‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee is a novel that teaches the audience many important life lessons. During the story, Scout Finch, the young narrator is able to teach the audience about prejudice, racism and friendship. These three themes all impact the reader and are able to teach them life lessons which may make them better people. Harper Lee has been able to do this through several important language techniques. The themes shown will come from Chapter 23 particularly as it is a result of most of the author’s thoughts on society.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ makes you a better person just by reading it because it opens your eyes to what goes on on the other side of the world.
Harper Lee lived in Monroeville, Alabama. The small imaginary town of Maycomb is very similar to where Harper Lee grew up. Harper Lee grew up during the Great Depression era. She was a lawyer’s daughter, raised in a small Alabama town in the 1930s, just like her plucky narrator Scout Finch. We know that Lee was aware of the racial injustices and ugly prejudices that simmered in small towns like hers, and that sometimes these prejudices erupted in trials similar to the one at the center of her book. The trial of the Scottsboro boys began in 1931, when Harper Lee was 5 years old. The trials of the Scottsboro boys, which may have inspired Tom Robinson’s trial in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, started when two white women accused nine young black men of rape. Eight of the boys were convicted and spent years in prison before one of the women confessed to making up the story. Sadly, the injustice of the Scottsboro Case was not unusual, as seen in Tom Robinson’s trial. African Americans were used to receiving unfair treatment from the US legal system. Many years would pass before this was changed. This teaches us not to be racist towards coloured people or not to make things up to spite them because you hate them.
Racism is one of the main themes in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. During Tom Robinson’s trial, it is evident that he is innocent but the jury still convicts him because he is black and as Atticus told his kids: ” In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black mans, the white man always wins. They’re ugly but those are the facts of life.” Harper Lee uses juxtaposition to contrast the difference between a white man’s word and a black man’s. Here Atticus is saying that a black man’s word is never taken over a white man’s word. In this quote, it is clear that a white man is more superior to a black man because of the colour of his skin and this is unmistakable proof of the racial inequality that occurs. Although Atticus is a white man, he admits that what is happening is ugly and that it is something that people will have to live with. This teaches us that being racist is wrong and just because someone is a different colour, it does not make you superior to them.
When Dill arrives in Maycomb, he immediately befriends Scout and her brother Jem. Their friendship is a strong one and teaches us to be nice to one another and to show acceptance. Scout also makes friends with Walter Cunningham, who comes from a very poor family; they do not take anything from anyone as they cannot pay anything back. The Cunningham’s are very poor farmers and Atticus explains to Scout that because the Cunninghams are farmers, they were affected the most: “The Cunningham’s are country folks, farmers and the crash hit them the hardest”. This is a perfect example of how the stock markets crash during the Great Depression, hurt the farmers the most. Scout learns from Calpurnia that just because someone is different does not mean she can judge them. Scout’s friendship with Walter is a funny one; one minute she beats him up, then he is invited over for lunch. In Chapter 23, Scout plans to ask him to dinner even though she had decided that she was going to beat him up the next time she saw him. Aunt Alexandra hears and says no. When Scout wants to know why she cannot play with Walter, Aunt Alexandra tells her bluntly:”Because – he – is – trash”. She does not want Scout to pick up his bad habits. The theme of friendship here is hidden but we see it when Scout tells Jem that the only reason she got upset with Aunt Alexandra is because she called Walter trash. Here we see that Scout truly cares about Walter and is a great friend. Harper Lee uses colloquial language in this quote to strongly show Aunt Alexandra’s feelings towards Walter. We learn here that, although the Cunninghams are white and are good people, Aunt Alexandra is prejudiced towards them due to the fact that they have no money and are not to her expectations.
Prejudice is the main theme in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. The whole of Maycomb, with the exception of a few, like the Finches, Calpurnia and Miss Maudie, are all prejudiced. Atticus tells Jem and Scout that “we never really understand a person until we consider things from his point of view until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”. Prejudice is represented through Boo Radley, a man surrounded by mystery and rumours and hence prejudices. It is this prejudice that initially consumes Scout at the beginning of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ as she imagines Boo to be some kind of scary man. However, Boo’s kindness prevails and he ends up saving their lives towards the end of the novel. Throughout the story, Boo Radley tried to communicate to the children by putting presents in the tree, this shows that was being said about him was not true and he is just lonely. In the end Scout even comes to accept Boo as a friend despite her original prejudice. This goes to show that we have no right to judge others since we cannot fully understand their viewpoint.
Aunt Alexandra is also quite prejudiced when it comes to the Cunninghams. When Scout suggests inviting Walter over for dinner, Aunt Alexandra says clearly that she does not think they are the kind of folks that Scout should mingle with. She thinks that they are superior to the Cunninghams and better than them. Aunt Alexandra is prejudiced towards them because they live out in the woods and are poor. Harper Lee teaches us to be prejudiced towards others because of what they look like on the outside, we should look deeper than people’s wealth and status.
In conclusion, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is a novel that teaches the audience many life lessons. It teaches us to never judge a person on the way they look or the colour of their skin, it teaches us to look deeper and not believe everything you hear. Harper Lee has written a fabulous book on a town filled with prejudice and racism narrated through the eyes of a young girl who witnesses the ugly truth and the unjust treatment depending on the colour of the person’s skin.