Essay, Research Paper: To Kill A Mocking Bird By Lee

Literature: To Kill a Mockingbird

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Racial categories are created in the film To Kill A Mockingbird through a
complex societal hierarchy founded in difference. Although all of Macon county
lives in poverty, the town does not unite on the basis of this shared
experience, but instead focuses on their differences, both real and imagined, to
segregate themselves. The town operates under a general assumption that
wealthier whites hold the most power and prestige, followed by poorer whites,
while all blacks, regardless of financial station, are considered to be the
lowest citizens. General depictions of black men and women in the film are of
household servants and ignorant, docile farm workers. The only slight indication
that there were any educated blacks in Macon comes from the appearance of the
preacher at Tom Robinson’s trial. Held on charges of raping and beating a
poor, white woman, Mr. Robinson is portrayed as a meek and nearly helpless man.
The fact that he can barely speak in his own defense, relays both the idea that
black men were uneducated, as well as the idea that blacks were afraid to step
over the boundaries of their society. Attics Finch, a kind and fair white
lawyer, is the only person to speak up for Mr. Robinson. This demonstrates the
idea that the lowly black man needs a benevolent white man to “save” him and
direct his life along the right path. Black men and women in the film are unable
to make their own decisions. Clearly, there were obvious lines drawn in Macon,
delegating specific roles to the various groups of citizens. The dark pigment of
Mr. Robinson’s skin placed him on the bottom rung of society, forcing him into
a subservient position. It is difficult to discern whether the film is
attempting to garner sympathy for the oppressed black community, or reinforce
stereotypes of ignorant and complacent black men and women. While the initial
depictions of the black community center around the Finch’s maid, Calpurnia,
the respect with which the family treats her is far from the norm. Ranging from
the callous indifference of several of the white law-enforcement officers, to
the blatant racism of the group of country farmers, much meaning is assumed from
difference. The racism of Macon seems to stem from the Southern history of
slavery. Blacks continue to be classed as servants, and not equals, to the white
townspeople. With no other opportunities available to them, the black workers
attempt to make the most out of what they have. They are faced daily with the
stigma attached to the color of their skin, a difference which assigns the
entire black community an inferior status. Especially evident in the treatment
of blacks by the poor, white farmers, is a desire for dominance over the blacks.
Bob Ewel, the father of the victim, expresses his distaste by referring to black
men as “boy,” a term we have seen is weighted by heavy historical
significance. This racism most likely stems from the substandard treatment these
farmers receive from the wealthier population of Macon. In the blacks, the
farmers are looking for a place to vent their own frustration and exert power
over another group. The idea of ethnic identity as an illusion opened my eyes to
the fallacy of a single identity for every group. Using only the basic elements
of family life for example, it is clear to see that the Finch family is very
different from the farming Cunningham family, despite the fact that they are
both white. This illusion shows up again in the lumping together of all of the
black men and women of Macon into a single category, at the expense of any
individual identities. Even Tom Robinson, the man held on (false) charges of
raping a white woman, is never developed as a character. The audience is left to
imagine that he is “just” another poor, black farmer. I chose this film
because of the use of difference as a foundation for social hierarchy.
Throughout the film, there is much lumping of various ethnic groups. A group
identity is favored over the individual identity, and all assumptions are based
on the idea that each member of a group shares the same thoughts, values, and
identity. Seeing the various episodes of the film through the eyes of the young
narrator, Scout Finch, also offered a unique perspective to the film. The
questioning eyes of a child are often as critical as any educated outsider
looking in on Macon could be. Through this course I have learned that a
person’s identity can never be truly known by anyone. Identity is therefore
never shared by an entire group of people. One should try to examine the
individual person, and not assign the person attributes and an identity that
they cannot possible know. As Atticus Finch tells Scout, “You never really
understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you
stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”
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