Research Paper on To Kill a Mockingbird
In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, several important themes emerge, not the least of which deals with racial tensions in the early-20th century. Atticus Finch, a lawyer, is working to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. The novel provides an in-depth look at the one-sidedness that often appears in instances of racial tension.
- When the largely white town of Macomb finds out that Atticus is defending Tom, he and his family are subjected to social ostracism and abuse.
- When Calpurnia, the cook for the Finch family, takes the children to her black church, they are welcomed warmly and kindly; they are welcomed in much the same way when they sit in the “colored section” of the balcony in the courtroom.
- Lee creates clearly defined conflicts of good and evil, righteous and wrong, with those perpetrators of racism and hate falling squarely on the wrong side.
Building upon this theme is the idea of the absence of justice. At the start of the trial, a lynch mob came to the jailhouse to, presumably, murder him. Members of the town were prepared to be judge, jury, and executioner, depriving a man of his right to due process. Even then, despite a strong defense presented by Atticus in Tom’s trial, he is still found guilty by the all-white jury; Tom Robinson, a black man accused of assaulting a white woman, never stood a chance. When Tom tries to escape prison, knowing he is innocent, he is shot and killed. The justice system failed him, and his faith in ever getting treated fairly had disappeared. This course of events stands as a stark reflection of the mistreatment of African Americans in society and the judicial system for generations.
Although Tom differs significantly from Atticus as a character in terms of his economic welfare and societal standing (due in no small part to the color his skin), which he closer in terms of how he is meant to viewed by the reader. Tom is a field hand, he is largely uneducated and susceptible to temptation (as is demonstrated by actions towards Mayella Ewell). However, Tom is also an innocent. As Atticus respects Tom as a man and believes in his innocence, so too does the reader believe in Tom. However, Tom, a righteous, innocent character, is ultimately utterly destroyed by racial injustice. Tom, though innocent, is convicted by a racist all-white jury. Later, Tom is shot and killed in a desperate escape attempt. Lee also uses Tom to construct a direct confrontation between blatantly a blatantly good individual and a blatantly bad individual in the conflict between Tom and Bob Ewell. Bob and Tom are relative equals, more equal to each other than either of them is to Atticus. One are where that are not equal is the composition of their moral character. Bob is guilty of the crimes for which Tom is ultimately punished, and he is aided, and ultimately allowed to prevail, in this evil by the racism inherent to his environment. Like Atticus, Tom is constructed as righteous character, and as he confronts issues of racism and injustice, Lee effectively offers commentary about the nature and destructiveness of specific social attitudes. Tom destruction is the destruction at the hands of racist institutions is the destruction of humanity and its innocence. As Atticus says to Jem, “I don't know [how they could convict Tom Robinson], but they did it. They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it — seems that only children weep…".