‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is an important novel as it deals with numerous issues such as; growing up, prejudice, tolerance, understanding of others and courage. This well written story by Harper Lee focuses on a family living in Maycomb County, a microcosm of American Society concerned with only its own problems, in the 1930’s. The main plot of this novel concerns a black man being wrongly accused and charged with the rape of a white woman and, due to the racial unfairness that took place at this time, he is convicted.
This book is aimed at challenging the racial discrimination that took place at this time in Alabama, South America. Atticus Finch, the father of the Finch family, is the lawyer who defends Tom Robinson, the black man accused of rape. Atticus has one son and one daughter, he is a single parent and is aged fifty at the beginning of the book. Atticus is a man of truth who treats his children with respect. His daughter, Scout, talks about her and her brother’s upbringing by stating in the first chapter, “He played with us, read to us, and treated us with courteous detachment”.Order now
This emphasises that although Atticus was a loving father to his children he was also a man of principle and a teacher of life’s morals. Atticus is a very important character in the novel as he embodies the themes of justice, tolerance, goodness and courage. His son, Jem, is nearly ten years old at the beginning of the book and progressively matures throughout the novel. He is rational and intelligent and is a constant companion of Scout, but as Jem matures overtime they slowly drift apart. The first chapter of the story shows the coming of Dill.
I feel he plays an important role in the childhood of Jem and Scout and as Jem matures he spends more time with Dill rather then Scout. The daughter of Atticus, Jean-Louise Finch, who is also known as Scout, is almost six at the beginning of the story. The whole book is written from the perspective of this young girl and this gives it a very innocent view. As Scout was young at the time the book was written she had a childish view of the world and contained childish fair play. When Scout was at the trial of Tom Robinson she thought that Tom Robinson was being treated unfairly, but she didn’t understand it was because he was black.
This shows that Scout had innocent ideas of right and wrong, being a child. Scout’s innocence helps show the reader the real truth of life in Maycombe County in the 1930’s. Mayella Ewell was the unstable white girl who accused Tom Robinson of rape in the novel. But it later turned out that this was just a cover up to hide the fact that her father, Bob Ewell, had beaten her. Another woman who liked to hide the truth in the novel was a much older woman, named Mrs Dubose. Mrs Dubose was known as the meanest old woman that had ever lived, as said Jem in Chapter four.
She was a racist member of Maycomb County. Unlike Miss Maudie Atkinson, a kind neighbour and friend of the Finch family, Mrs Dubose represented everything bad about Southern American society. In chapter eleven, after Jem’s twelfth birthday, Jem took Scout to town to buy a steam engine for himself and a twirling baton for Scout, with his birthday money. On their way, Mrs Dubose was sitting on her porch; she started shouting to Jem and Scout asking them where they were going. But before they could have time to possibly answer she started accusing them of playing hooky.
This shows that Mrs Dubose was not really interested in listening to what Jem and Scout had to say, but would instead rather insult them. Mrs Dubose’s attempt at accusing them of truanting from school had been a failure as it was the weekend. Jem pointed out this mistake by saying, “Aw, its Saturday Mrs Dubose”, but this only made the situation worse. She then asked them if Atticus knew where they were going and Jem told her that they had been going to town since they were very young. This infuriated Mrs Dubose as Jem had outsmarted her twice.
Mrs Dubose started insulting them both, after realising that she was wrong, and Jem and Scout walked on trying their best to ignore her. Until, Mrs Dubose yelled, “not only a Finch waiting on tables but one in the courthouse lawing for niggers”. This made Jem stiffen. I think this insult was too much for Jem to tolerate. Children in school had made fun of Atticus before, but no mature adult had shouted such terrible insults at his children. Mrs Dubose continued to do this as they headed of to town. But Jem remained calm.
Scout described the situation by explaining, “we were followed up the street by a philippic on our family’s moral degradation”. This quote shows how degraded Jem must have felt and that he must have buried his anger inside him to hide his emotions. When they got to the town centre, Jem bought his miniature steam engine and he bought Scout her baton. As they approached the Dubose house on their way back home Mrs Dubose was not there. Jem’s buried anger had been building up inside him and his slow fuse soon came to an end. As Scout described, “for a few minutes he simply went mad”.
Jem cut the tops of all of Mrs Dubose’s camellia flowers in her garden. When he had finished he snapped Scout’s baton and dragged her by her hair. Jem told Scout to be quiet but she didn’t so he kicked her and she fell over. He then stopped and looked sorry for what he had done to Scout, but stated, “I’d do what I did to Mrs Dubose’s flowers again if I had to”. I think Jem only said this to make himself sound brave and powerful to Scout and to try and convince himself that he had done the right thing. I believe Jem was forced into committing this crime.
For weeks he and his sister had suffered great torment because of a decision their father had made. It was Atticus who agreed to defend the black man, Tom Robinson, in court and Atticus who went against his race and background. So why should his children be blamed for this? Well, they really should not and would not if the community of Maycombe was made up of fair people. Mrs Dubose is typical of the racist attitudes and unfairness-taking place in this town. She looks down on black people and shouts racist insults at passers by.
But although she is racist, she speaks what she thinks and is not hypocritical like the lady friends of Atticus’ sister, Aunt Alexandra. These people used a false image by acting as good Christians to other people but discussing racist gossip between themselves. I think that this was worse than how Mrs Dubose expressed her views, as at least Mrs Dubose had the courage to say what other people only think. But I do not approve of her actions and neither does Atticus. Although Atticus doesn’t agree with her views he respects her rights to speak openly.
He also admires the fact that she fights for and sticks with what she believes in. The Dubose incident occurred because Jem became upset from Mrs Dubose’s insults and he wanted to protect his father. Atticus is the most important figure in Jem and Scout’s life and they respect him as he respects them. When Scout attacked one of her classmates for calling Atticus, “a Nigger lover”, Atticus made Scout promise not to fight anyone for insulting him again. Atticus knew that Scout was the one who would normally fight, as she was much younger and less mature than Jem.
So when Jem lost his temper and tore up Mrs Dubose’s camellia’s, the family were shocked. After Atticus had found out that Jem had done this and sent him to see Mrs Dubose he spoke to Scout. He said, “I never thought Jem’d be the one to lose his head over this – thought I’d have more trouble over you”. When Jem returned he told Atticus that Mrs Dubose wanted him to read to her every night after school for one month. Atticus agreed with the punishment so Jem did as he was told and read to her. Atticus agreed to this punishment because he saw it as an opportunity for Jem to learn a valuable lesson.
The first day of reading began on a Monday afternoon. Mrs Dubose welcomed Jem with the insult, “So you brought that dirty little sister of yours, did you? He defended his sister and told her he wasn’t scared of her, although he was shaking. This shows the reader that Jem’s character disguises himself as being braver than he really is. It also proves the fact that Jem likes to hide his true emotions. Scout and Jem shared a strong relationship with each other throughout the novel and were very protective of one another.
When Atticus sent Jem to Mrs Dubose’s house, after cutting her camellias, Scout thought that he was going to be murdered because Mrs Dubose kept a gun under her clothes. She was very worried of Jem and couldn’t understand why Atticus would send him to his death. This part of the chapter shows that although Scout was much younger than Jem she was very protective over him. This is an unusual relationship as it is usually the older child who is more protective of the younger child, but this only emphasises the closeness of their relationship. As days of reading to Mrs Dubose passed Jem matured.
He managed to keep his cool when Mrs Dubose insulted him and his family. When she said, “don’t guess you feel like holding your head up, with your father what he is”, Jem raised his head. Although he hated her and she hated him, he would repel her deadly insults like Atticus had taught him to, rather than absorb them. Jem increasingly reflects the personality of Atticus throughout the story. Scout notices this further on in the book when she comments, “Jem was becoming almost as good as Atticus at making you feel right when things went wrong”. Mrs Dubose’s opinion of the children was not very high.
She thought of them as a disgrace and a letdown to their family. She also thought that after their mother had died Atticus had done a bad job at raising them by himself. But the children’s opinion of Mrs Dubose was no better. They thought of her as a horrid woman who was possessed with evil. However, their opinion of her did change when Atticus brought home news about her the following month. One month after Jem had finished reading to Mrs Dubose, Atticus brought home news that she had passed away. He told Jem that she was not suffering anymore.
Atticus told Jem that she had been having fits because she had been trying to beat her morphine addiction before she died. Atticus said, “she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody”, and she did. Mrs Dubose left Jem a box containing a camellia. I think Mrs Dubose intended the camellia to represent peace between her and Jem. But Jem took at it as an insult instead and became upset. He yelled, “Why can’t she just leave me alone”. Atticus explained to Jem about how courageous Mrs Dubose had been to beat her addiction even though she knew she wouldn’t survive.
He told Jem, “the true meaning of courage is not a man with a gun in his hand, but when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through”. The children learnt about tolerance and courage in this chapter and Atticus taught them many valuable and worthwhile lessons. The ending of part one is well written. It shows Atticus explaining to Jem the real meaning of courage and why Mrs Dubose behaved like she did. Mrs Dubose was a prejudice old woman who discriminated many citizens of Maycomb County. But the fact is she still had to rely on the Negress who looked after her named Jessie.
This shows how fragile Mrs Dubose really was and that she couldn’t live without Jessie. But she cannot be blamed for her actions as she was in constant pain trying to beat her morphine addiction. This chapter shows the biggest change in any single chapter of the book. It includes the introducing of Mrs Dubose to the novel, a very important character, and her death in the same chapter. This part of the novel contains many mixed emotions. At the beginning it shows Jem loosing his temper with Mrs Dubose and having to go read to her.
But the end of the chapter shows Jem trying to hide his emotions about Mrs Dubose’s death. Atticus told Jem, “Mrs Dubose was the bravest person I ever knew”. I believe this is true and I think she had more courage than any other character in this book. With Atticus taking the case of Tom Robinson, and having to persuade a white community that a black man is innocent, Jem and Scout would have to show the same amount of courage as Mrs Dubose did beating her morphine addiction. Chapter eleven is therefore a very important chapter introducing many important ideas and themes, which are at the heart of the novel.