Kill a Mockingbird is one of the classical American novels that described the lynching of a black man accused of rape in Alabama during the 1930s. In this story, Tom Robinson is completely innocent, having been accused falsely by a white woman named Mayella Ewell. In reality, she was attracted to Tom and attempted to seduce him, but when her father found out he forced her to accuse him of rape. Atticus Finch knows the charges are false and defends Tom in court as best he can, knowing that the death sentence is inevitable in this case. As I reader, I can identify with the heroism of Atticus in the case, and sympathize with the injustice being done to Tom, who never has a chance of surviving once these charges have been made. Even the Ewell family, as degraded, violent and racist as they are should also be considered victims of the class system and racial caste system of the Old South. Scout, of course, is also heroic, and as the narrator of the novel always sides with Tom, seeing his case with a sense of justice and moral clarity that most of the adults do not have. Although Lee's story has many heroes, including some whites who end up unexpectedly supporting Atticus, the real villain is the social and economic system of the South at the time. Blacks live in complete poverty, of course and have hardly any rights at all, but most of the whites are also poor, and the whole county is basically backward and marginalized. That someone like Atticus even exists there is highly surprising, although he has no real chance of changing system as it exists in the 1930s.
Exercise 4.3A: Pre-Writing: Double-Entry Journal
Aunt Alexandra instructs Atticus to inform the children about their family history "and what it's meant to Maycomb County throughout the years, so that you'll have some idea of who you are, so you might be moved to behave accordingly" (Lee 136).
Atticus believes that this ideology of Old Families is "foolishness because everybody's family's just as old as everybody else's" regardless of color, religion or ancestry, and the children agree that "there's just one kind of folks" (Lee 259-60).
Scout, Jem and Dill have far more moral clarity than most of the adults of the story, though, and "never waver in their horror at the injustice done to Tom Robinson" (Lee 24).
Because Atticus believes a black man instead of a white woman and her father "many people in Mayfield feel that he is undermining the system that keeps whites on top of the social order" (Lee 21).
Aunt Alexandra is a symbol of the social order of the Old South, with its rigid hierarchies and sharp distinctions of color and social class. Her views on this subject are also those of the white majority of the South at this time.
Atticus has more modern and humane values than Alexandra and believes that all people really are just "folks" regardless of ancestry, color or social class. This puts him at odds with most of the whites in Maycomb County.
Atticus has brought the children up with his own values rather than those of Alexandra, so much so that they never question that he is correct in defending Tom, regardless of the consequences.
Almost all the whites in Macomb oppose Atticus and his family, although a few like Boo Radley and Braxton Underwood end up taking their side. Of course, their efforts fail to save Tom Robinson from being lynched in the end.
EXERCISE 4.4C: INTERPRETATIVE ESSAY
In To Kill a Mockingbird the characters are brought together and challenged in ways that prove that "family" means something more than just blood relatives. Over the course of the novel, the real extended family of Atticus and his children comes to include other characters that support them in their efforts to fight the injustice and oppression against Tom Robinson and his people, including Boo Radley, Braxton Underwood and even Walter Cunningham. From the start, Scout, Jem and Dill are all united in opposing the treatment of Tom, and even though they remain in the minority others join their 'family' as well. On the other hand, blood relatives like Aunt Alexandra continue to represent the rigid racism and social class prejudices of the Old South. Scout is the narrator of the novel, which is told entirely from her point-of-view, only as an adult relating the story in flashback, and her liberal sympathies are clear from the outset. Harper Lee modeled Atticus Finch on her own father, Amasa Coleman Lee, an attorney and state legislator in Alabama, while Scout was very similar to herself and age six and Dill was her childhood friend Truman Capote.
Poverty in the South from the time of the Civil War to the Second World War made both the class and racial caste systems even more rigid, and even though the Finches were part of the white elite, they had high social standing but little money. At the opposite end of the white social scale are Bob Ewell and his family, who have been "the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations" (Lee 37). Their only real advantage in life is that their white skin gives them certain privileges that Tom and other blacks will never have. Aunt Alexandra, the sister of Atticus, is a blood relative "typifies the family-oriented aristocrat of the Old South," including the genteel poverty so common for decades after the Civil War (Bloom 26). She also instructs Atticus to inform the children about their family history "and what it's meant to Maycomb County throughout the years, so that you'll have some idea of who you are, so you might be moved to behave accordingly" (Lee 136). Like all middle and upper class whites, this is a reflection of fear and insecurity, and the danger of slipping down into true poverty like the white farmers and black sharecroppers.
Nevertheless, the children know that they are related to almost all the other families in the county by blood and marriage, and that many of them even resemble each other. Atticus is skeptical of the family values of the Old South symbolized by Alexandra, and her rigid ideas about race and class. He believes that this ideology of Old Families is "foolishness because everybody's family's just as old as everybody else's" regardless of color, religion or ancestry, and the children agree that "there's just one kind of folks" (Lee 259-60). She tells the children that they should not associate with Walter Cunningham "because-he-is-trash," and no amount of washing, polishing or education will ever change that fact (Bloom 27). Scout, Jem and Dill have far more moral clarity than most of the adults of the story, though, and "never waver in their horror at the injustice done to Tom Robinson" (Lee 24).
Atticus is hardly a radical, but rather by his own admission a conservative man who also believes in justice and fair play for blacks. He hardly questions the system of segregation that exists in the South of the 1930s, but simply by believing a black man instead of a white woman and her father "many people in Mayfield feel that he is undermining the system that keeps whites on top of the social order" (Lee 21). As a man of conscience, he simply would not be able to live with himself if he refused to defend Tom, even though he knows perfectly well that a black man accused of raping a white woman in the South is certain to be lynched or executed. These are the values he instills into his children and into the all others in the community that he has influenced.
Most of the people in Maycomb are disabled and disadvantaged in…