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First published in 1960, the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for presenting the themes of the racial injustice and oppression of the innocent blacks in southern states. The author draws her own childhood experiences in the state of Alabama where racism and poverty were major social problems in the early and the mid 20th century. In this book, the author tells the story from a perspective of a young white girl, Scout Finch, whose family emigrated from England to settle in American South during the Jim Crow era.
The family is transformed from poverty to wealth, but it remains one of the few white families ready to accommodate and recognize the black people as a part of the society, while other Whites oppress and discriminate them. Evidently, the book provides an analysis that attempts to show the impact of racism in American south, clearly showing that the problem does not only affect the Blacks, but the entire society in general.
Scout Finch, the narrator, is a young girl living in Maycomb, a sleepy town in Alabama, with her father Atticus and brother, Jem. The father is a widower, having lost his wife some years before. The story is set during the Great Depression, when American societies were experiencing a harsh economic period. However, Atticus, a prominent lawyer who emigrated from Britain to settle in Alabama, has made fortune due to his hard work. In fact, it is evident that the family is financially well off as compared to their impoverished neighbours. A few years after their settlement in the town, Jem and Scout have made a new friend, Dill, a young boy who later becomes their associate in telling the story.
As the trio plays in the streets, they become fascinated by a certain spooky house called the Radley Place, which is owned by Mr. Nathan Radley but occupied Arthur Boo, Nathan’s brother. The man is quite mysterious and does not venture out, but the townspeople do not dare interfere in his life.
Scout goes to school for the first time during a fall, but it is evident that the girl does not like school life. During their play close to the Radley Place, Scout and Jem find gifts left in a knothole of the tree. Apparently, the gifts are meant for the three children because they normally play close to the tree. The three decide to find out who Boo is and why he acts in a strange manner. However, when they sneak into the Radley Place, Nathan shoots at them, so they escape. During the escape, Jem loses his pants, but then he is surprised to find them mended and hung over their fence.
Atticus agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a young white woman, as a protest against racism. Atticus finds that Mayella and her father, Bob Ewell, are lying and that there was no rape on her. He also establishes that Mayella was seeking to lure Tom into sex, but Bob Ewell, a town drunk, beat her.
A shaking moment
Although Atticus has established the truth, the jury finds Tom Robinson guilty of the rape and convicts him. Several months later, the young Robinson attempts to escape from prison, but is shot dead. This event haunts Atticus’ image in his society.
Meanwhile, Ewell seeks to punish Atticus for defending the black man. He goes on to spit in Atticus’ face while on the streets. Finally, he attacks Atticus’ children one night as they leave school, but Boo Radley saves them. Jem survives though his arm is broken, but it is later established that Bob Ewell died in the struggle, having fell on his own knife.
After the attack, a mysterious Boo Radley voluntarily accompanies the children right up to the door of their house, but then disappears once again. It is evident that this man is not social, but he is a friendly and kind man who cares for the welfare of the children. In addition, it is evident that Boo seeks friendship with his neighbours, but he is apparently shy or afraid of presenting himself to them.
As the young Scout says goodbye to Boo Radley, it occurs to her that her family and Dill were so unfair to him. For instance, she admits that the mysterious man may have a social problem, but the society, which is largely racist and impoverished, does not care for people like Boo. She realises that she was unfair to Boo. She also understands that her father’s advice to have sympathy and understanding of people like Boo was important in her life. From her perspective, it is clear that the white families in American south were not only racist, but also unfair and discriminating. The society seems to be lost in inhuman practices, especially against the poor and the black people to an extent that they cannot find goodness out of them.