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To Kill a Mockingbird

Themes and Setting

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Racism is fear, fear racism 

I think that one major theme in the book is racism. The entire white community of Maycomb County is racist. White people think that they are above all blacks. They think that blacks are always bad and are dangerous people who "cannot be trusted with [their] women". In the court, as the Tom Robinson case, proves that if a white man's word is used against a black man's word, even if it's completely obvious that the white man is a liar and even he is not liked, the black man would always be wrong.

 

The snowman that Jem built when it snowed represented racism in Maycomb. The snowman was made of dirt (the inside) and snow (on the outside). This could be an explanation of Maycomb and how they find black people unacceptable, so they cover them up to make them look better with white people. It also shows that black people were a main part and core of Maycomb, and even so the whites could not accept them alone. It also shows that white people rely on blacks because without them, they couldn't be as they are (the earth represents the blacks, and there wasn't enough snow for the white snow to be alone) and it shows that the blacks are strong enough to live on their own (the dirt is what holds it together), but it wouldn't be as pretty or perfect so the snow covers them up (shows racism).

 

The trial proves racism is a huge key in the book. The entire jury and everyone in the court knows that Tom Robinson did not rape Mayella, they find him "guilty" anyway because it's a white man's word against a black man's, and in their area, those situations always end up with the white man winning. The town didn't even like the Ewells, they were qualified as trash, but the jury leaned their way anyway because they were racist. (How do we know that Tom was not actually guilty? Well, Atticus gave evidence that contradicted everything the witnesses said, and it was very obvious, even to Scout. Still don't know? Read the book! It'll be more exciting than me telling you!)

 

Mr. Dolphus is another example of racism in Maycomb. He loved a black woman and had children which are "mixed". Mr. Dolphus drinks coca-cola which the town thinks is alcohol because the town doesn't understand why people aren't racist, and they need a reason to understand why they feel and act the way they do. The town believes that he is a drunk and doesn't know any better. He knows that if he doesn't give them a reason he would just be hated more and people would argue with him all the time because they didn't understand and he figures never will.

 

This is a case mold. The first perfect mold. Later a block will be made using this case mold.

 

Judge Taylor isn't racist. He is one of the people that fits into the white mold, but does not act the stereotypical part. He gave the trial to Atticus because he knows Atticus is a fair man who will not try to make Tom lose even though he is trying to defend him (any other lawyer would probably try to make Tom look guilty). Judge Taylor gave the trial to Atticus to try to give Tom a fair trial, and is trying to help.

 

Atticus is most definitely not racist. He feels that all people should be treated equal, an emotion he passes down to his children. One major part that shows this is when Scout says that only one type of people exists which are, "folks", it shows that Scout feels the same way as her father. Atticus tries to give Tom a fair trial, even though he knows that they would lose. He is hopeful that the town will one day realize their ways aren't just. He pointed out to Scout at one point, that to truly understand a person, you need to get into their skin and walk around in it for a while which is exactly what Atticus does to every person. He doesn't give people labels like everyone else in Maycomb, but he thinks and tries to understand people before saying anything about them. He is kind to all people no matter what their race, class, or intelligence is.

 

Miss Maudie isn't racist as well. She doesn't go to Tom's trial because she thinks it was like a "Roman Carnival". She tries to help people when she can and is kind to everyone she can.

 

(More about the trial ...)

 

Mayella makes a comment that suggests that the jury should not choose between what's right and what's wrong, but more of if they would trust the word of a white man or a black man who helps the jury decide to go along with their racist emotions.

Another theme could be the loss of child innocence. Scout was always naive about everything. When Jem tried to talk to her, she told him that there was only one type of folks, "folks". She didn't mind spending time with Walter Cunningham, which surprised Aunty because Walter was "trash" and below Scout. After the trial, Jem looses his innocence when he sees how racist the town is. Scout sees this as well, but she doesn't react as much. Dill reacts by crying and that's when he and Scout meet Dolphus.
 

 
Another theme could be sexism. Aunty always tells Scout to be a lady, and to wear dresses and be proper when Scout is a complete tomboy. Boys are expected to be strong while the girls are supposed to enjoy tea and gossip.

Quick Look at Two More Possible Themes...

  • Miss Maudie's House Burning Down ...
 
I think that the fire of Miss Maudie's house had a theme. Miss Maudie's stove was warming up the plants to keep them alive, but the house burned down, which ended up killing them. I think that this shows that there are people out in Maycomb willing to help others and aren't "evil", but the world burns them down and looks down upon them for thinking differently from the rest of the town. The plants represent the blacks and people who don't fit into Maycomb's molds and standards, and the stove represents people like Miss Maudie, Atticus, and other kind people, and the fire itself represented the rest of the Maycomb citizens.

In the first chapter, Scout begins by telling us about how Jem broke his arm. She starts to set the setting of Maycomb. It's very peaceful and " perfect. Everyone knows everyone else's business, and if they don't, as Miss Stephanie show us throughout the book, people make up stories. The town is "perfect". Children can play outside without worrying while adults gossip all the time. The town is very smooth-going and very peaceful.

  • Schoolhouse
 
Besides Maycomb County as a huge setting, we have the schoolhouse where Scout and Jem go to school. Scout meets Miss Caroline and is yelled at for knowing how to read and write. One student has "cooties" (also known as lice) and another student, Walter, is too poor to have any money or food for lunch. Scout tries to explain to the teacher why Walter does not have a lunch, but Miss Caroline yells at Scout for being rude.

The overall setting is a dusty southern town, Maycomb County, during the Depression in the United States. A white woman, Mayella Ewell, accuses a black man, Tom Robinson, of rape. Everyone in the town knows that Tom Robinson is not guilty, he is sentenced as guilty. The only lawyer who would defend Tom, and really try his best to protect him, was Atticus Finch, the town's most respectable citizen. The trial costs him friendships, but his two children, Scout and Jem, repsect him even more.

  • Boo Radley
Boo Radley and his family do not fit into the usual molds and expectations the town creates for people. There are rich whites, the average whites, "white trash", blacks, and the others. Boo Radley fits in the others because his family doesn't like to come out and gossip and they don't go to church. They aren't part of the missionary circles and they aren't socially involved. The town does not understand their behavior, so they make up stories to understand them and to have a reason for why they act the way they do (it's just like in the olden and current days when it comes to religion. We've learned through science that in the past, people made up stories about Gods to explain their lives which we now know and understand through science).

  • More than just appearances ...
  • Learning and understanding
  • Molds

Atticus teaches his children that to fully understand someone, you need to walk around in their skin a little bit and not just give them labels. The people in Maycomb tend to do exactly what Atticus is trying to teach Jem and Scout not to do.

The snowman shows how the people in Maycomb are racist, and assume that all blacks are the worst sort of people. The white covers the black, which shows how the white people don't accept anything that's entirely black. The inside is black, which Scout thinks is ugly at first and doesn't think it would make a snowman. This could represent how whites think that to be human, you have to be white. The black being on the inside can show how the white people cannot support themselves without the blacks. It may have to do with the hard work that only the blacks would do. In this specific snowman, the black earth can stand on its own, but the white snow couldn't be on it's own since there wasn't enough snow.

In the beginning, Jem thought Mrs. Dubose was a mean, crazy old lady who had no manners. She said an insult to Jem about Atticus, and Jem slashed up her garden. His punishment was to read to her. She died, and Jem realized that his reading helped her get over her addiction to morphine. She died "beholden to nothing and nobody," or so Atticus says (p.112). Jem now understand that his father shooting a poor dog wasn't courage, and that Mrs. Dubose showed true bravery.

Another theme could be molds. Most of the community was afraid of Boo Radley. They made up stories to try to understand him and have a reason for why Boo was the way he was, just like how Dolphus gave them a reason (the alcohol). Only Scout's family really knows that Boo was a great person who saved Jem's life by stabbing Mr. Ewell.

Dolphus couldn't fit in anywhere because he was a white man who liked a black woman. When Dill and Scout saw beyond the rumors and the lies, they realized that he was a kind man who was just misunderstood by the Maycomb County because he didn't fit into a mold.