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Archetypal Reading Of The Novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” By Harper Lee

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In the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” author Harper Lee explores many social issues. When reading the novel through an archetypal perspective, archetypal images, symbols and characters are the predominant focus of the text, and more importantly, the meanings behind them. The archetypal lens puts tremendous emphasis on values and ideas in the text and delves beyond the story. Throughout this archetypal reading, the reader can see that the mentor archetype being portrayed by Atticus Finch who is constantly teaching others about injustice and racial inequality. By getting more of an insight to this novel, we also discover the outcast being portrayed by Boo Radley who teaches us that prejudice is unfair as well as the hero being portrayed by scout who teaches us the importance of perspective. Lee’s use of a range of different techniques such as characterization, symbolism and imagery to help construct the archetype that being explored.

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The theme of racism is made apparent by studying the character of Atticus Finch as a mentor archetype. Harper Lee uses the setting, plot, and various characters to depict racism as well as utilizing stylistic devices such as metaphors to depict her themes of inequality and injustice. The mentor archetype relies on a figure who provides heroic guidance, inspirational words of wisdom and is a leader in their community who is very moral. This is supported by Scout’s descriptions, “Atticus don’t do anything to Jem and me in the house that he don’t do in the yard”. Scout’s description of him fits with the mentor archetype, that he has a conscience which prompts him to set a good example for his kids. It shows that he is honest and does not keep secrets. Atticus tries teaching his kids about racism and how it is harmful. When Scout asks her father if he is a “nigger-lover.” Atticus responds by telling his daughter,” I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody”. In this quote, Atticus is teaching Scout an important lesson about racism. Atticus shows that words have power, but only if you let them. He also explains that negative words often teach you more about the person saying the insult than it does about the person receiving the insult. Finally, Atticus is showing Scout why he is a “nigger-lover.” It’s because he is doing his best to treat everybody the same. Atticus does not favour of one race over others. He is teaching Scout about equality. Furthermore, Atticus tries to explain to Maycomb that there is an evil assumption in their society, “that all Blacks lie, that all Blacks are basically immoral beings” and that they do not have the benefit of the supposed fairness of the law. The Reverend Sykes says, “I ain’t ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man”. Atticus does not understand “why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up”. The metaphor “Maycomb’s usual disease” used by Atticus represents the emotional attitude of racism in Maycomb. Atticus combats racism because he seeks to rise above it. In the lessons he teaches to Jem and Scout and in what he embodies in his own condition, he fights racism. While others in the town succumb to it, Atticus combats racism and discrimination by emphasizing the humanity within all people.

The fact that prejudice is unfair is made effectively apparent by studying Boo Radley as an outcast archetype, Harper Lee utilizes techniques such as characterization and imagery to suggest the effects of prejudice. The outcast archetype relies on a figure who has been ostracized by society for a crime he has possibly committed. They are often lone, distant figures and despite their errors, they are innately good people. The children, Scout and Jem, “know” Boo to be a “malevolent phantom” and they believe that any “stealthy crimes committed in Maycomb were his crimes”. This supports the fact that he is seen as an outcast based upon the fact that one who would wish to do harm to others, while remaining hidden, is reason enough to support his role as an outcast, as well as becoming the basis of the children’s prejudice and fear of him. His characterization of “bloodstained hands”, “long jagged scar” and “teeth yellow and rotten” reveals his threatening monster-like wild nature. This is an example of prejudice in the novel because the children speculate and fabricate ideas of what he does and looks like. The town portrays Boo Radley as a monstrosity in their society when he is just an individual who made mistakes and is a little bit diversified. Furthermore, the third person narration of him in “people said he…” and “Jem figured” distances him from the reader. As he has no direct dialogue he is further removed from the reader; creating a lone person. This is an example of the crippling effect that prejudice has on a person. However, it is not until the delayed introduction of Boo that the Scout and readers are able to see the full effects of the prejudice of Boo and how it has caused him to be an outcast figure. After the prejudice of Boo is revealed his characterization changes from scary to innocent and pure. This is seen through the archetypal motif of white – “white hands, so white, face as white…”, all suggest that Boo is not a monster but rather kind and innocent. Contrary to what people say about him. He’s a victim of prejudice because people in Maycomb judge his character without ever actually meeting or even knowing who he really is as a person.

The importance of perspective is made effectively apparent by studying Scout as a hero archetype, suggested through imagery and his characterization. The hero archetype relies on a figure, often larger than life, they overcome obstacles to achieve certain goals, they search for identity and/or fulfillment and restore harmony and justice to their society often resulting in the destruction of their society in general. This is very much supported by Lee’s descriptions “Miss Caroline told me to tell my father not to teach me anymore”. This reinforces her intelligence which displays her hero archetype as a character. At the beginning of the novel Scout’s perspective of Boo Radley was curious, and a little bit scared. Imagery was used to describe her characterization and perspective of Boo as the “malevolent phantom” with “bloodstained hands. As Scout grows older and wiser it becomes evident that she also become better able to understand Boo and she comes to recognize that Boo is not the monster that he is rumored to be Scout comes to recognize that he is a kind soul and her perspective of him begins to change. Although Harper Lee does not explicitly state her thoughts, Scout begins to “connect-the-dots,” and starts viewing him a friend rather than a monster. Her characterization of him changes from something scary to something innocent and pure. The change in Scout’s attitude toward Boo demonstrates that she has learned empathy. She no longer sees him as a scary monster, but as a human being who has suffered. “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”

Overall, viewing ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, or any text, through a literary critical perspective grants the reader open-mindedness and a chance to explore beyond just the storyline, viewing the way values and ideas are portrayed in the text with new eyes and a different mindset. Archetypal significance of characters and images are otherwise overlooked. Critical literary perspectives make texts more meaningful and shape the way values and ideas are viewed.

13 January 2020

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