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Like other symbols of the civil rights movement such as the song "We shall overcome" and peaceful sit-ins, to Kill a Mockingbird quickly assumed a similar position.
As the focus of the movie was on right and wrong, the director of this film, Robert Mulligan, provided the American movie viewing public with a strong lesson in justice but he was also able, largely through the character of Atticus Finch, to demonstrate that humanity can still prevail even under difficult circumstances. Mulligan could have soften the message and still have captured the essence of the book upon which the movie was based but, instead, Mulligan made a deliberate statement in the way that he portrayed the characters in the story and how the movie told the story. He took on the ways of the American South where the beliefs of men, despite their moral depravity, ruled their actions instead of the laws that these same men professed to honor.
To Kill a Mockingbird is fictional story but it still portrayed the realities of racism in the South. The setting is in the 1930s during the height of the Depression and relates the realities of racism in the South during that time but it was as easily applicable to the conditions present three decades later in the same location. Little had changed and many watching the film were able to identify with what fictionally occurs in the 1930s with what was still occurring in the American South as the movie was released in 1962. The author of the book that the film was based on, Harper Lee, used her own experiences growing up in a small town in Alabama and several events that occurred later in her life in writing the book and such fact lends a measure of credibility to the story and the movie's director expertly maintained the integrity of the message intended by the author.
The narrator of the story, Scout, possesses a most unusual personality. The fact that she is essentially what one would describe as a tomboy in a South where young girls were expected to be prim and proper. Charactering her personality in this way draws the viewer immediately and causes one to be more interested in her commentary. In addition to her being a tomboy, however, and lending additional complexity to her character, Scout is also highly intelligent, unusually confident, unusually thoughtful, but also unusually well behaved. Each of these traits seems too good to be true until one observes the behavior of her father, Atticus. Atticus Finch is a strong, moral individual who raised his two children, in the absence of their deceased mother, in such a manner as to nurture their minds, develop a strong sense of conscience, and individuality that allows both children to be healthily independent. This individuality allows Scout to feel comfortable with herself in a time when little girls were expected to be wearing frilly little dresses and be content acting quiet and demure. Instead, Scout is happy wearing overalls and playing with her brother and their mutual friend, Dill, climbing trees, sitting in tree houses, and imagining adventures involving the town oddity, Boo Radley. These are admirable qualities and the viewer is endeared by them and to Scout but it is her lack of prejudice and naive honesty that movie viewers find most compelling.
Because Scout is the narrator of the film many viewers of the film may miss the fact that the film's main focus is on Scout's development as a person and not on the events that make up the story line in the movie. Most viewers will focus their attention on the racism present or the statements on the Southern life-style and miss the fact that the film is a commentary on the maturation of Scout's personality. The movie begins with Scout being an innocent carefree individual whose greatest concern is which tree she is going to climb and emerges as a young girl who has been exposed to some cruel and evil human traits but is able to maintain her faith in humanity and not become cynical. Like her father, Scout is able to experience the effects of both good and evil and determine that despite the strength of some evils good can still prevail. Because Scout is the narrator she is able to clearly demonstrate this fact by explaining her perspective as the movie comes to an end. Even though she remains a young girl at the end of the movie, the perspective that she offers makes her seem much older.
Without a doubt the most admirable character in the movie is Atticus Finch. In some ways Atticus appears to be snobbish and aloof but the viewer soon learns that such observations are more a function of his balanced and careful character than any form of arrogance. In fact, there is little or no arrogance in Atticus. In reality, he is a gentle and understanding individual.
Atticus is a pillar in his town. He is respected by everyone because of his high level of intelligence and overall behavior but this all changes when he decides to represent Tom Robinson. The same personality traits and moral strengths that made everyone in town admire Atticus also convinced him that he could stand by idly and allow racial prejudice to convict an innocent man merely because of his race. Not unexpectedly, Atticus' actions make him the source of ridicule and scorn by the very people who had admired him only a few days earlier.
The true strength of Atticus' character is represented by the fact that his personality is not affected by his experience in representing Tom Robinson. Despite the fact that Atticus is exposed to the full breadth of the prejudices present in his fellow townspeople, Atticus is able to overlook the bad qualities that he observed during the trial and continue treating his neighbors with the same measure of respect and dignity that he always did. He and his client, Tom Robinson, were made to suffer the indignities of the trial but in the end Atticus remains dedicated to his undying belief in truth and justice. Unlike his daughter who is positively transformed by her experiences throughout the movie, Atticus is the perfect example of consistency. He remains throughout the movie the same character he was as the story began.
Considerable attention is given to Scout and Atticus and, as a result, Atticus' other child, Jem is often overlooked. Jem is exposed to the same experiences that his sister is forced to address but reacts to those events somewhat more aggressively and, some may claim, inappropriately. Jem is less accepting of the unjust events and, at first, reacts negatively but, eventually, in another testament to the parenting skills of Atticus, he too comes back to the point where he reflects the values of his father.
Offered as a contrast to the overall goodness of Atticus, Atticus' sister, Aunt Stephanie, played by Alice Ghostley, is much more ingrained into the stereotypical Southern values that Atticus does not necessarily support. Aunt Stephanie tries to bring a sense of femininity to the household that Scout resents. Scout is content with the way that things have been and resents the presence of Aunt Stephanie. Additionally, Aunt Stephanie also espouses the local Maycomb prejudices in direct conflict with the views held by her brother. Again, this fact bothers the Finch children and there is open rebellion expressed by both of them.
Aunt Stephanie's willingness to be openly racist makes her appealing to the other residents of Maycomb and she is, therefore, readily accepted into Maycomb society. This is in stark contrast to the fact that the rest of the Finch household remains somewhat detached from the bulk of Maycomb activities. As the movie progresses, viewers might expect that Aunt Stephanie's viewpoints might result in her being alienated from the rest of the Finch household but, once again, the strength of Atticus' leadership and example wins out and Aunt Stephanie begins to become endeared by the children and comes to her brother's support as his difficulties increase as the trial progresses, Tom is killed, and the children are assaulted by Bob Ewell.
Boo Radley is the most mysterious character in the movie. Depicted early in the movie as some form of lunatic or mentally deficient individual, this is reinforced by the fact that he confined to his brother's house and is never seen by any other Maycomb residents. The Finch children, along with their friend Dill, spend considerable time making up stories about Boo. They possess no real information about Boo but this does not stop them from imagining and, as a result, developing a unreasonable fear of him.
The reality of Boo's personality takes most of the movie to…[continue]
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