TKAMB Themes

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  • Created by: A.B.
  • Created on: 10-04-13 17:56
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  • To Kill A Mockingbird Themes
    • Racism and Intolerance
      • Macomb people think black people are inferior.
        • Prejudice is a normal part of life for most characters.
        • Characters don't think twice about using racist language like "darky" and "nigger"
        • They're misinformed and ignorant about black people - the missionary ladies think Africa is full of "sin and squalor".
        • The white people son't have any respect for the black community - the white men gamble in the black community's church during the week.
        • Atticus calls racism Maycomb's "usual disease". The word "usual" shows just how common racism is, and how hard it'll be to change what so many people have believed all their lives.
      • It's not easy to stand up against racism.
        • Atticus realises he's "licked" before the trial even starts - the court won't take the word of a black man over the word of a white man, even if that white man is "trash" like Bob Ewell.
        • People's prejudices are even stronger than cold, hard evidence - Atticus proves that Tom Robinson couldn't have attacked Mayella because of his crippled left hand, but the court still find him guilty.
        • The people of Maycomb aren't afraid to show their feelings about the trial - they call Atticus a "nigger-lover" and Scout and Jem have to put up with insults from both children and adults.
        • Defending Tom Robinson makes Atticus vulnerable to violence too - he's threatened by a lynch mob and by Bob Ewell.
      • Things may be starting to change a little by the end.
        • The jury take several hours to reach a verdict - and one jury member argues that Tom Robinson is innocent. Miss Maudie says that this is a "baby-step" towards a more equal and tolerant society.
        • Mr Link Deas gives Tom's wife a job and stands up for her when Bob Ewell tries to frighten her.
        • Aunt Alexandra is horrified by Tom's death - she has begun to realise the consequences of Maycomb's prejudice.
        • But many people in Maycomb still see black people as second class citizens.
          • The jury find Tom guilty even though it's obvious he's innocent.
          • The missionary ladies think that Atticus has stirred up trouble by defending Tom.
          • Maycomb loses interest in Tom's death after two days - his death is insignificant to them.
      • Racism isn't the only type of Intolerance in the novel.
        • Social Intolerance
          • Aunt Alexandra won't let Scout play with Walter Cunningham because his family are poor - she doesn't think the Cunninghams are good enough for the Finches.
          • Dolphus Raymond has to pretend to be drunk in order to get people to accept the fact he prefers the company of black people.
        • Gender Intolerance
          • There's sexism in Maycomb - Miss Maudie tells Scout that "foot washers think women are a sin by definition', and women aren't allowed to sit on a jury.
          • Aunt Alexandra is always trying to turn Scout into a lady - she won't let Scout wear dungarees because they're not very ladylike.
          • It's not just the women who are expected to behave in a certain way - Dill's parents tell him: "Boys get out and play baseball with the other boys".
        • Religious Intolerance
          • "foot-washing" Baptists tell Miss Maudie she's going to hell just because she grows flowers.
          • People gossip about the Radley family because they don't go to church and worship at home.
    • Empathy
      • Empathy is really important.
        • Empathising with someone means being able to understand why they act the way they do. This is what Atticus means when he talks about standing in someone else's shoes.
        • Lee makes it very obvious how important empathy is - Atticus talks about the importance of seeing things from someone else's perspective four times in the novel.
        • Harper Lee wanted to show that teaching people to empathise with others reduces the chances of them being prejudiced.
      • The majority of people in Maycomb do not have much empathy.
        • The children - especially Scout - tend not to be empathetic because of their youth. For example, Atticus has to teach Scout to see things from Miss Caroline's perspective after a disastrous first day at school.
        • Some of the characters lack empathy because of their prejudices. Racist characters like Bob Ewell or Mrs Merriweather son't empathise with the black community because they don't think black people matter as much as white people.
        • But there are  characters who are able to see past their prejudices. Mr Underwood "despises Negroes" but he's able to recognise the unfairness of Tom's death and writes an article about Tom's "senseless slaughter".
        • Harper Lee suggests that children who aren't taught about the importance of empathy will grow up to be as prejudiced as previous generations - Francis uses terms like "nigger lover" because adults around him use them. Characters like Francis don't give the reader hope that things will change in the future.
      • The reader is supposed to empathise with certain characters.
        • The reader empathises with Scout and Jem from the very start of the novel because they're likeable characters who bring humour to the novel.
        • You start off by disliking some characters, such as Mayella Ewell, but then you realise there's another side to them. Harper Lee persuades the reader to feel sorry for Mayella by showing that she's overworked, abused and neglected. You can't excuse her behaviour but you can try  to understand it.
        • But Lee makes it equally clear that she doesn't want the reader to empathise with Bob Ewell - she does this by not giving him any redeeming qualities.
          • Most people are nice "when you finally see them".
    • Childhood and Growing Up
      • Growing Up
        • TKAMB is a bildungsroman. This means the main characters grow up and learn lessons (Scout and Jem).
        • Because Lee tells the story through a child's eyes the reader sees how simple the relationships between children are. For example, after Scout beats up Walter Cunningham in the schoolyard she ends up inviting him to lunch - unlike the adults in Maycomb, she doesn't hold grudges. They're quick to forgive and forget.
      • The trial forces the children to grow up.
        • At the start of the book there's a lot of description of childhood friendships, games and dares - this shows how young and innocent the children are.
        • But as time passes there's less focus on playtime and games and more focus on the things that happen to the children which force them to grow up - like the trial.
        • Although both Jem and Scout grow up quite a bit by the end of the novel, it's Jem who matures the most. Scout mentions several times about how her and Jem "began to part company".
        • It's not just Scout who recognises that Jem is maturing. Miss Maudie lets Jem have a slice of the adult's cake and Cal starts calling him "Mister". There's more about Jem growing up on page 30.
      • Lee wants to show how important innocence is.
        • Scout's innocent chatterwith Mr Cunningham outside the jail stops the lynch mob from attacking and her childish costume protects her from Bob Ewell's knife - Harper Lee wants to show how powerful innocence can be.
        • Lee makes sure that Scout doesn't become bitter or cynical because of what happens to her. At the end of the novel she falls asleep on Atticus' knee. This kind of behaviour reminds the reader that she is still a child.
    • Education
      • Harper Lee makes fun of formal education.
        • Harper Lee satirises classroom learning, for example when Scout's teacher, Miss Caroline, finds out she can read and write, she punishes her rather than encouraging her.
        • Another of Scout's teachers, Miss Gates, is a hypocrite - she teaches children that Hitler's persecution of the Jews is wrong but supports the persecution of black people in her own neighbourhood.
        • Although Harper Lee makes fun of school she makes it very clear that education is important. Uneducated characters who don't go to school, like the Ewells, come across as ignorant.
      • Scout and Jem learn more outside the classroom.
        • Most of the story happens during the summer holidays or after school - this helps Lee to show how much the children learn outside the classroom.
        • At the  start of the novel Scout thinks that Atticus "hasn't taught me anything" - but over the course of the novel he gives Scout a moral education. He teaches her about empathy, courage and fairness.
        • It's not just Atticus that the children learn from - Calpurnia teaches Scout manners, Miss Maudie teaches the children to respect their father and Aunt Alexandra teaches Scout how to be a lady.
        • Other characters learn valuable lessons too.
          • Mr Cunningham is educated by Scout outside outside the jail, when her friendly chatter helps him to realise that wanting to harm Tomis wrong.
          • Aunt Alexandra is initially against Atticus defending Tom, but when  he loses the trial she seems genuinely sorry. It's as if she's starting to see that Atticus may be right in some ways.
      • Harper Lee shows how powerful education can be.
        • Well educated characters like Atticus and Uncle Jack are portrayed as powerful - people respect them. They're good, fair-minded characters.
        • It's hard for the black characters to get an education because black children. Without an education they're powerless - they can't get any jobs other than manual labour.
        • Characters like Calpurnia give the reader hope - she can read and has taught her son Zeebo how to read too. This suggests that passing on eductaion is important to the black community's future.
    • Family and Social Class
      • Impossible to escape your family background.
        • Scout says that the families in the town have lievd together for so long, they have become "utterly predictable to one another" - this means that people are expected to behave in a certain way. For example, everyone knows Stephanie Crawford has a gossiping "streak".
        • These streaks can pass on from generation to generation. Fir example, Burris Ewell is filthy and rude - when the reader is introduced to the rest of his family they're no different.
        • The fact that the children will grow up to be like their parents suggests that their prejudice will also be passed on.
        • It's almost impossible to be viewed as an individual rather than part of a family. When the town discovers Atticus will be defending a black man they don't just take it out on him - they insult Jem and Scout too.
      • Social prejudice is everywhere in Maycomb.
        • There's a social heirachy in Maycomb - relatively wealthy families like the Finches are at the top, poorer families  like the Cunninghams are below, the Ewells are towards the bottom and the black community is at the very bottom.
        • Aunt Alexandra thinks family reputation is really important - she's a bit of a snob. She doesn't think that Walter Cunningham is good enough to play with Scout.
        • Scout has a different understanding of good breeding to Aunt Alexandra. She thinks it's about making the best out of the sense you have, so she's confused when Aunt Alexandra tells her she can't play with Walter, even though one of his family thought Tom was innocent.
      • Some people don't fit into their family.
        • Dill is sent away to Miss Rachel's every summer and he doesn't have a father. He says his family aren't interested in him and don't need him.
        • Boo Radley is kept inside for years by his family because he got in with the wrong crowd as a teenager.
        • Mayella Ewell grows red geraniums and unlike the rest of her family she likes to keep herself clean. But because Maycomb think that the rest of her family are "trash" they assume she must be too.
      • By the end of the novel Scout and Jem want to fit into their family - Jem wants to be a lawyer like Atticus and Scout recognises the "skill" in being a lady. But they also want to be fair and respectful because Atticus has shown them that this is important.

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