Essay –

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

In the novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, by Harper Lee, there is one specific aspect of her writing style that is used by the author to portray her purpose in the text. This is the evident contrast between one key protagonist, Atticus Finch, and the antagonist Bob Ewell. These characters have both adopted certain speaking styles that are polarising to each other. There are multiple aspects to the writing style in the lives of the characters. Firstly, Atticus speaks with a strong personal conviction that allows him to relate to whoever he is talking to. Bob does not speak to the person who he is in conversation with, more so at them, which is a powerful display of objectifying whom he is talking to. Secondly, Atticus uses emotive language to persuade whoever he is in conversation with towards the absolute truth. Contrastingly, Bob speaks with emotive language to persuade others towards lies, a prime example of this is Bob talking to the jury at a latter stage in the book. Through these language features we see the power of empathy, the need to fight for what you truly believe in, the way to change a society positively and advocating the right cause.  

Atticus Finch was a recipient of a healthy upbringing on the family homestead before choosing a different path of life from the family tradition of working off the land. His career in law gave him an outlet to express his high morals which he, from day one, instilled into his children. Atticus’ change of lifestyle led to him establishing a very formal way of speaking which not even his children are spared from. Atticus uses many examples and statements which are spoken directly to the recipient of the conversation when needing to translate a matter of significance that is difficult to understand. This style of speaking shows that Atticus truly cares about people and that he is very personal with whom he is talking to, he is empathetic. As a true lawyer he aims to speak ‘the truth and nothing but the truth.’ This is something that is becoming increasingly infrequent in today’s society with the unabating usage of technology adversely affecting the depth of empathy present in face to face communication. To speak with empathy is to form a true connection with the other persons within a conversation. A display of commiseration or care in relation to the conversation helps build these bonds which cannot be achieved online as such. To put this into context there is an ever increasing amount of mobile phones in use, bordering 4 billion in fact. This essentially decreases the need, in those emotionally and morally weak, to communicate like Atticus, rather opting to communicate as Bob Ewell does. An example of the empathy in Atticus is when he receives a bounty of appreciative gifts from the black community following the trial. This act of generosity brings him to tears upon which he says to Calpurnia “Tell them I’m very grateful, tell them — tell them they must never do it again, times are too hard…”. The fact that he is brought to tears by this shows how much he understands the situation of the black community and thus is overwhelmed by their act. What he proceeds to say to Calpurnia shows to us the empathy that he holds. If more people were empathetic like Atticus then the world would be a much better place.

We are shown glimpses of the true potential in people following disastrous occurrences. One event that recently shocked the world and touched me deeply was the worldwide response to the Grenfell Tower fire where a large number of people lost their lives in a building block blaze. The retaliation to this has been incredible with many nearby people offering their homes to the affected. In addition to this, many people, a lot with very creditable names, have come forward with their condolences and also support in varying forms. The kind of empathy shown here can only be built upon and made more consistent through personal connection. Which is what initiated the extension of empathy in the Grenfell Tower blaze as people truly cared for those affected for reasons such as being family or friend, or by simply stepping into their skin as Atticus would say, and understanding the predicament and helping those affected.

We see the attribute of connection portrayed when Atticus is representing Tom Robinson. Tom is a black male, living in Maycomb County and surviving off the meagre jobs that he can acquire. Tom is falsely accused of raping the town disgrace, Mayella Ewell, after performing an act of goodwill for her. Atticus is selected as the lawyer to represent him in court, even though the decision of the jury is certainly preconceived. Atticus continues to vocalize the absolute truth in order to facilitate the gradual rise to equality between races, regardless of the fact that the case is a false hope. Throughout the trial Atticus promotes the human in him by unbuttoning his shirt, and so brings himself to the level of the jury, both literally and figuratively. This personal conviction is what forces the jury to genuinely consider the outcome of the trial, Atticus forms a connection with them and so has a greater influence on their verdict. Harper Lee characterises Atticus in this way to emphasise the necessity in fighting for what you believe in, even when all else is against you. She also uses it to prove the power held in truthful words, righteousness will always prevail when the truth is spoken. Personally, I learn from this aspect of the text that respect can be earned from those around by simply holding ethical morals that may be opposing to the general (wrongful) opinion. It can be further consolidated by struggling against these opinions and attempting to change them. This is a pure display of courage, which Atticus perfectly defines in the quote; “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” This certainly describes the sort of courage that is evident in Atticus Finch.

Nelson Mandela is a genuine occurrence of Harper Lee’s intentions in the text. As a black man living in South Africa during the height of Apartheid he experienced many struggles with racism and prejudice. This ultimately influenced his decision in going against the dogma of South Africa, installed and upheld by the government of the time. Although many who followed this regime knew it was morally wrong, as is such in Maycomb County, it was still implemented in the society and abided by. The discrimination of a people’s group is never acceptable, and when the basis for it is because of their skin colour it is even less so. Nelson Mandela and Atticus Finch are alike in the respect that they did not succumb to the racism present in their society which they both knew was wrong, and went against the trend of supporting it. This earnt respect for them from those around. Mandela was eventually successful in abolishing Apartheid in his country. Atticus also had a varying degree of success in the form of bestowing the principles in his children, something which is certainly a helping hand in solving the problem of inequality. When children are educated effectively, as Scout and Jem were, the potential for humanity to be spread is increased greatly. In this case the children are also taught how to walk in someone else’s shoes. As Atticus puts it; “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” And how correct he is. This is a fundamental aspect of life that all children should be taught how to perform.

Another language feature that Harper Lee uses is the dialect of Maycomb County inhabitant Bob Ewell. Robert E. Lee Ewell is the polar opposite of Atticus Finch; where Atticus is a well respected member of society, Bob is treated with contempt by the majority of the township. This could be because of his uneducated self, or due to his low selfish morals. The contrast between the two characters is also evident in their respective ways of speaking. Mr. Ewell has a tendency to objectify everyone that he is ‘talking’ to, rather than develop a relationship with them. He also completely disregards children, even his own, and hardly ever communicates with them, let alone involve himself in the important details or needs of their lives. In fact, he beats and abuses them constantly and is known to drink himself into a state upon which anything could happen to them, when this happens he “sometimes went off in the swamp for days and came home sick.” An act that no father should ever perform. His direct, rude and deceitful speaking creates a sense of ambiguity, his children do not know where they stand.

Bob Ewell is stereotyped as an uneducated, crass, extremely racist and unprogressive lower-class southerner of the 1930’s. All of these aspects are exaggerated through his way of speaking which allows the reader to form an opinion of him before the climax of the novel where we see his true colours emerge. Harper Lee uses these descriptions to reveal to us how easy it is to conceive ideas around a person before properly understanding them. Often these stereotypes emerge to be incorrect and disparage the person of conversation. Because of this possibility it is of utmost importance to not generate these ideas before properly associating oneself with the individual themself.

The Ewells had been thought of as “the disgrace of Maycomb County for three generations”. Had the Ewells experienced benevolence from the people of Maycomb instead of being treated with malevolence due to their past then the upbringing of Bob Ewell’s children could quite possibly have resulted in different outcomes, and bred them into contributing members of society. This theme shows that in an effort to positively change a generation and therefore a society it must be started ‘from the roots’ as Atticus attempts to do. This can be accomplished by properly relating to those people whose lives you are trying to impact upon, but even then this can be ineffectual. The most productive way is by bestowing these morals upon the next generation and teaching them the power of equality or whatever principle is deemed imperative to a successful change. Atticus tries to re-educate the adults in the jury of the Tom Robinson court case, however, their racist minds are immovable. Because of this Atticus’ only hope for change is through Jem, Scout and Dill, whose minds have not yet been infected by negative influences such as that of Bob Ewell’s. Something which pervaded Maycomb County during the court trial. After the trial Bob achieved quite the opposite influence and destroyed the remaining scraps of his own life. He inadvertently removed himself from the township when he was attempting to persuade them towards his deceitful self.

Atticus Finch is a man of truth. He consistently uses emotive language to persuade others towards this truth, as that is where his morals lie. These strong righteous morals have certainly been embedded into his children who have learnt a lot from his truthful stance. Jem for one quotes: “that’s not fair. It’s not his fault he’s not like us, but it’s not fair. Death is not a punishment for a simple skin color.” This occurs after Atticus explains the outcome of the racist trial of Tom Robinson. Scout also shows disagreement to the prejudices held in Maycomb County. She questions the integrity of Miss Gates’, her school teacher, who disagrees with the regime that Adolf Hitler is enforcing in Germany, the persecution of Jews, yet does not take action against the unjust treatment of Negroes upon the soil which she shares. This, firstly, shows how easy it is to make judgments and comments from a distance but how people are often not able to resolve the problem when it is closer to home possibly due to a lack of courage. Secondly, it proffers the question of ‘where do Jem and Scout learn these beliefs from?’ Atticus’ influence is evident upon his children, who at such young ages have already conceived morals surrounding what he has taught them. This is another example of restructuring a society positively from the youngest generation first.

Societal change relies upon the personal conviction of the ‘teacher’. Often people think that they can simply push the troubles of their society onto others and blame those in greater places. It comes down to changing those who are yet to either have come to make their own morals or have not been contaminated. This being the next generation. Atticus understands this and so strives to make a change. However, people like Judge Taylor and Heck Tate, who understand the predicament and strive to not hold racist morals, lack the courage to make a change even though they hold the power to achieve this. This is understandable and can be appreciated, however, change never happens from a lack of action, which is why Atticus has more of an influence on the community,

Robert E. Lee Ewell uses emotive language often throughout the novel, but for contradicting reasons to Atticus. Bob Ewell speaks emotively to persuade those in conversation towards lies. An example of this is during the court case involving his daughter and Tom Robinson. Bob blatantly lies to the jury stating that ‘- I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!’, referring to Tom, the truth and proper morals hold no weight in his life. The emotive language used by Bob Ewell is important as it results in the incorrect judicial decision during the trial of Tom Robinson. He becomes erroneously incarcerated for something that he did not do. At first it is thought that Atticus persuasive truthful manner might overcome the prejudices against negroes, especially when Atticus proposes and backs up the thought that Bob could well have inflicted hurt onto his daughter himself. However, it transpires to prove that Bob’s unlawful and immoral emotive lies ultimately prevailed over logic, as is often the case, especially when the situation is in regard to a black male against a white female. In saying this, equality was the true winner. This can be said as from the outcome of the trial the majority of Maycomb County begin to have a change in perception on racism. They look down on the acts of Bob Ewell and display displeasure at the imprisonment of Tom. Although Bob is not overly educated to any extent of the imagination he still succeeds in contesting Atticus’ truthful words to ultimately direct the jury to their decision. Harper Lee uses the language feature of emotive language between two main characters to create a comparison between fighting for the just cause, which Atticus does, and preventing the right cause to be victorious as Bob does.

In the critically acclaimed masterpiece, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee, we experience the use of the language features of dialogue or the way of speaking of two key characters. Robert Ewell and Atticus Finch are contrasting characters who use opposing ways of communication, and for different purposes. Atticus is shown to use the good that can be produced through communication. He uses truth and personal conviction without prejudice to persuade towards the greater good. Bob on the other hand displays the bad that can be created through talking. He does this by being deceitful and lying to whoever he is talking to. He persuades towards lies by objectifying everyone as he holds no empathy within him.

These aspects all show Harper Lee’s purpose of; anyone can persuade towards where they hold their morals, however, it is where you hold your morals that defines you as a person.  

Alex Plimmer – English, Level 2, 2017

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Internal Assessment 2.4


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