Why did Harper Lee choose to have a child narrator in, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Essay Example
Why did Harper Lee choose to have a child narrator in, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Essay Example

Why did Harper Lee choose to have a child narrator in, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Essay Example

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  • Pages: 7 (1741 words)
  • Published: December 26, 2017
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Harper Lee grew up in Alabama in the 1930s, and witnessed a great deal of racism around her as she grew up. 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is also set in 1930, and contains a child narrator, in the form of Scout, and therefore the racial divisions and conflict Harper Lee witnessed may be directly represented by those seen by Scout. Indeed, the Scottsboro incident of 1931 where five black men were wrongly accused of raping two white women on a train, and the passions that were subsequently aroused may have had a bearing on her depiction of the ordeal suffered by Tom Robinson.The civil rights movement, which attempted to break the pattern of racially segregated public facilities in the South through the application of non-violent protest was well underway at the time of publication of the book in 1960,


making racism a prominent and inflammatory issue at the time. For this reason a child narrator may have been used as a means of deflecting any possible controversy leading to censorship, in that those who disagreed with integration and other contentious themes in the book were able to discount any opposing views as childish naivety.

Also by setting the book in the 1930s the message would not have seemed as direct for the readers of the 1960s and the book would not have been seen as inflammatory.The severe segregation that was present in the book was an aftermath of the American Civil war which took place from 1861-1865 which was a war between the Southern and the Northern States of America resulting in the abolition of slavery. However, In 1877, the white South effectively conceded national

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power to the Republican Party, but gained the right to rule their own states. Therefore, blacks then faced a poor, rigidly segregated life in the South where they were victims of racism and the civil war did not raise blacks to a position of equality with whites. These harsh realities of segregation are realised by Scout, who hears Calpurnia being told: "You ain't got no business bringing white chillun here- they got their church, we got our'n."By 1877 these Southern Democrats wanted to reverse black advances made during Reconstruction.

To that end, they began to pass local and state laws that specified certain places and facilities "For Whites Only" and others for "Coloured." Blacks also had separate schools which were inferior to those of whites and meant that they could not get a good education. The fact that the two communities are strictly separated in this way means that they cannot learn about their common similarities, and instead of understanding, suspicion and mistrust are cultivated in its place. We see how the prejudices begin from an early age and are dependent on the family environment, as Scout learns to be tolerant through Atticus and Calpurnia's influence, whereas Cecil Jacobs , influenced by what he hears at home states that "My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an' that nigger oughta hang from the water-tank!"When they enter the black church the reader, through the eyes of Scout, sees life from the black perspective. We are shown the poverty and the intense struggle to raise some money for Helen Robinson, the wife of the charged Tom Robinson: "Shut the doors. Nobody leaves here till we have

ten dollars.

" The fact that the black church-goers are put in such a position whereby they feel compelled to give up some of their hard-earned money in order to ensure justice for an innocent man highlights the far-reaching effects of prejudice on the society. Scout also sees the illiteracy of the blacks and how the method of "linin'" has to be used to sing hymns as only four people in the `congregation are literate. "Line for line, voices followed in simple harmony until the hymn ended in a melancholy murmur."The reader is educated as Scout is being educated, and in this sense the book is didactic, teaching us what life was like at the time.

This is shown in the way Scout learns to discard prejudices against Walter Cunningham and Boo Radley. Due to the stock market crash of October 1929 and the subsequent great depression in the 1930's, farmers such as Mr. Cunningham found themselves competing in an over-supplied market. Consequently prices fell and therefore farmers especially were unable to sell their products for a profit: "The Cunninghams are country folks, farmers, and the crash hit them the hardest." When Walter Cunningham is invited to Scout's home she disregards him, saying "He ain't company, Cal , he's just a Cunningham".

However, Calpurnia forces her to take this back at once, "Don't you let me catch you remarkin' on their ways like you was so high and mighty! Yo' folks might be better'n the Cunninghams but it don't count for nothin' the way you're disgracin' 'em". This is an example of Scout changing views she previously held, and it also shows us the benefits of

integration in that Calpurnia, who has seen prejudice in her own life, now passes on the benefits of her own experience in order to make Scout more open and tolerant.However, ridding herself of her unjustified prejudices towards Boo Radley, a recluse, is more dramatic and shows the reader how wrong one's initial judgements can be. Although the children had never seen Boo he is described as having "a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time." However, as the children become more mature and educated they realise that he has his own personal reasons for making himself a recluse in society: "I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time.

..it's because he wants to stay inside." The extent to which their prejudice is unfounded becomes apparent when Boo Radley, previously seen as the "malevolent phantom", actually saves their lives, and they realise that "when they finally saw him, why he hadn't done any of those things..

.he was real nice."Scout also learns about the many racial prejudices in her society in Maycomb. For example, Scout learns that the status of blacks in her home town is such that Mr Dolphus Raymond has to pretend to be drunk in order to give the society reasoning for why he married a black woman. "If I weave a little and drink out of this sack, folks can say Dolphus Raymond's in the clutches of whisky- that's why he won't change his ways."During the course of the trial the children learn the injustices

in the society, in that there was not "one iota of medical evidence" to convict Tom Robinson and the only reason he had been accused of this rape was due to the fact that he "had the unmitigated temerity to 'feel sorry' for a white woman has had to put his word against two white people's.

" The children, especially Jem who is more mature and therefore has a better understanding of the situation, are particularly devastated, confused and angry as Tom Robinson is found to be guilty: "I peeked at Jem : his hands were white from gripping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each 'guilty' was a separate stab between them." They also see the consequences of these injustices, in that finally these lead to the death of Tom Robinson: "They fired a few shots in the air, then to kill."Although Mayella Ewell, the girl who had been claimed to be raped, was thought of as trash among the Maycomb society, Scout applies Atticus' teaching and learns to see things from Mayella's point of view: " It came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world." and learns why: "white people wouldn't have anything to do with her because she lived among pigs; Negroes wouldn't have anything to do with her because she was white."A child narrator's inherent qualities of innocence and naiveity mean the reader cares a lot more about the child's situation and feels sorry that society may ultimately corrupt something so honest and pure.

At one point in the book, Scout asks Dill "Well, how do you know we ain't Negroes", emphasising

her lack of understanding of the need for division. Scout's friendliness and the fact that she is oblivious of the magnitude of the situation acts as an advantage when she diffuses a very tense situation where the lynch mob were intent on killing Tom Robinson by talking to Mr Cunningham about family matters, which makes him think like a rational person again: "I go to school with Walter." Scout is steadfast, spirited and very loyal, qualities which endear her to the reader. When a man from the lynch mob "yanked Jem off his feet" Scout responds immediately with "Don't you touch him" and then proceeds to kick him. Scout has also lost her mother and therefore her vulnerability makes the reader warm to her further.

I think that Harper Lee also uses a child narrator in order to introduce humour which sweetens the pill and making the book less intense. Humour is used in many situations throughout the book, but its use is particularly significant in the trial scene which is very tense and serious. In the middle of the trial, we are told of Scout's asking regarding Judge Taylor "how Mrs. Taylor stood kissing him, but Atticus said they didn't kiss much". We are also told in detail how "Judge Taylor disposed of the severed end by propelling it expertly to his lips and saying 'Fhluck!'", an absurd observation in the middle of an important trial.Atticus educates Scout and the reader by teaching them that, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

" This is a very

valuable lesson in Maycomb's highly prejudiced society and is really the essence of the book. The importance of understanding other people as opposed to pre-judging them is illustrated to the reader, and will make them him or her realise that the only thing that makes whites and blacks different is simply the colour of their skin.

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