To Kill A Mockingbird Themes

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1st Jun 2017 English Literature Reference this

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One of Harper Lee’s strongest themes throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird is certain characters being judged by their external appearance rather than who they really are. This false judgement is portrayed through pure prejudice that damages not only society’s sight, but also their thoughts and actions. This prejudice and misjudgement can be compared to a foggy window where society fails to see past the fog and therefore, also fails to see past the character’s illusory appearances. Throughout the novel, Maycomb’s community ages to believe that one’s appearance plays a much larger role in a person’s judgement rather than their true reality. This false accusation creates a barrier between the truth and peoples assumptions. As a result, not only does Maycomb fail to understand why others like, Mr. Raymond and Boo Radley live the way they do but in the process, also decline any chance to relate to characters such as, Tom Robinson. When Maycomb’s society buried their memories of Boo Radley, sent an innocent man to his death sentence and forced another to live in a world of lies, they grew to judge men by their appearance rather than learning the silent reality of their lives.

Appearance versus reality is a huge issue throughout To Kill a Mockingbird. In each chapter, prejudice occurs in a constant cycle whether it is aimed at an innocent black male, a scared ‘boogeyman’, or a drunken traitor. The book displays every aspect of how people can look through the foggy window and see things completely different than what they truly appear to be. Dolphus Raymond states that it is easier for people to handle differences when they have a reason to explain it; therefore, he pretends to be an alcoholic. As for Boo Radley, a man the entire world has feared for 30 years brings Scout to tears when she realizes that this same man had protected and saved her life. If every person goes one-step further to wipe this window clean, people like Boo Radley, Raymond Dolphus, and Tom Robinson would not have to be judged by the kind of people they appear to be, but rather the kind of people they were raised to be.

All his life, Boo Radley was isolated from the rest of society due to his strange ways and choices of lifestyle notably unfamiliar to the norms of Maycomb. Rumours that Boo Radley is a mean person are common in society and cause nothing more than misjudgement and prejudice upon the deprived character. After falling into a bad crowd as a teenager and ignoring all chances of assertiveness, he is brought up in front of the most heartless judge in the novel, the town of Maycomb. Boo becomes a central figure in the imaginations of Scout, Jem, and their neighbour Dill, and thus becomes their summer’s playground where they attempt to play-role his life and lure the poor character out of his home. However, despite his history of being abused by his father, Boo reveals to be a gentle soul through his secreted acts. The gifts he leaves in the tree, his sewing of Jem’s torn pants, the blanket he puts around Scout the night of the fire, and finally, his rescue of the children from Bob Ewell’s vicious attack, are all just bountiful acts both the readers and characters fail to see up until the end of the novel. In addition, the Radleys keep very much to themselves, a nature very different from the usual life Maycomb is used to. “The Radleys welcome anywhere in town, kept to themselves, a predilection unforgivable in Maycomb. They did not go to church, Maycomb’s principal recreation, but worshiped at home.” (Lee, 9) All his life Boo Radley decides to stay quiet and pay no attention to the dirt piling up on his personal and family life. Society fails to see through the foggy window of Boo Radley’s life and without any attempts to appreciate his deeds, turns this character into an imaginary ‘boogeyman’.

As a reason to help society understand his habits and strange ways, Mr. Raymond spends most of his drunken life living behind a wall of lies and pure pretend. In the segregated crowds outside the courthouse, with a bottle of whisky and a history of marrying an African- American woman, Dolphus sits with the African-Americans and minds his own business. Throughout a large part of the novel, readers are to believe that Mr. Raymond is a man of pitiful foolishness and only wrong. Through the eyes of someone far from the foggy window, Dolphus is nothing more than a drunken man who ruined his life and most importantly reputation by marrying a black woman, an act indescribable in the town of Maycomb. “As Mr. Dolphus was an evil man I accepted his invitation reluctantly…” (Lee, 204) However, as one comes closer to this window, he realizes that Mr. Raymond is not a drunk after all and only pretends to have whisky in his bag so Maycomb will have something to latch on to, in order to understand his actions. In reality, Dolphus has Coke in his paper bag and his drunkenness turns out to be a put-on. Mr Raymond describes prejudice as “the simple hell people give other people.” (Lee, 205) He explains to Jem and Scout why he does it: “When I come to town … if I weave a little and drink out of this sack, folks can say Dolphus Raymond’s in the clutches of whiskey – that’s why he won’t change his ways. He can’t help himself, that’s why he lives the way he does” (Lee, 204). Mr. Raymond’s double life shows Scout the settlements people have to make, in order to live in communities where they are not quite accepted or where peoples first assumptions encrypt a lifelong definition on others.

Racial prejudice cost Tom Robinson his life, as he is found guilty without any sign of justice or pity. “In our courts when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.” (Lee, 224) Tom is a black man accused of raping a white woman, a crime that is punishable only by a death sentence. However, even though all the facts prove that he did not do it, the jury still found him guilty and did everything in their power to put this innocent man behind bars, not knowing it will become his deathbed. The justice system did not allow this man to have a fair trial because of the color of his skin. They disregarded his integrity because all they could focus on was what the window let them see, and what stood out first; his skin color. Instead of digging deeper into the case, everyone refused to know the truth because it would simply not make sense. As a result, withought any further attempt to figure out the truth, Tom Robinson’s life was determined by his appearance.

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