AKE 108 (01)
Res. Assist. Bülent AYYILDIZ
May 30, 2018
Throughout American history, there has been heated debate concerning the phrase ”all men are created equal.” Jefferson originally meant for this phrase to only white land-owning men, but it has come to include all men. This change has not been quick.-it has taken hundreds of years and many leaders. Though, it seems, to reach Jefferson’s ideal society, American nation had to struggle with discrimination. Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, which was written in 1960, is one of the most effective literary device that helps to change people’s point of views against discrimination. In the novel it is seen that the characters have to overcome the problems of racism, class conflict, and sexism.
In the 1950s, two psychologist named Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted an experiment which is widely known as ”doll experiment” They chose black cildren as subjects and put two dolls in front of them. One was white and the other was black. The experiment was simple. The psychologists wanted black children to show which doll is pretty, nice and do they want to play with. Almost three quarter of these black children chose white doll. When asked the reason, the answer was obvious: because the doll was white. On the other hand, when asked which doll is ugly and bad , they showed black doll. When asked the reason, the answer was again obvious: because the doll was black. The most sensitive spot was, when they questioned which doll is more look like themselves they unwillingly showed the black doll. All the bad things said about the black doll were actually their whole truth. Just because their skin color was different from the other, the black children saw themselves vile. Author Harper Lee was influenced from this experiment before writing his novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, and tried to explore racism and its effects in her novel.
The main character of the novel is Atticus Finch, who is an attorney in Maycomb, Alabama, which is a very conservative state. Atticus was a high-moraled man who always stands up with good. In the times of Great Depression, the town was shaken by a rumor which was about a black man named Tom Robinson raped a white girl named Mayella Ewell, daughter of Bob Ewell, known as the most plaguy man in the town. Almost every white person in the town, regardless of proof, found the black guy guilty because of his skin color. And also it is possible to see the roots of racial prejudice based on skin color in the Bible. In the book of Genesis, because God accepted Abel’s sacrifices but not accepted Cain’s because he tried to fugitive the God, Cain kills Abel –both are children of Adam and Eve- God curses Cain to a life of toil and wandering. But when Cain laments that his own life is in danger, God promises to protect him: ”The Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one whome came upon him would kill him” (Gen 4:15). In the past, many believed the mark on Cain to be dark skin—that God changed the color of Cain’s skin to black in order to identify him. Since Cain also received a curse, the belief that the mark was black skin caused many to believe that people of dark skin were cursed. Many used the “mark of Cain” teaching as a justification for the African slave trade and discrimination against people with black/dark skin. Especially the towns like Maycomb, in which 80% percentage of people are conservative, believed that blacks are sinful and they deserve whatever came upon them. Everybody thinks that there is no need for rummaging this case because as a white man, Atticus Finch shouldn’t advocate a black man. But contrary to what is believed, Atticus takes the case and starts digging this event.
Tom Robinson’s trial can be regarded as biliteral. One side is based on Ewells’ perspective. Ewells are ”the lowest of the low amongst the whites in Maycomb.” Every single person in the town knows that they are ignorant, plaguy, liar yet nearly all white people are willing to believe the story from Ewell’s point of view. Moreover, they say that ”Tom is a dead man the minute she opened her mouth and screamed.” Mayella Ewell states that, in a hot summer evening, she appeals for help from Tom to dissect the chair when she see him passing by her house. After entering the house, Tom tries to rape her and also punches again and again when she disobeyes. Mayella claims that he held her with his right hand and punched her on the left side of her face. Mayella’s father hears his daughter’s screams and runs to his house. When Bob sees his daughter under a ”black beast” he gets shocked and tries to catch him. This story was so impeccable that townspeople, with pleasure, accepted that Tom Robinson is criminal until he opens his mouth.
Tom Robinson feels that Mayella is a lonely girl though she has a family, a lot of siblings. Furthermore, during the trial he says that he feels pity for her. When the jury members and the white audiences hear the word ”pity”, they feel uncomfortable and even more, they get angry. Because, a black person is not allowed to feel pity for a white person. Tom Robinson accepts that Mayella calls him and appeals help for dissect the chair. But in this point, the story changes. When she invites him home, she tries to seduct him and kisses him. Because he feels ashamed, he pushes her and tries to get away. The moment he intends to get away, he sees Bob Ewell and Mayella opens his mouth to scream. Tom Robinson also denies that he punched Mayella. As a proof, Atticus Finch throws a glass to him and wants him to catch it with his left hand. But Tom is not able to catch it because while doing his job, he had a work accident that’s why he is unable to use his left hand. This little game that Atticus masterfully designed reveals the truth about the trial. Every single person in the court room believes that Tom Robinson is innocent; however, the jury eventually finds Tom Robinson guilty. Because, white people had to find a scapegoat for their sins. Tom Robinson’s trial shows that in a society where the white race is seen to be superior, no other race mattered.
Racism is not the only example of prejudice in Maycomb; Scout’s struggles with self appearance demonstrating the ingrained sexism in the comunity. Sexism is a discrimination or devolution based on a person’s biological sex, based on traditional stereotypes of gender roles. The sexism in the community of Maycomb shows that women have less power and have much less rights than the men in the town. The most proper examples of sexism are given through the eyes of a young girl named Scout, Atticus Finch’s daughter.
”Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn’t supposed to be doing things that required pants.” Aunt Alexandra obviously has a vision for Scout, she sees her doing lady like things. Hoping that she could resemble her mother being that “ray of sunshine”, but Scout thinks that she still can be that ray also in pants. She will still be Atticus’s daughter the way she is, not a daughter dressed to be proper. But eventually she is just a child and doesn’t want this kind of labels. Morever, she shows her feelings about this situation with this lines: ”I felt the starched walls of a pink cotton penitentiary closing in on me, and for the second time in my life I thought of running away. Immediately ( Lee 24).
According to this ”proper lady” label, women are weak, they need men’s protection, they need to act elegant and most importantly, women need to stay home and take care of households. This label issue raises the dickens with Scout because whenever she dissents from his brother, Jem talks down to her. ” ‘Scout I’m tellin’ you for the last time, shut your trap or go home – I declare to the Lord, you’re gettin’ more like a girl everyday! ‘ with that, I had no option but to join them” (Lee 24). This is an example of Jem’s way of insulting Scout, and he gets the full power to tell Scout what to do because he is a boy. Later, she goes to Miss Maudie’s house because she feels lonely and rejected by Dill and Jem. She then afterwards tries her hardest to act more like a boy so she can play with her brother or other boys. Scout believes that for getting respect, she has to act like a boy. Sometimes this acting, can blow up in Scout’s face badly. When she starts school, she is expected to calm down and be aware of her being a lady. But on the contrary, she becomes more like boy. She gets tangled up boys and fights with them. With doing this kind of stuffs, she declares that she rejects being a girl if she is not going to get respect.
”Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had” (Fitzgerald 5). During most of the 1920s, the United States economy grew. Many people invested their money. They bought stocks in companies. A stock is a small part of a company. The value of stock goes up when a company does well. The value of stock goes down when a company does poorly. Then stockowners lose money. By the end of the 1920s, the economy had started to slow down. In 1929, the value of many stocks quickly dropped. The American stock market crashed. Stockowners were frightened. Many stocks became worthless. Thousands of people lost all of their money. The economy became even weaker. Factories did not need many workers. Businesses closed. Many people lost their jobs, so unemployment went up. Some families had to give up their homes. Each day, hungry people waited for free food at community kitchens. Many farmers did not make enough money, so they went out of business. In the early 1930s, almost no rain fell in the Great Plains. Farmers’ lives became even harder. The soil turned to dust. This area was called the Dust Bowl. This time of hardship is known as the Great Depression. It was the worst depression in United States history.In other words, 1930s were the times that can clearly explain the gap between the poor and wealthy.
In Maycomb, there were 3 basic class: upper class, middle class and lower class. Cunninghams were considered as the poorest among the whites. The Cunninghams are hard-working family who had integrity and respect for others throughout the community. They are poor farmers who have suffered economically during the Great Depression. They choose to barter for services throughout the community instead of paying cash. As an evident; when Scout sees Walter Cunningham giving them a sackful provisions in his back, she asks the reason of his behaviour. Atticus says that he is taking their cases in exchange for provisions because they had no money. They never take what they can not pay back, which is an evident when Walter Cunningham Jr. refuses to take a quarter from his teacher because he knows he can not return it the next day. When the teacher asks the reason of his not taking the quarter, Scout gives respond instead of him. ”Miss Caroline, he’s a Cunningham.” But the teacher can’t understand the imitation and asks what she is trying to say with that. Now, Scout tries to explain: “That’s okay, ma’am, you’ll get to know all the county folks after a while. The Cunninghams never took anything they can’t pay back—no church baskets and no scrip stamps. They never took anything off of anybody, they get along on what they have. They don’t have much, but they get along on it” (Lee ). This rightousness costs an arm and leg to Scout because she not only offends her friend but also is obliged to invite him to dinner. When Walter Cunningham Jr. comes to dinner to them, Atticus treats him nicely and encourages him to taste every meal on the table.
Cunninghams understand the value of hard work, and Walter Cunningham Jr. is knowledgeable regarding crops. They dress, act, and eat informally which is evident by Walter Cunningham’s table manners. Scout notices Walter using a lot of gravy during dinner she is rude to him and as a result is punished by Calpurnia. The reason for this is because Walter is of a lower class and was invited to eat with Atticus and his family. As a result, it is rude not to let him do and eat what he wants to.
It is important to see the events through the eyes of others. When it comes to universal subjects such as racism, sexism and class conflict which are still debated, it is much more important to see through the eyes of innocent people like Scout Finch. With To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee achieves to make an echo and set the thames on fire. She manages to starts the sparkle. All the sides she approaches towards racism and sexism shows that her book is not only national but also universal. Because Maycomb was not just a town in Alabama, it was the heart of every human being. Eventually, we’re just humans; like the people of Maycomb, we have rights and wrongs in our hearts. Sometimes we become Atticus but most of the times we are Bob Ewell. We think that we behave as if we were Scout Finch against all types of discrimination but we’re beyond being her. With the characters and settings she created in her novel, Harper Lee hits the truths like a ton of bricks to the people. That’s why her novel is considered universal and she is awarded with The Pulitzer prize.