilty’ was a separate stab between them” then later after Jem spoke on the situation, still angry and confused he questions Atticus saying “Atticus… How could they do it, how could they?
Atticus replied “I don’t know, but they did. They’ve done it before, and they’ll do it again and when they do, it seems only children weep” The second quote highlights the purpose of Harper Lee’s text, and an example of her attempting to provoke thought for change in her audience because of their relevant issue. The part saying “only children weep” is her attempt to have an effect on any readers who may have racist mindsets, for them to think about the further ripple effects of their actions, especially on the younger generation. The aftermath of the verdict is majorly seen through Jems new attitude towards his fellow Maycomb citizens, now he looks upon everyone as a racist, and has a far more negative outlook on life, in contrast to earlier on in the first part of the book, when he was far more careless and joyful. This example is made to provoke thought in her audience, and for them to hopefully make a change for the better in their problematic society. Lee’s purpose again highlighted through this idea, her use of events relatable to the readers of the 1960’s are effective in waking them up and realising the reality of their society.
Lastly, an idea which was presented by Lee to inspire protest against injustice in her novel was the setting, Maycomb, Alabama.The small town Maycomb was used as model for all other smaller civilisations and rural towns in America, they may seem like your common bright, friendly place, however that’s the appearance, vs the reality that it is stained by discrimination and injustice, following the trend of racist attitudes against the african american community. An example of this appearance vs reality is the local courthouse, the place of Tom Robinson’s trial. Obviously a place affected by the racism disease, the courthouse should be a place of justice, and no external factors should alter a verdict, no personal opinions on a man’s life should be taken into consideration of verdict decisions, Atticus describes it saying “Our courts have our faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.” This quote highlights the expectation of the courthouse system, it shouldn’t matter where or when, the court is a place of justice, however the reality of Maycomb’s plagued society is that the jury’s opinion on the case was altered by the towns opinion, and the reality of their time, it was set in stone before Tom Robinson stepped inside the court. The jury, like the town, thought the black man must be guilty, because the colour of his skin didn’t appeal to those who believed themselves worthy of making such a statement. The ridiculousness of the verdict, and the delusional opinions of others, is the nail in the coffin of Lee’s intent, she’s identifying through a story the reality of her world, same level of discrimination, same events, justn fictional charecters causing them. Her inspiring novel provoked change in her readers, for them to have a look in the mirror, realise the plague haunting their society, and stand up for equality, or else you’re just as bad as the racist in the book. Harper Lee invited her readers to be like Atticus to their Jems, and not to be the town citizens to Tom Robinson.
In conclusion, Harper Lee wrote her historic novel and promoted equality and change for her society. She did this by including thought provoking ideas in the text such as providing examples of the story theme racism, showing its effect on main character young boy Jem, and lastly exhibiting the expectation vs reality of the small town Maycomb, which is far darker than the outlookers may think.