In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, there are many ideas which give the reader insight into the lifestyle of the 1930s and of the ideas of racism and prejudice formed by the human nature of “being normal”. There is also the idea of change and social reform expressed through Atticus, who goes against the nature of the town and challenges the social boundaries. In this essay I intend to explain the links between these ideas to human nature and explore why Harper Lee chose to include these ideas in her novel.
Atticus is at the pinnacle of social reform and with his closing speech at the courtroom he presents the reader further insight into the depths of his determination for change. “This case is as simple as black and white” summises Atticus in his speech to the jury challenging them to consider their racial and moral values. He asks them to choose black over white as the case “ requires no minute sifting of complicated facts” and the facts are undoubtedly pointing to the innocence of Tom Robinson. This blatant defiance of the unspoken racism in the community sets Atticus apart from his peers. For many, this paints a target on his back, an invitation for criticism or revenge in the case of Bob Ewell. Despite this, many also respect his actions as “some men in this world… were born to do our unpleasant jobs”. Atticus’ actions create a spark of realisation that change is required as “he was the man who will do what’s right when the world is saying he is wrong” ( David Von Drehle).
Racism. Prejudice. Segregation. These three vices bind the black and coloured communities to a life of hardship and inequality and Lee choses to explore this idea in relation to the citizens of Maycomb. This idea has strong links to the human nature of following the crowd and the inability to go against the beliefs of our upbringing and surroundings. The basis of the novel is to show the people of the 30s the injustice that underpins and controls their society. It was an effort to plant the seed in their minds that one person who can navigate through the mist of discrimination can make a break in the outdated rituals and beliefs. Atticus Finch, represents the one needed to bring change into motion through his acts of selflessness and level-minded view of his broken community. This is seen when Scout approaches him asking if he really is a “nigger-lover”, “I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody” Atticus was quick to reply showing his liberal view on an equal society. As the book progresses we follow Jem as he transitions into manhood and as his body and mind changes, there is also notable change in his perception of racism. “Scout… you’re gettin’ more like a girl every day!” Jem comments with noticeable immaturity, yet chapters down the track he makes the insightful observation that “around here once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black.” Jem is able to take himself out of his skin and reflect on the small-minded attitudes of the citizens of Maycomb. Lee describes the book as a recreation of her childhood town and created a story which she hopes to motivate the readers to question their own ways and set off a chain reaction which would eventually result in the formation of more equal society.
Mockingbird, a symbol of innocence and purity which is subtly inwoven throughout the text with links to characters, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley as they share common ground in multiple ways. They both have been shadowed by a story which has ruined their lives despite their obvious qualities of goodwill. The symbolism of the mockingbird ties into the title “To Kill a MockingBird” which has a deeply literal connection to the main event of the novel, Tom Robinson’s trial and death. The representation of innocence through the Mockingbird characters shows these men of the jury are willing to kill innocence itself in the name of pride and status. In the novel, Atticus tells Jem and Scout that “it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird” as “they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us” and to kill a mockingbird is in essence to kill innocence and purity at its origin. The aspect of human nature which is linked to the symbol of the Mockingbird is basic innocence and purity. All humans begin as innocent and pure as each other and their upbringing and surroundings determine the person they become. These characters have tough and unforgiving upbringings and hard lives yet they still display the qualities of a Mockingbird, it is clear their human nature strongly determines their personality.
These main ideas help the reader and the book’s extended audience to develop an in-depth view of a small community in the 1930s and how it’s ideas of prejudice play such an influential role in the citizens’ lives, especially that of the black and coloured people. Lee uses her ideas of change and reform of her known society woven in with multiple aspects of human nature to create this powerful novel. To Kill a Mockingbird very effectively communicates Lee’s forward thinking beliefs which arguably instigates a new era of people which give deeper thought into their societies and ultimately has a role in the equal rights of the 21st century.