Untitled Essay, Research Paper
The Mortal Mockingbird
A songbird’s melody can evoke happiness in anyone, as can the smiling face
of a child. The mockingbird sings for the sake of singing, and an innocent
child possesses an innate joyfulness, as natural as instinct. Yet a mockingbird’s
song dies as easily as innocence. In the beginning of the novel, To Kill
A Mockingbird, Scout and Jem are portrayed as innocents, uncorrupted by our
world of prejudice and racism. Their world is simple, sensible, a child’s
world. However, by the end of the novel, their world has expanded to enclose
the irrational nature of humans. Jem and Scout’s growing up is portrayed
by a series of events that shatters their innocence as easily as a mockingbird
can be silenced.
One of the first chinks in their armor of naivité that protected them
was social prejudice. This was introduced to them in the form of Aunt Alexandra.
Scout was crushed when Aunt Alexandra sent Atticus to talk to the Scout and
Jem. ” ‘you are not run-of-the-mill people, that you are the product of several
generations gentle breeding…try to behave like the little lady and gentleman
that you are’ ” (Lee 133). Scout was upset because he was essentially telling
her not to be herself. Aunt Alexandra wanted to change Scout’s personality
to conform to society’s ideas of what was right for a girl in those times.
It seemed like Atticus had almost encouraged them to find their own way,
despite the disapproval of many in town; overalls were allowed for Scout,
a female, and they had free run of the surrounding few houses during the
day. Although the incident with Atticus preaching Aunt Alexandra’s ideas
made Scout feel overwhelmed, Atticus resisted Aunt Alexandra by telling Scout
orget what Aunt Alexandra told him to say, which reassured Scout somewhat.
Another way Aunt Alexandra introduced Jem and Scout to social prejudice was
how she wouldn’t let Scout play with Walter Cunningham. Because the Cunninghams
were farmers that lived out of town, Aunt Alexandra regarded Walter to be
socially inferior, and said she would only let him in the house on business.
” ‘Because he’s trash, that’s why you can’t play with him (Lee 225).’ ” This
exposure to social prejudice struck Scout harder, because this time around,
Atticus couldn’t say, forget it. There was no one to tell her that it would
be okay, the rest of the world may judge people by their social class and
place in society, but we don’t. When Aunt Alexandra leaves, Atticus and the
children may not go by her social ideals, but Scout realized that this is
the way much of her society thinks, and more innocence is lost by this
When Atticus made his stand against the mob at the courthouse, Scout and
Jem learned about some the group dynamics that affect many mobs and gangs;
a different kind of dent. Scout knew Mr. Walter Cunningham to be a good man,
one that her father approved of. Yet he was in the mob that was seeking to
lynch Tom Robinson. As Atticus later explained to her, he was still a friend
and a good person, but sometimes when you’re in a group, you do things and
make decisions that you wouldn’t as an individual. ” ‘A mob’s always made
up of people, no matter what…Every mob in a Southern town is always made
up of people you know…’ ” (Lee 157) A mob is simply a group of people that
get carried away over an idea. It took nine-year-old Scout to bring that
group of people to their senses, to realize what they were going to do in
relation to their life. Until then, they had let the mob mentality carry
them away, not once considering what was happening. Scout had been introduced
to mobs, and !
found that they could be even made up of friends she might otherwise consider
level-headed and rational.
Scout and Jem were surrounded by racism and prejudice as children, but until
they matured more, they didn’t see it for what it was. It was part of their
environment at the time, and children don’t question that. It was simply
the way things were, and it wasn’t challenged it until something enormously,
obviously wrong occurred close to home. That occurrence was Tom Robinson’s
trial. The way all the black citizens were made to sit in the balcony in
the summer, the hottest part of the courthouse, Jem and Scout didn’t notice.
The way the blacks weren’t allowed to sit on juries, they didn’t remark on.
Dill emotionally pointed out how disrespectfully Mr. Gilmer was treating
Tom Robinson, but at first Scout didn’t understand what was wrong. But what
hit Scout and blew Jem away was the obvious unfairness of the verdict. Mayella
and Bob Ewell were in the wrong; Tom had not willingly touched Mayella, and
the whole courtroom knew it. They simply chose to ignore it. To all but one
e jury, it didn’t matter that they would convict an innocent man; he was
black. A black man had challenged a white man’s word, and in that time in
society, that was unacceptable. Scout, on the other hand, never had that
preconception; she never knowingly treated Negroes with disrespect because
of their color. Atticus had shielded her and her brother from any outward
prejudice against blacks. However, even he could not keep out the thought
that Negroes weren’t quite the same. Then she saw Tom Robinson found guilty,
and saw him die as a consequence. Racism had been so deeply ingrained that
Scout didn’t realize its intensity and results until that tragedy opened
her eyes. As a result, racism and its effects entered the ever-expanding
world of the Finch children.
In the beginning of the novel, Scout and Jem thought there was one kind of
folk, the nice, safe folk of Maycomb. But when Bob Ewell spit in Atticus’s
face and threatened him, Scout and Jem fully realized that even Maycomb has
its share of “social exceptions,” the people that society barely tolerated.
Scout and Jem had known a little about them; Scout had never heard Atticus
talk of people the way he talked about the Ewells. “Atticus said the Ewells
had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations. None of them had
done an honest day’s work in his recollection…They were people, but they
lived like animals”(Lee 30). Yet when Atticus allowed Bob Ewell to spit in
his face and threaten him, Scout and Jem realized the crimes of society that
such a exception could commit, with their only punishment being forever outcasts
of society. Atticus explained that these crimes were allowed for the children;
if these outrages didn’t happen, they would suffer. They showed no interest
in an education, never worked or kept themselves clean, but they were children,
and to cause them unnecessary suffering would be unthinkable. A new category
had been added to the children’s view of people; those who wouldn’t work
and would be useless if forced- the “social exceptions.”
As if they were the harmless songbirds, the children’s innocence was shattered
by these events. Social prejudice, racism, mobs, and “social exceptions”
were now a part of their world. The naivité and purity had been replaced
by the knowledge of human nature and the corruption of our world. The world
was no longer simple, and the mockingbird was dead.