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To Kill A Mockingbird By Harper Lee: Themes Of Race, Prejudice, Conscience, And Innocence

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The 1960 classic American novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee tells a story of race, prejudice, conscience, and innocence.

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Growing up in a Southern United States town in the 1930s, six year old Scout Finch explores the threads of racial prejudice and discrimination deeply woven into her society. However, the biggest mystery in her town is the bogeyman, nicknamed Boo Radley, who has not left his house in years. Every summer, Scout, her older brother Jem, and her friend love to tell stories about Boo Radley and try to lure him out of the house. When school comes around, Scout and Jem hear about a court case involving a white man, Bob Ewell accusing a young black man, Tom Robinson of raping his daughter. The two children are instantly enticed. Scout and Jem sneak into the court house and watch their father, lawyer Atticus Finch, brilliantly convince the audience that the white man and his daughter are lying. Despite Atticus’ solid argument, Tom Robinson is still convicted by the all-white jury. By juxtaposing Scout and Atticus’ conflicting antiracist conscience beside the community’s strict prejudice against blacks, To Kill a Mockingbird presents the theme of sticking to one’s own conscience amidst a sea of differing ones. Although the case is closed, Bob Ewell still resents Atticus for embarrassing him in court. So, he attacks Atticus’ children one night as they walk home from school. In the dark, Scout is unable to see what happens, but later realizes Boo Radley saved her and Jem. Finally, Scout sees Boo Radley not as monster but a human, as she realizes the importance of sympathy and understanding from different perspectives.

Charlie begins reading To Kill a Mockingbird on page 9, about three weeks into his 9th grade school year. Bill assigns his advanced English class this book, however instructs only Charlie to write an essay about it. Around this time, Charlie is still adjusting to high school life. With Michael gone, Charlie is extremely lonely. One classmate, Sean kept saying he was going to give Charlie a “swirlie” and after Charlie responded, Sean attacked him. Charlie fought back and seriously injured Sean. This makes Charlie feel like even more of a social outcast, with classmates who “look at him strange in the hallways because…he is the one who beat up Sean and couldn’t stop crying after he did it”. Additionally, Charlie is introduced to the maturity of high school students. This is seen when he witnesses Susan, who “in middle school, Susan was very fun to be around” however now is much prettier and “acts a lot dumber in the hallways, especially when boys are around”. This shows how Charlie is exposed to changes in behavior and appearance of his past friends, as they try to fit it with high schoolers. Charlie also begins to witness romantic relationships. The most prominent one is his sister’s insincere relationship with her abusive boyfriend, who seem to merely date each other for physical reasons.

To Kill a Mockingbird fits extremely well with the events going on at the time Bill gives Charlie the book and the book as a whole. One of the major themes in the novel, preserving one’s conscience amidst a sea of differing ones, can be applied to Charlie’s life when he receives the novel. Specifically, this lesson closely relates to his transition into high school, where he is constantly surrounded by unique people, drugs and alcohol, as well as unhealthy relationships. Reading To Kill a Mockingbird encourages Charlie to avoid altering his conscience or personality to align with those of his classmates. This situation is seen in Charlie’s life where he describes Susan’s transformation into a girl “surrounded by a group of boys” who “were all laughing and making sex jokes” with Susan “doing her best to laugh along with them”. This theme in To Kill a Mockingbird encourages Charlie to avoid changing himself, like Susan did, merely to fit in. The theme of preserving individual conscience can also relate to succumbing to peer pressure involving unhealthy substances and relationships. This relates to Charlie’s life as he imagines his sister’s boyfriend “at home doing homework and thinking about Charlie’s sister naked”. While this type of relationships may be the norm in high school, To Kill a Mockingbird teaches Charlie to engage in the type of relationships he desires.

Characters in To Kill a Mockingbird also fit with Charlie’s personality. Throughout the book, Charlie often feels excluded from his classmates. Thus, he relates to Boo Radley, who is completely shut out from society in the novel. Similar to Boo Radley, Charlie thinks “it would be very nice to have a friend again”. Boo Radley gradually returns to society due to his kind actions, specifically saving Scout and Jem from their attacker. There is a striking parallel between Boo and Charlie’s lives, as Charlie wins back his friends after stopping Patrick’s attackers in the cafeteria. This shows Boo Radley’s experiences of isolation and return to society are very similar to Charlie.

18 March 2020

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