The spectrum of human behavior is vast and wide. While a part of the mob understands the extensiveness of it, most of us tend to turn a blind eye to what seems “abnormal” to us. Ironically, the subjectiveness of ‘normality’ in itself is an abstract. Dealing with such colourful personalities requires one to be equipped with certain skill set. And one learns these soft skills by the most efficient teacher – Life.
The epigraph of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ catches the essence of the story in the most beautiful manner.
“Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.”
For starters, the story is from the viewpoint of a child Scout, it was through him that Lee was able to present the story objectively. Scout paints the picture as it is: an innocent little girl making racial remarks and regarding people of colour as the true reciprocal of the society. Had it been an adult character, the sense of propriety would have sugar coated the conversation.
Another inference of story in the epigraph can be traced to the moment when Jem questions his father (Atticus) about Tom’s conviction. ‘They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it — it seems that only children weep.’ The jury of distinguished adults couldn’t reason as rationally as a child could and did.
The story in itself talks about various social and behavioral issues, parallel-ly; creating a subtle complexity that is a treat for a reader. While the story map caters to the social unrest in America at that time, the character’s map talk about lack of empathy in people, in general.
Be it bravery and cowardice; tolerance; compassion; conscience; reason; societal expectations; and prejudice, Lee encapsulated each theme with excellence. To elucidate, study of each character is imperative.
The young narrator, Scout, is both questioner and observer. Throughout the story, she asks tough questions, at times the ones that aren’t “politically correct”, but she can ask such questions because she is a child who doesn’t understand the implication of her actions and surroundings. Over the span of three years, Scout is able to incorporate into her worldview the necessity of walking in someone else’s shoes. She owes this to Atticus who taught her the importance of looking at things from the other person’s point-of-view very early in the story. Hence, at the end of the story, Scout can put herself in Boo Radley’s shoes, the person she’s feared most throughout the story.
On the other hand, Atticus represents morality and reason; someone who is even-handed throughout the story. His virtue lies in being fearless with his choices, treating his children as adults, defending a black man when no one at that time in the America who was white skin would even speak in their favour let alone represent them in the court to name a few.
Jem represents the idea of bravery in the novel, and the way that his definition changes over the course of the story is important. The shift that occurs probably has as much to do with age as experience.
Another pair of characters that shows exponential character growth are Boo Radley and Tom Robinson who share many similarities in spite of fact that one man is white and the other black. By juxtaposing them, Lee proved that justice and compassion stem beyond colour and human prejudices.
To Lee’s credit, in developing such complex character maps, the art of critiquing the social norms wasn’t lost in the story.
The racial concerns that Harper Lee addresses in To Kill a Mockingbird began long before her story starts and continued long after. By shifting through the many layers of prejudice that Lee exposes in her novel, the reader gets a gist of the complex history of race relations in the Southern part of America at that time.
Another issue that she addresses is interracial-marriage. The fear of interracial unions stemmed from the fear that African-American men would rape and impregnate white women as a means of penetrating white society and white power. However, such crimes virtually never happened. However, this idiotic “rape complex” led to drastic and deadly results: Lynching became the primary means of dealing with any accusation of rape of a white woman that was pinned on a black man. In the story, when the mob comes to lynch Tom Robinson at the jail, Lee alludes to the reality of black men who lived on the receiving end of this inhumane treatment.
Apart from the issues of racial relations and the injustices that minority groups suffered, Harper Lee’s novel is also a coming-of-age story, or bildungsroman. In such stories, the central character tends to move from a state of absolute innocence to a mature state of mind because of suffering and surviving various misadventures. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout’s biggest concerns is coming to terms with the expectations her society has for women. As per records, in the 1930s, women in the South were pressured to conform to a widely held ideal of “Southern womanhood.” Women were, more often than not, treated as delicate, fragile creatures, and were expected to act in accordance with that treatment. Scout is anything but delicate and fragile, and a good deal of the story focuses on her attempts to fit into a world that expects tomboys to wear frilly dresses and maintain a dainty disposition.
In conclusion, the novel’s title is a metaphor for both men, each of whom is a mockingbird; fighting to get out of their cages: be it fitting into a womanly image, escaping fake rape charges or innateness to social interactions. While some managed to escape, some got shot and some were forced to kill.