Questions for study and ideas for answers.
Question : On giving Jem and Scout air rifles, Atticus tells them that to
kill a mockingbird is a sin. Miss Maudie explains that mockingbirds only do one thing, and that is to sing their hearts out for us. Who are the mockingbirds in the story, and how have they been ‘killed’
by the society around them?
Ideas : The two main mockingbirds are Boo Radley and Tom Robinson, but there
are others within the storyline.
Boo Radley has been shut away from the world by his father and then later
his brother through an incident which occurred fifteen years earlier when he stabbed his father with a pair of scissors. The suggestion is that he had gone mad and should have been committed to an asylum.
His influence in our story is all-good in that he gives gifts to the children, repairs Jem’s pants when they are caught on the fence and, of course, saves the children’s lives when Bob Ewell attacks them. Sheriff Tate recognizes the vulnerability of Boo and that any publicity would destroy him, so he says that the death was an accident.
Tom Robinson is actually killed and his death is a sin committed by the
whole white community of Maycomb. All he tried to do was to abide by the rules of the society in which he lived and when a black person is asked to do a chore he obeys.
The main enemies of birds are cats and Lee describes Mayella as being like
‘a steady-eyed cat with a twitchy tale’ and the bird she is focusing on is of course, Tom Robinson. Lee’s description is that of a cat stalking its prey.
Jem to some degree was also a mockingbird.
He went with Scout to the black church in order to please Calpurnia, and the Rev. Sykes. Jem suffers in that his youthful idealism is shattered by the verdict given by the all-white jury at the trial.
The pet-dog of Maycomb is called Tim Johnson, a bird-dog, who one day acts
strangely because he has caught rabies.
He gave pleasure to the townsfolk, but suddenly he now causes fear. So much so that even the mockingbirds are silent. Atticus shoots the dog for the good of the whole town.
Question : Discrimination rears its ugly head in many forms within this
story. Give examples of this.
Ideas : The obvious discrimination is that of the dominant white community
over the subservient black community. They are not given the same opportunities regarding education, illustrated by the visit to the Negro church where only a few can read. As a result they have no
opportunity to obtain a decent job and their families are doomed to live in poverty. When any criminal act has taken place the blame immediately falls on the black community.
There is discrimination against white people when they enter into the black
world illustrated by Scout and Jem’s visit to the black church, where some of the congregation objected to their presence.
However, when the children attend the court, there is actually positive discrimination towards them when they receive the best seats in the colored gallery when Rev. Sykes brings them with him.
There is discrimination between whites, those from fine old Southern
families, and white trash, like the Ewell clan who can only occupy the lower rungs of the white social ladder.
There is discrimination between the sexes.
Clearly Scout wishes to become more like a boy as Jem is always criticizing her for being too girly, hence her reluctance to wear dresses and her enthusiasm to take part in more physical play. As Jem becomes more sensitive towards the end of the story, Scout criticizes him for becoming more like a girl.
There is also discrimination against outsiders, as Maycomb likes to keep a
closed community, which is why Atticus was more positive about the appeal being successful out with the jurisdiction of Maycomb.
Question : What were the results of the guilty verdict upon the different
factions of the Maycomb community?
Ideas : For the blacks : it emphasized their desperate position in the
society of Maycomb for they hoped that the law was without prejudice, but clearly the law only works for the white community in that an innocent black man has been found guilty of a crime he could not possibly have
committed. For a while it brought unrest amongst the black community and the colored servants felt resentment in many a white person’s home.
For the whites : it brought shame onto their community highlighted by the
editorial by Mr. Underwood. This shame was partly relieved on the death of Tom Robinson whilst trying to escape.
One suspects that if the death sentence had been carried out, then there would have been further shame for the Maycomb community as this would have brought about adverse publicity from the outside world.
For the Finch family : Jem is the main sufferer as his youthful idealism has
been shattered. Atticus was resigned to the situation in the Maycomb court, but perhaps his hope was always with the Appeal Court. Scout’s view in the end is that Tom Robinson was only a black.
This is not said as a discriminatory remark, but is said by a white ten-year old who has been brought up under the rigid conventions of a white community in Alabama. She is merely repeating what her teacher and other elders in Maycomb say.
Question : What factors make Jean Louise Finch a good narrator of the story?
Ideas : The events are viewed through the eyes of a child who gives
sufficient information for the reader to make adult interpretations from the facts presented.
She is without prejudice and as such not only gives a view of the white
community, but also is able to cross over to the black community and give important details of their lives.
If she was to narrate this as an adult looking back, then a different
perspective would be obtained and there would be no element of honesty and naivety in the story.
Question : Who are Scout’s main female role models?
Ideas : Calpurnia : Being primarily involved in Scout’s day-to-day
upbringing, she was anxious to bring her up as a proper white girl using a combination of strictness and persuasion with a view to limiting her tomboy tendencies.
This is evident in the fact that she tutored Scout in the domestic chores in running a household. She was also concerned about Scout’s religious upbringing and when her father was absent, she took Scout to her church. Clearly Atticus had faith in her because she was allowed to discipline Scout and it is apparent that she was a good parent, judging by Zeebo’s good behavior.
Miss Maudie : She again uses persuasion rather than force in order to
mould Scout into a respectable young lady, which is achieved through understanding.
She has a similar nature to Scout and enjoys more masculine pastimes such as gardening. She is also keen to protect Scout from the harsh realities of the world in which they live.
Aunt Alexandra : Her influence on Scout is harder to define for initially she uses
discipline to order Scout to conform to the expected behavior of a young Southern lady.
This, of course, makes Scout rebel and turn to Calpurnia or Miss Maudie who are able to develop Scout more successfully. However, she does instill in Scout the importance of being a Finch, and Scout is impressed by her aunt’s behavior at the Missionary Circle, and the cool way in which she accepts the news of the death of Tom Robinson.