24th August 2017

‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Essay

In the novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, written by Harper Lee, a significant theme is the co-existence of good and evil. This is represented in this novel, firstly, by Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley, who is perceived by the population of Maycomb County as the personification of evil, someone who has wronged others and is to be avoided. In reality, Boo is actually shown to be a caring, considerate character who makes a positive impact on the community, and on Jem and Scout. Secondly, the theme is revealed to us by Mrs Dubose, an old lady who shows that a positive relationship can exist between two people even when one person severely disagrees with the ethics and racial beliefs of the other. Lastly, Atticus Finch’s relationship with his sister demonstrates how members of the same family can hold vastly different beliefs, but are still able to coexist together.

In the first section of the novel, the main characters, Jem and Scout Finch, find a number of ‘gifts’ in a hollowed out knot in a tree. Some of these items include twine, coins, gum, a pocket watch, an old spelling medal and a pair of ‘soap dolls’. These seemingly random items may seem insignificant to the novel, but they actually reveal to us the theme of ‘The coexistence of good and evil’. The reader has the privilege of making the connection between location of the gifts, found in a tree next to the Radley’s place, and the childlike nature of these gifts. It is inferred that these gifts are given by Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley, an intelligent character that has been locked away in the Radley house for fifteen years by his father, Nathan Radley. To the general population of Maycomb, Boo is seen as a shady character, someone who has seriously wronged in his past, someone of evil. He is a despised character to the Maycombians, and Scout recalled that even “A negro would not pass the Radley place at night, he would cut across to the sidewalk opposite and whistle as he walked.” However, Boo Radley’s actions make a number of appearances, affecting Jem and Scout in positive ways and portraying to the reader how virtuous of a character he actually is shown to be, despite his previous misconducts.

One of the first items left for Jem and Scout is a ball of twine. I believe that this twine represents the  connection Boo is trying to create with Jem and Scout. Twine is used to tie things together; to connect them. This is shown in “To Kill a Mockingbird” where Boo attempts to form a connection with Jem and Scout, without actually confronting them. When Nathan Radley becomes aware of what Boo is doing, he fills the knot in the tree with cement, severing Boo’s link to the outside world, to Jem and Scout. “That’s what you do to dying trees”, he says. Harper Lee uses the twine to show how their connection is sustained, even after the hole has been filled. For as long Jem and Scout have the twine, they will be ‘tied’ to boo; their hidden connection remains.

Other items include an old spelling medal and pocket watch. The spelling medal is given by Boo to show to Jem and Scout how he was once a child too, and he understands what Jem and Scout is going through, with respect to the troubles they are experiencing as children of Maycomb. When Miss Maudie’s house sets on fire, Boo comes out from his ‘cage’, and wraps a blanket around Jem and Scout while they are shivering in the cold. Only the next day, when they enquire about it with Atticus, do they find out it was in fact Boo who put the blanket around them. This shows the reader that Boo is attempting to make a connection with Jem and scout, and is not afraid to perform selfless acts to help others anonymously, without seeking recognition or reward. These events, although insignificant, help to portray the theme of the coexistence of good and evil through the character of Boo Radley. Through Harper Lee’s portrayal of Boo, we can see that someone who has wronged in the past, someone who is seen as a degenerate, someone of evil, can actually be kind, caring and act to positively benefit the community later in life. Preconceived ideas formed about someone are often do not accurately show how someone is in reality. Because someone has sinned in the past does not mean they are unable to do good in the future. Boo Radley shows us how someone can be both sinful and selfless, how both good and evil can coexist within someone.

Further on in the novel, Jem and Scout have encounters with one of their neighbours, Mrs Dubose. Mrs Dubose is described as a very old, racist woman who lives a few doors down from the Finches. She is portrayed as a recovering morphine addict, causing her to further her sensitive nature, being very fragile to anything she might view as criticizing. Jem and Scout dread their passings of Mrs Dubose’s house, each time they walk past she usually shouts back at them, hurtling abuse. For example, Scout says “Mrs. Dubose is the dragon” of the town, introducing her as “plain hell”. Her ill-tempered nature is furthered by her racist tendencies, brought upon her by many years of influence from other, more racist members of her family and community in the past. While Jem and Scout despise her, their father Atticus Finch looks up to her. This is shown when Mrs Dubose dies, Atticus states: ‘She was the bravest person I ever knew.’ Jem and Scout’s perception of Mrs Dubose is completely different to Atticus’s, they can not see past her outer appearance and uninviting nature. During one encounter Jem and Scout have, after a number of insulting comments, Mrs dubose’s final words really hit home: “Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for”. Jem, a high advocate for his his father’s beliefs and morals, was highly offended by this, and proceeded to chop the heads of every one of Mrs Dubose’s Camellia Bushes with a baton. This unleash of anger shows the reader how fed up Jem was of Mrs Dubose, and how he can brush off negative comments about himself, but cannot tolerate when someone disdains his own father, one of the few white people during this time who is against racial inequality and is actively fighting against it.

This event is significant because it symbolises the American political terrorist organisation “Knights of the White Camellia”, that operated during the 19th century. The Knights of the White Camellia were similar in beliefs to the Ku Klux Klan, advocating white supremacy and opposing freed black men’s rights. Mrs Dubose was a protector and carer for her Camellias, she was a ‘knight’ of her Camellias. In this way, Mrs Dubose symbolises the racist culture of Maycomb, and how they are protective of the white community during this time. These White Camellias also represent the Maycomb community’s class system; White people are able to grow and flourish, and are treated like beautiful pieces of art, while they look down on the black community below them, the dirt below the White Camellias. They are treated like dirt, and not recognised for any of their significant achievements, although they support the White Community to grow and flourish. When Jem knocks the heads of the Camellias, it represents how he acts against Mrs Dubose, against racism itself. Jem’s actions were brought upon because of her beliefs about racism, taught predominantly by his Father. we see, through Harper Lee’s portrayal of this event, that Jem is yet to learn respect for elders, and know when and how to hold himself back when insulted. Although decidedly opposing to her values, Atticus is able to maintain a friendly and respectful relationship with Mrs Dubose. This shows me that people of vastly different cultures can coexist together. Mrs Dubose represents the ‘evil’, and Atticus represents the ‘good’ in Maycomb, which clearly reveals to us the theme of ‘the coexistence of good and evil’.

Further into the novel, we are introduced to Alexandra Finch Hancock, or otherwise known as Aunt Alexandra. Similar to Mrs Dubose, Aunt Alexandra has significantly racist tendencies, opposing coloured people’s association with the white community of Maycomb. She is shown to be disapproving of Atticus’s methods of teaching his children, as he lets Calpurnia, their maid, who is a part of the negro community, teach the children as they grow up. At one point, when Aunt Alexandra comes for a visit, Jem and Scout go with Calpurnia to the First Purchase Church, a ‘Coloured’ church, which was an unusual thing for white citizens of Maycomb to do at the time. Afterwards, Jem and Scout explain in detail their trip with Calpurnia. “Atticus seemed to enjoy it, but Aunt Alexandra, who was sitting in a corner quietly sewing, put down her embroidery and stared at us”. This quote shows how disagreeing she is of Jem and Scout, and how Atticus’s views on parenting differ from his sisters. When Scout asks Atticus if they can go with Cal again, Aunt Alexandra promptly interrupts with: “You may not.” From this, We see that Aunt Alexandra, despite only being an extended family member, has significant influence on Atticus and his children. If Aunt Alexandra had not been there, Atticus would be accepting of Scouts proposal, he would be happy that they are diversifying themselves with black culture, and be glad that calpurnia is opening their eyes to new experiences. Scout quotes: ‘Aunt Alexandra fitted into the world of maycomb like a hand into a glove, but never into the world of Jem and me’. This quote demonstrates to the reader how differing Aunt Alexandra’s morals and values are from Atticus, Jem and Scout’s. Aunt Alexandra fits into the Maycomb community so well because she judges people based on their family, as if their place in society was determined by it. Aunt Alexandra was originally from the old school of the south. People believed that how ‘good’ a person’s family was determined their standing in society, which this was inherited by Aunt Alexandra. These values are in direct contrast with Jem and Scouts, who have been taught to instead judge people on the way they treat others, rather than the person’s family. Atticus taught them not to be arrogant because they come from a ‘good’ family, and that having a ‘good’ family does not determine whether someone is good or bad. Jem and Scout know to take everything Aunt Alexandra says with a grain of salt, and that in the end Atticus will have the final say over his children. I believe this quote also has another hidden meaning. Scout says that Aunt Alexandra fits into the world of maycomb ‘like a hand into a glove’, meaning that not only does she fit perfectly, but that the relationship between Aunt Alexandra and the town of Maycomb is similar to that of a hand and a glove. Gloves are used to protect your hands, and in the same way, I believe Aunt Alexandra uses the town of Maycomb to protect herself from Atticus, Jem and Scout with their opposing opinions of coloured people. Because the town of Maycomb is, on average, very racist, Aunt Alexandra’s actions in controlling what Jem and Scout are allowed to do are deemed as ‘normal’, and her response is perceived as acceptable. Had the town of Maycomb not been so racist on average, Atticus would have not felt out of place to overpower his sister, and make his opinion of what the children should be able to do, relating visiting the coloured church with Calpurnia, heard. Overall, this reveals the theme of ‘the coexistence of good and evil’, by portraying Aunt Alexandra’s strictures of Atticus’s beliefs through Scout’s eyes, as we can see that two people of vastly different beliefs can coexist so closely together, as siblings, despite these differences. Aunt Alexandra could be deemed as the ‘evil’ in this sense, and Atticus, Jem and Scout can be deemed as the ‘good’. Not only has this shown is that good and evil can clearly coexist together, but that they can be influenced and manipulated by each other in beneficial and non-beneficial ways.

In the novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, a significant theme is the co-existence of good and evil. This theme is revealed by Harper Lee in her portrayal of Boo Radley, being both a previous criminal and a caring, considerate being, showing us that both good and evin can coexist within one person. Also, this theme is shown through Aunt Alexandra and Mrs Dubose, who are both exceedingly racist characters but are still able to establish and maintain a meaningful relationship with Atticus Finch, with such differing racial beliefs. Overall, the theme of ‘the coexistence of good and evil’ is presented effectively in this text to reveal to the reader the moral nature of human beings.

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