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To kill a mockingbird door Harper Lee

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  • 6e klas vwo | 3485 woorden
  • 5 april 2022
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Eerste uitgave
1960
Pagina's
309
Geschikt voor
bovenbouw havo/vwo
Punten
3 uit 5
Oorspronkelijke taal
Engels
Verfilmd als

Boekcover To kill a mockingbird
Shadow
A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steepe…
A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young ey…
A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel - a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man's struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.
To kill a mockingbird door Harper Lee
Shadow
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Factual information about the book



Title: To Kill a Mockingbird


Author: Harper Lee


Country: United States


Language: English


Year published: 1960


Publisher: J. B. Lippincott & Co


Pages: 281


Genre: Southern Gothic, Bildungsroman, Coming-of-age, Courtroom Drama, Historical Fiction, Civil Rights Movement


Expectations and first reaction



I wanted to read this book because it is known for being a classic of modern American literature. It also had a subject that was more interesting to me than other books published around 1960; racial inequality is still very much an issue in 2020 and has been on the news a lot lately.


My expectation was that this book was going to be difficult to read, which it was. What I didn’t expect was that a lot of the book would be about Atticus’ daughter, Scout, as well. Especially in the beginning; Tom Robinson isn’t mentioned until page 68.


The summary



This book is about Scout Finch, a six-year-old girl who lives with her older brother Jem, her widowed father Atticus, who is a well-known lawyer, and their African American cook called Calpurnia. The story is set in a small Alabama town called Maycomb.


One summer, Jem and Scout meet a boy named Dill and become friends with him. Dill stays in Maycomb every summer to visit his aunt, so Jem and Scout only play with him in the summer. The three children are all very fascinated yet scared of their neighbour Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley. He lives in a scary-looking house that they call the ‘Radley place’. Eventually, he starts making kind gestures to the children, like leaving them small gifts in a tree near their house, but they never see him leave his house.


Later, Atticus has been appointed to the case of Tom Robinson; a black man accused of raping and beating a white woman named Mayella Ewell. Scout is often teased and bullied about it at school, since it’s uncommon for a white man like Atticus to defend a black man accused of rape in Maycomb; Scout’s classmates often call Atticus a ‘n***** lover’. However, Atticus doesn’t allow her to fight the bullies; she should use her words instead. Jem and Scout once visit Calpurnia’s church, where they get a look at the Black community and how they behave and talk, but Scout also sees how Calpurnia isn’t just their cook; she has her own life as well.


Scout’s aunt Alexandra decides to move in with the Finches to teach Scout more ladylike manners, which Scout isn’t happy about; she despises Alexandra and does not want to act ladylike. Then, it is time for Tom Robinson’s trial. Scout, Jem and Dill go the courtroom without Calpurnia or Maudie’s knowledge. All the seats are occupied, but the reverend they met at Calpurnia’s church invites them to come sit with him at the coloured balcony. Mayella tells her side of the story: she asked Tom to do some chores in her house, and he beat her and took advantage of her. However, it is clear that Mayella is lying, with the main argument of Atticus being that Mayella’s right side of her face was beaten: Tom’s left hand is paralysed, while her father, Bob Ewell, is left-handed. This checks out with Tom’s story: Mayella seduced him because of how lonely she was, and her dad saw them, and got livid. It is very plausible that Bob Ewell beat his daughter himself.


Because it is so clear that Mayella is lying, Scout, Jem and Dill think Atticus will win the case. A concerned Calpurnia comes to the courtroom to tell Atticus that their children are missing, when they notice that they’re all sitting at the coloured balcony. Scout, Jem and Dill go home while the jury deliberates, and after hours, it is announced that Tom Robinson is pronounced guilty and brought to jail. The children are devastated by the news.


Some time later, Atticus announces that Tom Robinson was shot dead while trying to escape jail. Despite that Tom was both imprisoned and now dead, Bob Ewell is still humiliated by what happened in the trial. He commits multiple acts of revenge, such as spitting in Atticus’ face and intimidating the widow of Tom Robinson. Eventually, he attacks Jem and Scout when they walk home from their Halloween pageant. Jem and Scout are rescued by Boo Radley, who fights Bob and ends up stabbing him to death.


When Scout and Jem are back home, the town sheriff decides not to charge Boo Radley with Bob Ewell’s murder, since he was a horrible man. Boo asks Scout to walk him home, which she does. When he goes inside, she stands on his porch, imagining life from his perspective.


Characters



Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch (round character): Scout is the narrator and protagonist of the story. She is six years old when the story starts and nine years old when the story ends. She is what you would call a tomboy; she enjoys playing with boys more than girls, she does not like wearing dresses, etc. Scout is an intelligent young girl with a lot of confidence, not being afraid to fight anyone that hurts her or her loved ones. She is a round character because she matures throughout the story. In the beginning of the book, she is an innocent girl without a lot of life experience. In the end of the book, she has had her first experience with evil, but has learned how to deal with it. She also learned that you never really know why someone acts the way they act until you place yourself in their shoes.


Atticus Finch (round character): Atticus is Scout and Jem’s widowed father and a well-known Maycomb lawyer. He is an honest person and one of the few residents of Maycomb committed to racial equality. Atticus is the moral center of the story because of his wisdom and empathy. He is a round character because the story shows many aspects of his personality and his way of thinking. However, this is only shown through what he tells Scout and Jem.


Jeremy Atticus ‘Jem’ Finch (round character): Jem is Scout’s brother. Although he is four years older than Scout, they are best friends and often play together. He does mature and separate himself from Scout’s games throughout the novel, but he remains a close companion to her, always willing to explain things to her. Jem is considered a round character because the book shows his personality changing as he grows up. Just like Scout, he also loses his childlike innocence throughout the book.


Calpurnia (flat character): Calpurnia is the cook of the Finches. She is African American and even though she’s seen as a cook throughout the story, one could also see her as their housekeeper or even their nanny; Calpurnia is the closest thing Scout and Jem have to a mother. Scout initially sees her as controlling and rude, but after seeing that Calpurnia is also human, and not just their cook, she starts to grow fond of her. I chose to categorize Calpurnia as a flat character because her personality itself doesn’t change, only Scout’s opinion about her.


Alexandra Finch (flat character): Alexandra is Atticus’ sister and Jem and Scout’s aunt. She lived outside Maycomb at first, but decided to move in with the Finches so that Scout could have a feminine influence. Alexandra cares a lot about Scout, but they never got along because of how Alexandra was forcing femininity onto Scout.


Tom Robinson (flat character): Tom Robinson is an African American man accused of raping a white woman named Mayella Ewell. He has three kids and a wife named Helen. Although demonized by most residents of Maycomb, he is shown to be a hard-working, kind individual who cares deeply about others.


Bob Ewell (flat character): Bob is the main antagonist of the story. He is Mayella’s father, an alcoholic and he is unemployed. Although he accused Tom Robinson, it is implied that he is the one that abused Mayella. After the trial, he increasingly gets more violent; spitting in Atticus’ face, attempting to break into the house of the Judge and harassing Helen Robinson. His last deed is attempting to murder Scout and Jem, which leads to him being stabbed to death by Arthur Radley.


Mayella Ewell (flat character): Mayella Ewell is the daughter of Bob Ewell. She is abused by her father and doesn’t receive any form of love or support in her life, which leads her to seducing Tom Robinson. During the trial, she seems very anxious and thinks Atticus is making fun of her by using polite speech when talking to her. While Mayella can be pitied because of her abusive father, her lies do lead to the death of an innocent man. Therefore, she is both a villain and a victim in the story.


Arthur Radley (flat character): Arthur Radley is the strange, mysterious neighbour of the Finches. He never leaves his house after an incident in his youth, and because of that, there are a lot of rumours going around in Maycomb about him, mostly negative. However, in the end of the book, he turns into a real hero, saving both Scout and Jem’s lives.


Dill Harris (flat character): Dill Harris is a friend of Jem and Scout. He is a smart, witty boy with a creative imagination. He is from Mississippi, but visits Maycomb every summer because his aunt lives there. Dill’s other home is unknown; it is said that he just gets passed around from relative to relative.


Time



The story is mostly written chronically, but it is written in retrospect; this becomes clear in the first chapter. In the first chapter, Scout looks back at the time where Jem was thirteen and he broke his arm. It is clear that many years have since passed, however, Scout tells the reader that she and her brother never agree on what event started it all and led to Jem breaking his arm.


The rest of the story is a flashback and shows the events leading up to the accident. The book starts with Jem breaking his arm, and the book also ends with Jem breaking his arm; the events have come full circle. In short, all chapters except chapter one are flashbacks. However, there are also flash forwards used in the flashbacks, such as when older Scout comments that she never saw somebody again. The flashbacks (chapter 2 till chapter 31, the end) consist of two to three years.


These two or three years are 1933 to 1935. The time period is very important for the story, since 1944-1935 was just after the Great Depression and during the Jim Crow era. The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, starting in the United States. Everyone in Maycomb was affected by the crisis and lived in poverty. Even the Finches, who were better off than the rest of the people in Maycomb, since Atticus was a successful lawyer, were poor. The Jim Crow laws were laws designed to separate whites and blacks in public and private facilities. The Jim Crow laws are often practiced in Maycomb, such as the coloured balcony in the courtroom and having a separate white church and a black church.


Space & place



The main part of the story takes place in a small fictional town in Alabama called Maycomb. Scout describes Maycomb as a ‘tired old town’. Maycomb is important to the premise of the story because it highlights the social prejudice of the residents and shows the class system. The courtroom in Maycomb is probably the most important place in ‘To kill a Mockingbird’; this is where Robinson’s fate is discussed, and it reaches the climax of the story.


Writing style



While Harper Lee’s writing style is often seen as quite straightforward and realistic, I had quite some difficulty reading the book at times. While the conversations between Scout and her friends is easy to follow, Atticus’ sayings and the descriptions used in this book are quite sophisticated. Many metaphors and other kinds of figurative language is used. Sentences are also rather long in the book.


“Aunt Alexandra met us and nearly fainted when Calpurnia told her where we were. I guess it hurt her when we told her Atticus said we could go back, because she didn’t say a word during supper. She just rearranged food on her plate, looking at it sadly while Calpurnia served Jem, Dill and me with a vengeance. Calpurnia poured milk, dished out potato salad and ham, muttering, “’shamed of yourselves,” in varying degrees of intensity. “Now you all eat slow,” was her final command.”



Perspective



This book is written from Scout’s perspective and uses the I-perspective/first person point of view. The use of a child narrator makes the reader look at things with a fresh perspective, but it also limits the narrative, since Scout does not understand a lot of things that are happening. However, Scout is looking back at the events when writing them and is in fact older. That’s why she sometimes appears as an omniscient narrator as well; she sometimes uses flashforwards.


Theme



The main theme of the book is prejudice and racism. The story shows the racial prejudice and segregation of the fictional town Maycomb. The African Americans of Maycomb live in a different part of the town, have their own church and their own way of talking. Many of them are illiterate and are not able to achieve what the white population of Maycomb can because of their disadvantage. The law system is also in disadvantage of African Americans, as we see in the case of Tom Robinson; there is proof that he is innocent, but he is pronounced guilty because of the racial prejudice of the jury. Scout, standing from her white privileged point of view, can not understand this.


The abstract motifs in this story are:



  • Innocence and loss of innocence. Scout and Jem have child-like innocence to them in the beginning of the book, which makes sense, since Scout is six in the beginning of the book and Jem is ten years old. They both lose their innocence during Tom Robinson’s trial: they are so sure that Atticus is going win, because it is clear that Mayella Ewell is lying, but Tom Robinson gets pronounced guilty. They realise how not everyone is good and how life can be unfair.

  • There are many families in Maycomb, but none like the Finches. Not only do Jem and Scout not have a mother, but their father is also different from other fathers in Maycomb. He is older than the rest, does not smoke or drink, does not hunt and never played poker or fish. However, throughout the book, Scout learns to appreciate and be proud of her father.

  • Both Jem, Scout and Atticus feel so powerless about the Tom Robinson case, because there is not much they can do. Racial prejudice is rooted deep within the law system and they can not change that.

  • At a certain point of the story, Atticus tells Jem and Scout "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-…-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it". The recurring theme throughout the story is looking at things from another perspective. Such as how Scout starts to see things from Mayella and Tom’s perspective.


And the leitmotifs in this story are:



  • Mockingbirds. The title of this book is ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. The title reappears in the book as one of Atticus’ sayings; when Jem gets his first air-rifle, Atticus told him they could shoot all the blue jays they wanted, but that they should remember that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Miss Maudie later explained that mockingbirds don’t do anything troublesome; they only make music for us to enjoy.



This might not seem important to the plot, but symbolically, it is. An abstract theme in this story is the destruction of innocence, which is, in some way, like shooting a mockingbird. There are multiple characters that could be identified as mockingbirds in the story. Boo Radley is considered a mockingbird because he is actually very sweet and caring, especially to children. When he killed Bob Ewell, Scout said that reporting him would be like shooting a mockingbird.



Tom Robinson is another mockingbird in the story. He was an innocent man, always helping others, with no intention to hurt anybody. Mr. Underwood, the owner, editor, and printer of the town's newspaper compared Tom’s death to the ‘senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children’.



Scout, Dill and Jem could also be seen as mockingbirds, since they lose their child-like innocence throughout the book by the bitter reality of life.


The epigraph of the book is a quote from Charles Lamb that says ‘Lawyers, I suppose, were children once.’. This also fits into the theme of loss of innocence in the book. It appears that many lawyers lose their innocence and sense for other people when they become lawyer, but they still were children a while ago, just like Jem and Scout.


Author



Nelle Harper Lee was an American novelist. She was born in 1929 in Monroeville, Alabama. Besides ‘To kill a Mockingbird’, she has only written one book: ‘Go set a watchman’. Published in 2015, it was first announced to be a sequel to ‘To kill a Mockingbird’ but it was later confirmed that it was Lee’s first draft. The book is set 20 years after the time period of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Harper Lee passed away in her sleep on the morning of February 19th, 2016, aged 89.


There are a few autobiographical elements in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Lee grew up in a small, prejudiced town in Alabama, like Scout. Harper Lee’s father was an attorney just like Atticus, her older brother Edwin was the inspiration for Jem and the character of Dill was based on her childhood friend Truman Capote. The origin of Tom Robinson is not clear, although there’s much speculation about it, such as two black men accused of murder that Lee’s father defended. However, none of the claims are confirmed by Lee.


Opinion



I’m going to be honest; it was hard for me to get into reading this book. The writing was more difficult than what I normally read in English and I did not quite understand how some things were relevant to the subject in the beginning. The only thing that kept me going was knowing how much positive reviews it had and how it was a classic of modern American literature.


Little by little, the book got me hooked. I especially enjoyed the courtroom scene; it was very suspenseful and well-written. Even though it did not have a full happy ending, I was still satisfied with it; it didn’t leave me guessing or confused.


What did bother me throughout the book was that Scout was the main character, not Atticus. Everything is written from Scout’s perspective; that is what makes it a coming-of-age story. I understand that it was meant show racism from a child’s perspective, but I personally think that it didn’t add much to the story. Scout didn’t understand everything what was happening, which made the story more confusing.


I ended up watching the movie as well and I liked how the story was less centred around Scout, and more around Jem and Atticus. Making Atticus the main character really helped bring out the premise of the story. In the book, I often felt like it showed things  centred around Scout that were not relevant to the premise, which I did not have when watching the movie. However, the film did leave out some important events of the story, such as that the children attending Calpurnia’s church and Aunt Alexandra moving in.


Overall, I enjoyed reading (and watching) ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It shows some important life lessons, like not to judge a book by its cover and that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. I would recommend reading this classic to everyone.


Sources



https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/mocking/point-of-view/


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Kill_a_Mockingbird
http://www.literarydevices.com/flashback/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression
https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/t/to-kill-a-mockingbird/character-list
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_To_Kill_a_Mockingbird_characters
https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/mocking/characters/
https://www.scholieren.com/verslag/boekverslag-engels-to-kill-a-mockingbird-door-harper-lee-46983
https://the-take.com/read/how-are-tom-robinson-and-boo-radley-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird-similar-are-they-the-mockingbirds#:~:text=Like%20Boo%20Radley%2C%20Robinson%20is,to%20spread%20joy%20to%20others.&text=The%20main%20plot%20involves%20the,the%20racism%20in%20the%20town






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