Examine the ways in which Harper Lee presents the black community in To Kill a Mockingbird
The book was written by Harper Lee during the 1950's in America, and coincided with the rise of the civil rights movement. At this time in history, racism played a very important role in society. There was a lot of racial hatred between black and white people. It is set in the 1930s a small town called Maycomb, in Alabama, one of the Southern States. Although Maycomb is a fictitious place, real places and towns such as Montgomery are referred to in the novel. There are a lot of factors, which explain the attitudes of the people towards each other throughout the book. Harper Lee wrote this book in order to expose the racial suffering that black people were exposed to.
The way in which Harper Lee presents the black community is that they are law abiding, hard working people, who respect white people. This is illustrated in Chapter 12, when Scout and Jem are in church with Calpurnia, the black housekeeper for the Finch family. Scout says:" When they saw Jem and me with Calpurnia, the men stepped back and took off their hats; the women crossed their arms at their waists, week day gestures of respectful attention". In contrast to this show of respect, during chapter 12, where the Finch children go to church with Calpurnia, we are introduced to Lula, a black churchgoer who does not want white people in her church. She is the only black character in the book, who openly expresses her hatred for white people. She says: " You ain't got no business bringin' white chillun here they go their church, we got our'n". Fortunately, though, the rest of the congregation rally around the group.
Calpurnia is presented very positively in the book, and as a strong mother figure towards Jem and Scout. The reader can also see that Calpurnia sees Jem and Scout as her own children, as it says in chapter 12: " I don't want anybody sayin' I don't look after my children'. She is also one of the few who can negotiate between the very separate black and white worlds of Maycomb. The Finch family also see Calpurnia as an important part of their family, as it says in Chapter 14 when Aunt Alexandra tries to persuade Atticus to fire Calpurnia. He says: " You may think otherwise, but I couldn't have got along without her all these years. She is a faithful member of this family and you'll simply have to accept things the way they are".
This makes the discrimination that they suffer at the hands to the white community even more unjust. For example they are not given the same opportunities regarding education, illustrated by the visit to the Negro church where only a few can read. As a result they have no opportunity to obtain a decent job and their families are doomed to live in poverty. A good example of this is Calpurnia's eldest son, Zeebo, who can read and write, but he is still only able to get a job as a dustbin man because he is black. In addition when any criminal act has taken place the blame immediately falls on the black community.
As the church is the centre of the black community, Reverend Sykes is one of the most respected black figures in the community. He is very welcoming to Jem and Scout when they come to the church with Calpurnia. He says: "Brethren and sisters we are particularly glad to have company with us this morning. Mister and Miss Finch. You all know their father". As well as being very welcoming Reverend Sykes is also presented as kind and generous to the Finch children because during the trial he finds seats for Jem, Scout and Dill.
The most important character in the book is Tom Robinson. He is presented like most of the black community as a very hard working, respectful man who goes to church on a regular basis. This is illustrated in Chapter 12, where Reverend Sykes says: "You all know of brother Ton Robinson's trouble. He has been a faithful member of First Purchase since he was boy". Tom Robinson suffered...
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