Analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird by Jessica Williams
To Kill a Mockingbird, the only novel written by Harper Lee, gives an account of small town life in Great Depression era Alabama from the perspective of a woman recounting her childhood starting at age six. The novel permeates the culture of the time touching and elaborating on racism, treatment of the mentally ill, social status, and even how the children operated in everyday life, and how the events of the town shaped them as they grew up. The story center’s around a young girl, “Scout”, her older brother, Jem, and their father a lawyer in the county seat of Maycomb Alabama. We first see the children at ages six and ten, and together with a friend who stays with a neighbor for the summer (Dill, who can easily be compared to her childhood neighbor, Truman Capote (Shields 39)), they focus their play around a creepy old house on the corner which belongs to a family of recluses, particularly the younger adult son who has been nicknamed “Boo” and whose only sign of life is that a hearse has not picked his body up yet. As they get older the subjects of social manners, growing up and the trial of Tom Robinson, an innocent black man accused of raping a white woman, whom their father is defending. Their father is a beacon of light in their world. Comments made by the narrator suggest that the children sometimes take their father for granted, but Atticus Finch serves as almost the “conscience” of the book. He is fair, balanced, not emotionally triggered, and his views are in stark contrast to the overly zealous townspeople, and even members of his own family.
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Harper Lee accepts Medal of Freedom from President George H.W. Bush upon the 50th anniversary of the release of To Kill a Mockingbird in 2007





Harper Lee
Born Nelle Harper Lee, the author grew up in Monroeville, Alabama. She lived with her father, a lawyer and legislator, her mother, a recluse who is said to have had what we now know as bipolar disorder, and was the youngest of four sisters. Lee was a tomboy, often playing rough and wearing boys overalls, much like, Scout, her counterpart in the novel, and much to the dismay to her black nurse maid. Also, Lee grew up next door to fellow author Truman Capote. Lee and Capote would work together well into adulthood, including Capote’s supposed editing assistance on To Kill a Mockingbird. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 and was made into an Oscar winning film in 1962 (Shields 39).

The Movie


The novel was made into a movie in 1962. It starred Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in an Oscar winning performance. It also starred Mary Badham as Scout, Phillip Alford as Jem, Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, and Brock Peters as Tom Robinson. As most movies do for obvious duration related issues, the movie does not include many of the characters and events that happen in the novel. There is almost no mention of the extended Finch family, no houses burning down, or defamation of the elderly Mrs. Dubose’s beloved flowers. The film, however, does a remarkable job of giving faces and voices to the characters it does display. Gregory Peck does a commendable performance as the soft spoken Atticus Finch. The most poignant role, however, is that of Mary Badham as Scout. Badham herself was from Birmingham, Alabama a She was honored with a best supporting actress nomination at just eleven-years-old (Fandango.com). Her portrayal gave life to the tomboy Scout in an almost perfect way.



Mental Illness and the lack of a strong maternal figure
Harper Lee associated most of the book with elements of her own life. She was around the same age as Scout. Her father too was a lawyer and member of the legislature from a small town in Alabama (Biography.com). However a contrast begins as she chronicles the elusive Boo Radley. He is supposedly a very mentally ill man and stories (probably mostly fictional) are spread throughout the community about the reclusive family, simply because people needed a reason a family was not properly sociable. Mental illness was highly regarded in the 1930’s and those affected by it were often ostracized (Shield’s 41). Yet, the narrator handles the subject of the Radleys with childlike truthfulness and careful respect. The children have a fear of the unknown as does most of society. In the end however, this feared figure turns out to be their savior. This can be reflected in Harper Lee’s own life in a very salient way: her mother. Frances Lee suffered from severe bipolar disorder and Lee was inherently raised by her black nurse maid, a comparable figure to Calpurnia in the book (Shields 39-40). It stands to reason that Harper Lee understood the challenges facing a person with mental illness in that time period. The deletion of the matriarchal character does two things: detaches the narrator from having such a personal and emotional connection to the mentally ill person, while still including it. Her view is that of an outsider and therefore she is able to give detached perspective. Also, it gives her emotional and contextual room for developing other important characters and events. She could not have focused on the trial or developed the characters of Calpurnia, Alexandra, or especially Atticus, with a mentally ill maternal figure in the house. Scout’s own character is developed as she looks to her father, brother, and the likes of Maudie Atkinson, Calpurnia and Dill as role models and as a tomboy who was raised by a man with a “stand back and watch” attitude to raising children, makes for some comic relief. Scout recognizes the presence of Calpurnia, the family’s black maid, and respects her but resists her. This is not because of race, but as rebellion against her “unfair” rules. Calpurnia does not teach her ladylike primness, but teaches her moral values, manners and how to be a strong woman, which are traits that benefit her greatly as she matures.

Racism
Racism plays a highly debated subject in To Kill a Mockingbird. The book is set in the south during the 1930’s where racism was commonplace, but race relations were also a highly debated topic during the time the book was published in 1960, at the height of the Civil Rights movement.
This might be Harper Lee’s motive for including the trial of Tom Robinson.
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In the 1962 movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch (played by Gregory Peck) and Tom Robinson (played by Brock Peters) sit in the courtroom during Tom Robinson's trial.

The discussion amongst the characters leading up to the trial and afterward, the reaction to the conviction and subsequent killing of Tom Robinson gives a dramatic picture of the contradictory way blacks and whites were separated in the nineteen thirties and of Harper Lee’s personal views on the matter. Racial segregation in the south, Alabama in particular, had been a way of life for many years (Johnson 83). The incorporation of race relations was not only important to the historical context of the Great Depression, but was a presence in Lee’s life as well. She was just six-years out of college at the University of Alabama and her father was serving in the Alabama State Legislature when the Montgomery bus boycott, to demand the integration of public buses, and the attempted integration of the University occurred (Johnson 83). Her point of view in To Kill a Mockingbird as a young girl attempting to make sense of the occurrences around her serves as a way to teach the reader a new way to think in a manner of childlike innocence and truthfulness that allows her to be very blunt. Children can be harsh and critical and lack the “filter” so-to-speak of adult manners, so Scout’s interpretation of her neighbor’s and distant family member’s comments are poignant. When she wanted to go to Calpurnia’s house to visit, her Aunt Alexandria strongly objected as she did when she found out that they had gone to church with Calpurnia. Scout, as an innocent child, could not understand why this was wrong, which evokes the reader to ask his or her self the very same question. The trial itself evokes a strong emotion from the reader. Usually the facts of trial can be up to interpretation, but Harper Lee does not make the case complex. It is unusually clear to the reader the actual happenings of the night when Tom Robinson supposedly raped Mayella Ewell. There is no doubt in the reader’s mind of who the real culprit was and what deplorable conditions the Ewells lived in. Yet, Tom Robinson’s conviction is a jolt to the reader’s common sense and serves to appeal to the reader’s sense of right and wrong, disregarding to race of the party’s involved. Tom Robinson is an honorable man who would eventually die because he had compassion for an abused young girl. Bob Ewell was a despicable drunk who had deprived his oldest daughter of a life and treated her savagely. Tom Robinson was still convicted, simply because he was black and his accuser was white.

Social Issues: A Southern Class System
In the book itself Scout mentions a distinct class system in Maycomb (131). Social standing often involved the amount of land a family owned and how the family made their living (Kyvig 231). The inclusion of all the gossip Scout heard around her gives a clear cut image of how the townspeople felt of one another. Each family was subject to a stereotype whether they be a judge or a starving farmer. This is very apparent when Scout tries to explain the situation of the Cunninghams to her first grade teacher. Anyone who lived in that town knew that a Cunningham would not take charity, no matter how desperate they were. It was as if the social system was something you learned like walking or swimming. This helps distinguish the three main Finches from the rest of the town, display daily life and behavior in Maycomb and gives image of how low in social standing the Ewells really were. Scout mentions in describing their domicile that it was behind the dump and it had even been abandoned by the blacks (170). Seeing how people viewed African Americans, that was treacherous to the town in its own right. Also, giving examples of the way people were raised might explain their ignorance to the racist ways they had and their treatment of Tom Robinson and Boo Radley.

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Jem watches Tom Robinson's trial with Reverend Sykes in the "colored" balcony after he, Scout and Dill sneaked in against Atticus' wishes.


Children in the Depression
Even the children of an upper-middle class family had hard times in the Depression. It was unlike today with television and video games. The children played outside all day and entertained themselves with whatever they saw fit. That is another way the narratives of Boo Radley play a role and one point they even role Scout down the street in a tire. The Southern way of life is very apparent and they grow up in an environment that gives them little shielding of the harsh reality of the outside world. Many
of the rural children of poor farmers could not even finish
school because they had to help their parents work to survive.
Citations

"Mary Badham Filmography." Movie Tickets & Movie Times - Fandango.com. Web. 08 May 2011. <http://www.fandango.com/marybadham/filmography/p3201>.
Jem and Reverend Sykes. Digital image. Www.xtimeline.com. MIXEDQT. Web. 1 May 2011. http://www.xtimeline.com/__UserPic_Large/9661/ELT200805171053209268545.JPG.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Dir. Robert Mulligan. Perf. Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, Phillip Alford and Robert Duvall. Universal Pictures, 1962. DVD.
Atticus and Tom Robinson in Court. Digital image. Wikimedia. 14 Feb. 2008. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/ce/Atticus_and_Tom_Robinson_in_court.gif.

Draper, Eric. Harper Lee Medal. Digital image. Wikimedia. 5 Nov. 2007. Web. 26 Apr. 2011. <http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2007/11/images/20071105-1_d-0243-3-515h.jpg>. Published by White House photographer Eric Draper

"Harper Lee Biography." Biography.com. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. http://www.biography.com/articles/Harper-Lee-9377021.

Johnson, Claudia Durst. Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird: a Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historic Documents. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994. Print.

Kyvig, David E. Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939: Decades of Promise and Pain. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2002. Print.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner, 1982. Print.
Shields, Charles J. Mockingbird: a Portrait of Harper Lee. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. Print.
Gloria Escobar’s review of Jessica William’s Wiki page

Excellent points you mention in your page content. “To Kill a Mocking Bird” by Harper Lee is a great literary work of all times. You touch very good points about her work and are very clear. I think the order of your content is very good as well. Basically, what do you need the most is focusing on the “makeup” of the page. I suggest you to add more color to kill the black and white of the content, for example you can underline the titles, add a bright color and beside that, add two or more sizes to the font of the title in order to enhance the content of the paragraphs and your page. Also, it would be great if you add more white space between paragraphs to clearly identify where one page ends and where the other starts. I know that you are focusing on the author’s work, but adding a few words about her life would be an excellent contribution to your page. Also, I was checking on YouTube, and they have a huge selection of videos about the work that I strongly recommend you to add, they have a very good ones. Also a picture of the author and her work would be great, this page has colorful pictures that you may use, or you can go to goggle and search for images; they are plenty of very god pictures of the author and her book. http://span.state.gov/sept-oct2010/eng/37_39_Harper_Lee's_Novel.html

In the cited work page, make sure to cite the images and video sources in case that you add some.
In a few words, make your page more colorful. Remember, this are only my suggestions and personal opinion, you may consider some or disregard all. I have also a lot of things to fix in my page, and looking to other’s work is helping me a lot to notice the things that I really need to change. Your content is very well chosen and your final work I’m sure is going to be great.

Hallie Davis’ review of Jessica Williams Wiki Page

Overall your page is great. There are a couple of things that I think might make it more reader friendly though. I think that your section titles may be easier to identify if they were a larger font than the body of the page. Another thing that may help is the use of more white space between the titles and the body of the section. Also the white space may be helpful in distinguishing the end of the page and the start of the works cited. More pictures might make the page have a more visual appearance. You used the required amount of pictures, so if you are unable to find some it should be fine. I think your finished page will be sufficient for the assignment.

Kelly Denton's review of Jessica William's Wiki Page
Content: I think you covered your topic thoroughly. This is one of my favorite movies. My favorite section was Racism. I would like to
read a brief conclusion or summary to pull the ideas together.
Organization: Your paper is well organized.
Design: I like your use of pictures and color.
Research and Documentation: It looks like you did your homework with your research and your paper is well documented.
Overall comment: It was interested about Truman Capote as her neighbor. I enjoyed reading your paper and learned even more about
one of my favorites.