Movement without Complacency
One novel that teaches us that history does not turn a blind eye and shows us all the evils that exist in our world today is Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus’ decision to defend Tom Robinson during his trial is indicative of how harmful human behavior can be towards one another. Prejudice, which is abundant in Maycomb and the south, is seen by children as confusing until they are old enough to grasp the concept. Lee portrays the children in the novel as observers as they strive to understand why prejudice and racism lead to Tom’s civil rights being violated. African-American struggles continue today, but their struggle for their civil rights throughout history parallel this novel. Even though events in the novel are a work of fiction, their struggles are very real. Amendment 14 to the Bill of Rights states that all American citizens shall have civil rights regardless of skin color. Tom is denied his civil rights even though he is a U.S. citizen; his skin color is other than white so he has no rights. Atticus defended Tom to the end but since Tom was an African-American, he was judged before the trial even began. As Americans we value our civil rights like we value our lives. When these liberties become endangered we will defend them with our lives with just cause and this novel expresses this central idea. All citizens, despite skin color deserve to be treated equal without prejudice. Lee shows us the truth about civil rights and the dangers of prejudice and racism in times where it was predominantly just human nature.
There are two cases that give To Kill a Mockingbird a reasonable cause for someone to believe that this was really how the south was during the African-American movement. In 1931, The Scottsboro Boys trial was taking place and nine young boys were falsely accused and found guilty of raping two white women on a train, Lee uses this case as an example of Tom’s trial in the novel (Salter). Another event in history that gives us a clear picture of the prejudice south and how civil rights were violated is the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education trial in 1954. The Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional, but people in the south did not take a liking to the ruling. Even when laws or court rulings are decided people tend not to change their prejudices, and this was evident in the deep south. Tom’s status represents just how people relate to the law and the responsibilities of being a citizen are. People are supposed to obey and carry out law, not become disorganized and disorderly when they totally disagree with law. The traditional customs of the south have been set in place for generations and these are hard to break, especially when the government, not family sets new laws. Maycomb represents the south perfectly and stands true to the notion that African-Americans are property, not self-sufficient people worthy of freedom. Even though the law states that they are a free people, the place where they live sets the standard of equality. With all the inequality in the south, hatred for the colored was evident in everyday society. What Lee tries to convince the reader is that our civil rights were granted to us and every citizen deserves to be treated with dignity. In Maycomb, the only civil rights Tom had were the rights that Atticus tried to win him. It’s in our human nature not to accept change without a fight; in To Kill a Mockingbird this is evident in Tom’s trial and in the cases that helped the African-American movement. This novel and the events that unfolded in history to allow coloreds to be accepted as equals will always be fresh in the reader’s minds.
The issue of civil rights in Tom’s case expresses the south’s discontent for the law because of Tom’s skin color and because of this he is considered guilty even before he reaches trial. Atticus cannot even express or show proof of Tom’s innocence because the people are deaf to his pleas...
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