– To Kill A Mockingbird Essay, Research Paper
To Kill A Mockingbird
By, Harper Lee
“Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.”(Lee 9). This environment, as Scout Finch accurately describes, is not conducive to young children, loud noises, and games. But, the Finch children and Dill must occupy themselves in order to avoid boredom. Their surroundings are their boundaries, but in their minds, they have no physical confines. Although the physical “boundaries were Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose’s house two doors to the north…, and the Radley Place three doors to the south,”(Lee 11) Jem, Scout, and Dill find ways to use the limits, in conjunction with their imaginations, to amuse themselves. The children are the ones who change the old town and make it full of unexpected events. In the same way as the children, the adults of the novel play games that come from their imaginations and, they themselves are the ones who provide the fear for everyone in the county to fear. “Maycomb County had recently been told that it had nothing to fear but fear itself”(10). The adults and the children share the fact that they both play games, but a difference also exists between them. The children enact their entertainment, knowing that the games could get violent, but in the end, when the games are over, all the players are able to return home. On the other hand, the adults play their adult games, hurting anyone who does not play by the given rules, and not everyone is fortunate enough to return home. The children pretend to be violent at times but the adults actually are violent. As the children move through the novel, they use these games to develop from their innocence to a level of experience by actualizing the realities of their games through the lives of the adults. Through their own games and through the games of the adults, the children learn values of respect, courage, and understanding.
As most children naturally do, Jem, Scout, and their newly-found friend Dill find amusements to make the days pass with excitement. When they first meet Dill, they are beginning the “day’s play in the backyard”(11). The implication is that it becomes routine for them to play and that each day brings on a different experience. When Dill joins them in their daily adventures, they begin to create more elaborate activities. Many days they spend improving the treehouse, “fussing”(12), and acting out parts of plays by Oliver Optic, Victor Appleton, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Their games of Tom Swift, The Rover Boys, and The Gray Ghost are the source of their pleasures for hours and days upon end. Once these games seem rote and overplayed, they decide to make Boo Radley come out. The mystery of Boo Radley is appealing and leaves more room for their imaginations to grow. Thus, the “Boo Radley” plays begin. These plays are innocent in their motives and since they are not real, the consequences are virtually nonexistent. Although these plays are simply for amusement, in the end, they teach Jem, Scout, and Dill lessons about respect, courage, and understanding. The “Boo” games begin with a simple dare that Jem has to carry out in order to gain respect from his sister and friend. By slapping the Radley’s house, he is almost a hero for a brief moment- a hero that Scout and Dill admire because of his tremendous courage. Scout also has her turn to prove herself to the boys, but the opportunity comes to her as a surprise. As she rolls uncontrollably in a tire into the Radley’s front yard, her fear heightens with every turn and the smartest thing for her to do is to run away as fast and as far away as possible. Scout and Jem both learn about courage in the first Boo games they invent by testing their levels of fear.
The next stage in their Boo pursuits leads out of discussions with the wise, lady neighbors about “B-Mr. Arthur’s” past (50). The children have their prior assumptions about Boo from the wild stories, rumors, and vague answers they receive from Miss Stephanie Crawford , Atticus, and Miss. Maudie. The stories only further their imaginations to run wild because Boo is still a mystery. The children travel through phases in the Boo games, the first of which involves violence. They act out different versions of Boo stabbing his father in the leg with scissors and other horrible, violent acts on Boo’s part. As the games become routine, they take a different perspective and see Boo as a positive figure. Boo, to them, is a potential friend-if only they could let him know their harmless intentions. So they embark on yet another quest to try to reach Boo. The experience of placing a note on the windowsill of the Radley Place turns sour when Atticus walks into the scene and reprimands them for bothering someone who obviously wants to be left alone. Despite Atticus’ warnings, the children’s thirst for knowledge of Boo’s life drives them to their most dangerous adventure thus far. The new idea of looking into the window of the house is a turning point in the novel because it pushes the children closer to the reality of the adult world. Mr. Nathan Radley catches them in a roundabout way, and the three mischievous kids realize how far they have gone away from the “game.” Before that night, Boo is simply a game. The incident included the reality of a shotgun and of Jem’s pants stuck at the trespassing scene. The game has turned into a dangerous, scary expedition that leaves all three of them shaken and stunned. Jem shows his courage by going back for his pants in the middle of the night and Scout has to display faith and courage to be able to stay home, not knowing if her brother would return alive or dead. Jem and Scout learn about courage and faith but, more importantly, they are beginning to see the reality of their games.
That scary night is a seemingly large obstacle in their Boo pursuits until Miss Maudie’s house goes up in flames. The white-covered, black snowman they build before the fire turns into a messy pile on the ground, showing that mixed black and white cannot last. Also, the snowman is another game Jem and Scout create that pokes fun at Mr. Avery’s size. This mockery by means of the “morphodite” snowman turns around on the children as they watch the burning house and Mr. Avery stuck in the window. Jem and Scout have another brush with reality in this terrible mishap when they see that their snowman ridicules Mr. Avery for the very same reason he is stuck in the burning house. Boo also makes another appearance to Scout and Jem unknowingly, until they return home with an unidentified blanket around Scout’s shoulders. Boo’s unspoken, unseen presence at the fire put him in a new light in Jem’s and Scout’s eyes. Yet again, they see reality and their games slowly fading and losing their meaning. The burning house and Boo’s reappearance show Jem and Scout more pieces of reality and push them closer and closer to the adult world.
Jem and Scout continue to ascertain lessons of respect and understanding through relatives, Atticus, and Mrs. Dubose. As the trial creeps closer, Scout and Jem each have to test their self-control in accepting or ignoring the multitudes of “nigger-lover” comments coming their way, by adults as well as children. Scout loses all control when she beats up her cousin Francis, but she does not completely understand her mistake. She does not like the games that Francis plays with her because they test her patience in taking criticism from others. Uncle Jack, who has to punish her, also plays a role in another realization by the children. He brings them air rifles for Christmas (they are from Atticus) and Atticus tells them that they can shoot at anything but that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. The children understand this when Miss Maudie explains that mockingbirds do no harm except provide beautiful music for everyone to enjoy. The explanation makes Jem and Scout respect Atticus and the mad dog incident heightens that respect. The mad dog shows Jem and Scout how powerful and dangerous a weapon is and that Atticus is not as old as they think. The children, at this stage in their lives, have been through numerous games, many of which become realities. Soon, “Boo Radley became passe”(103) and the pressing matters of the day are school, Mrs. Dubose, and the trial. School, as usual for Scout, is a boring necessity because she is wise beyond her years. Jem, of his own fault, has to read to Mrs. Dubose every day and eventually he learns an important lesson. Jem and Scout learn about death and they gain an understanding for the type of person Mrs. Dubose is when they see how her views on life have an effect on her death.
The adult games have been going on for a while but Scout and Jem are just beginning to see the games evolving. The most difficult matter for Jem and Scout to understand soon comes to be the trial. They have been faced with ignorant people calling them “nigger-lovers” but they do not get a full understanding of the slang term until the trial is upon them. The night Atticus spends reading in front of the jailhouse, where he is actually guarding Tom Robinson’s cell, Scout, Jem, and Dill experience a faint taste of the adult games’ flavor. The mob of common men from Maycomb County gather around Atticus, threatening his and Tom’s lives. Once Scout, Jem, and Dill enter the scene, it becomes harder for the men to conduct “business.” Scout, still in her innocence, breaks the crowd by recognizing Mr. Cunningham and, she proceeds to praise his son Walter without a thought to the fact that Mr. Cunningham has come to hurt Atticus on his way to Tom Robinson. In her innocent gesture, Scout makes Mr. Cunningham realize that he is a father, not just part of a nameless mob, and, in a sense, he “walks around in Atticus’ skin” for a moment. The individualizing Scout has done humanizes the originally dehumanized mob and ends the threat to many lives at stake. Scout does not realize the extent of her actions until later on and the understanding raises her up a level of maturity. The game that the men are playing puts lives at risk and shows Scout that adults play with strange sets of rules. She reaches an understanding in the jailhouse scene that still continues to push her into the adult world.
The entire trial is an adult game in itself. The players play the game to the advantage of Mayella and Bob Ewell and the disadvantage of Tom Robinson, the entire Finch family, and every colored person in Maycomb County. The victors (the Ewells), begin the game with the false accusation of rape against Tom, only to stop the reputation Mayella would gain if people know that she has flirted with a black man. The people of the county create the game based on the racial issues of the day and the rules are clear: if one is black, he is guilty, no questions asked. Scout and Jem personally see this gruesome, unegalitarian game and the consequences that result in an eventual end to Tom’s life and almost the fall of their own lives. The official trial is full of games the lawyers play so each one could present his side of the argument. The children have a bias toward their father but, as they watch and listen intently, they acquire a higher respect for him. It is evident that Atticus is playing the game but his version has rules of respect and regard for the ones involved, innocent or guilty. Jem and Scout gain an understanding of the case and respect for Atticus through his behavior in court and it is the understanding that makes it harder for them to accept the verdict. Atticus, again a noble, wise father, explains as best he can so the children have some indication of both opponents’ reasons for the actions they see in the courtroom. The trial itself creates a separated reality for the children because it occurs in the courthouse and Atticus tries not to let it come home with him.
Although Atticus tries to leave the trial out of his personal life, it becomes inevitable that someone is going to get hurt. In the last major event in the novel, Boo Radley comes back into Jem’s and Scout’s lives. It begins when Scout, at the school agricultural play, feels mortification due to her own carelessness. In the beginning of the novel, she probably would not have cared what everyone thinks of her mistake but, through her experiences thus far, she learns to care about what others think and she feels ashamed that she misses her cue to come out on stage. Jem, also grown through his experiences, becomes a fine young gentleman who is following in his father’s footsteps and also assumes the role of Scout’s protector. Their almost fatal walk home the night of the play, that Aunt Alexandra unknowingly predicts earlier, proves Jem’s courage and becomes life-saving for Scout. Scout realizes her brother’s heroic actions and acquires a higher level of respect for him. As Boo Radley appears in the last part of the novel, Scout clearly has a new understanding for his character, finally has the courage to speak to him, and has enough respect for him to walk him home. The violent last scene becomes the complete reality and thrusts Jem and Scout into the adult games.
Despite Atticus’ efforts, Bob Ewell still invades the Finches’ private lives and he initiates the children into the adult world. The children make the transition from the world of innocence to the reality of the adult world through the experiences they find in their own games and later, the adult games. The “Boo” games begin Jem’s and Scout’s journey to gain some of the most important values in life: respect, courage, and understanding. Through the games of the adults, the children learn to hold the values, of which the most important one is life itself.