For many years drama has been used as a means of altering social perception with regard to various social issues. For example, literature on the issue indicates that effective use of drama can change student attitude towards various pervasive issues such as bullying (Belliveau, 136). In this report an analysis will be performed on two classic texts to identify statements about justice woven within them. It is hoped that such statements can be crafted into plays and used to teach social justice throughout society.
To Kill a Mocking Bird
In this text one of the statements about justice that becomes apparent as the story builds is the presence of racial prejudice in Maycomb (Lee, 25). This is made evident by observing the description provided in the text about the trial of Tom Robinson. The accused is a black man and has been charged with the rape of Mayella Ewell, daughter of Bob Ewell. Despite the fact that there is little evidence that can conclusively prove guilt of the accused, the court proceeds to find him guilty and sentences him to prison.
The manner in which the trial is carried out and the judge’s attitude indicate that the trial of a black man especially in a case against a white lady was influenced to a large extent by expectations of the community instead of the facts. Further the reaction of the town people towards Atticus and his family after his decision to represent Tom indicate the existence of racial prejudice in the Maycomb community.
Another statement on justice that appears in the text is the lack of fairness in the Maycomb community. In the course of the trial it becomes apparent that despite the fact that Mayella has been raped and bruised, her bruises could only have been caused by a left handed individual (Lee, 26).
The text proceeds to establish that her Father, a drunkard is left handed and most likely is the perpetrator of the crime. This unfair trial is embarrassing to people such as Ms. Maudie who decline to attend (Lee, 26). Such suggestions in the text allow the conclusion that the text exhibits the absence of equality in provision of justice in Maycomb.
The people of Maycomb as portrayed in the text indicate that the community was not established in equality. This is witnessed in the scene that describes the common and respectable folk of the town ganging up and making an effort to lynch Tom Robinson. This attempt is only thwarted with the intervention of Atticus which sees him branded a “nigger lover” (Lee, 61).
This fact is further pointed out in an analysis of the facts of this era that indicates that during this period over 600 similar incidents were reported (Lee, 61). It is also indicated that these events were perpetrated by normal and respectable town folk alike in a bid to maintain the superiority of the Anglo Saxon race (Lee, 61). This information only goes further to prove the veracity of the story in relation to the era.
However, the story also provides a good example of statements about justice in the actions of Boo Radley. Following the embarrassing trial Bob Ewell vows to take revenge on Atticus and his family for allegedly damaging his reputation. In the events that follow an enraged Bob Ewell attacks the children Scout and Jem in a secluded spot (Lee, 69). In the confrontation that follows an unknown stranger comes to the children’s aid and saves the day.
This unknown stranger turns out to be the reclusive Boo Radley. In the course of the text this character has been portrayed as a reclusive individual lurking behind the shadows. This action by Boo to protect the rights of the innocent provides a bold statement about justice. Unfortunately in the process the attacker is severely injured and looses his life providing us with a situation that provides a mild statement on punishment of the guilty.
The Merchant of Venice
In the tragic comedy depicted in this text the theme of prejudice is indicated in the action of Antonio towards Shylock. In the text, Shylock, is in the business of lending money with interest to people of the town. Antonio is a rich merchant and also on occasion lends money to the town folk without interest. It is possible that the anti Semitic attitude Antonio exhibits by spitting on Shylock is as a result of unscrupulous business practices (Stevens and Shakespeare, 33). The Jews in Europe during this era were shrewd business people and as a result there was much envy between them and the local population.
The text also provides scenes that depict unfairness in society. This is witnessed in the text illustrating an encounter between Antonio and Shylock in a hearing on the debt owed by Antonio. On this occasion Shylock behaves unfairly probably in revenge for a past disagreement (Stevens and Shakespeare, 33).
The section of the text describes how Basanio upon hearing of his comrade’s dilemma rushes to his aid. In an attempt to resolve the issue Basanio offers to settle the debt by offering two times the principal amount. Shylock promptly refuses this offer stating that the contract between him and Antonio allows him to extract a pound of flesh as compensation.
Shylock in a statement that exhibits his unfairness by refuses to accept the offer by Basanio and insists on the extraction of flesh to repay the debt (Stevens and Shakespeare, 34). It should be noted that by law the duke is entitled to arbitrate and must see to the honoring of a contract. The duke is therefore bound by the contract despite Shylock’s unreasonable demands. This shows the degree to which the society regards the importance
The duke being bound by the contract accepts the efforts of intermediation by Balthazar. This Balthazar happens to be Basanio’s bride who in disguise makes a clever attempt to arbitrate (Stevens and Shakespeare, 134). The Duke by conceding to this option shows fairness in standing firm in enforcing a legal contract.
As earlier stated the Duke plays a role of the highest legal authority in the land. If the Duke were to allow Antonio to breach a contract that was legally made in his presence it would set a bad legal precedence. For this reason the Duke is forced to stick by the law with regards to contracts.
Fortunately for Antonio the clever plot by the impostors reveals a flaw in the legal contract. It is established that though the contract allows the extraction of flesh it makes no mention of blood (Stevens and Shakespeare, 166). The impostors thus demand that Shylock extract the pound of flesh without drawing any blood or risk forfeiting the debt.
This scenario also provides another example of fairness. Shylock having been adamant in receiving his due in the manner stated in the contract is unable to enforce it in the manner stated. What follows is Shylock grudgingly accepts defeat and accepts to receive cash payment in lieu of the debt. However, since he had declined it the law now requires he forfeits the full amount (Stevens and Shakespeare, 170). This also portrays a statement about fairness.
The text also provides a statement on prejudice on the occasion when Jessica, Shylock’s daughter elopes with Lorenzo (Stevens and Shakespeare, 64).
The young man, Lorenzo is a Christian and Jessica elopes with him taking a substantial amount of her father’s wealth in the process (Stevens and Shakespeare, 64). This fact that his daughter will convert to Christianity causes Shylock much anger suggesting his dislike for Christians. This fact is supported by Shylock’s statement on meeting Antonio describing his dislike for Christians (Stevens and Shakespeare, 28).
In this report the discussion presented has attempted to provide information that reveals various statements about justice woven into the text. Both texts can be used to represent communities around the world and their relations. It is possible that through observation of these communities and how they relate we too can learn to improve our present situation.
It has been reported that arts, especially drama can be a good medium for creating awareness and altering perceptions about perverse social issues. It is hoped that through the analysis of these texts our schools may be encouraged to seek new means to educate the young generation on social issues.
Belliveau, George. “An Art Based Approach to Teach Social Justice: Drama as a Way to Address Bullying in Schools.” International Journal of Arts Education 3.2 (2005): 136-165. Print.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird: Blooms Guides: Comprehensive Research and Study Guides. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2010.Print.
Stevens, John, and William Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice. Clayton: Prestwick House Inc, 2005. Print.