Women in to Kill a Mockingbird

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Elizabeth Manford
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WOMEN IN TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD
Back in 1960, a book emerged on the market that would be rated as one of the most unforgettable classics of all time. To Kill a Mocking Bird, written by unknown author Harper Lee, depicts a realistic picture of attitudes during the 1930’s. During this time in history, racism was a huge issue and hatred between black and white civilians led to violence, even fatalities. America was a completely segregated society. Anger and resentment was brought on when in October of 1929 the Wall Street Stock Market crashed. The Great Depression marked the beginning of a decade of high unemployment, poverty, low profit deflation, plunging farm incomes, and lost opportunities for economic growth. Virtually all sectors of American society were affected in some way by the Depression.” (www.education.com). White citizens felt that the coloured ‘second class’ citizens were taking their jobs as they saw themselves as the ‘superior race’. Maycomb, a fictitious small town in the deep south of America was based upon Harper Lee’s own home town of Monroeville, Alabama. It is a town wrapped up in its own trials and tribulations. It too has the segregation between the black and white communities. Generations of families have lived and died there, so heritage is of great importance. It was very rare for people to move there from out of town. The town “grew inward. The same families married the same families until the members of the community looked faintly alike.” (Lee p.144). To understand women in To Kill a Mocking Bird, you have to understand that change was a taboo subject. During the 1930’s, women were seen as submissive homemakers. Feminism in the south was unheard of. Feminists who did manage to retain a sense of urgency in stirring enthusiasm and public support for equal rights had ‘to face an antagonistic majority of their society, who felt that a woman put her talents to their best use in the domestic environs of her family’. (http://www.loyno.edu). There are a range of contrasting women in the novel; Calpurnia, Aunt Alexander, Miss Maudie Atkinson and Mayella Violet Ewell all represent different classes and ethnic groups. The Finch family are held in high regard within the black community. Calpurnia is trusted by Atticus as this is shown when he takes her to visit Tom Robinson’s wife, Helen. I feel he does this for a number of reasons. Calpurnia is the bridge between the white community and the black community. He takes her to comfort Helen after Tom’s death. Helen would feel more at ease with ‘her own kind’. He wouldn’t be able to take a white woman, though a white woman wouldn’t even consider stepping across ‘the line’. I would also imagine that it would act as security on his part as well. A white man in a black community would be unsettling to some residents. Calpurnia is seen throughout the novel as an educated, loyal, devoted woman. She is able to mix and adapt her behaviour to fit in with each community. The colour of her skin is insignificant to Atticus and the children. She is seen as a member of the family, not as a maid. She is devoted to the children and her ‘hard love’ approach does not lose her any respect from the children, but merely adds to the actions of a surrogate mother. Scout relates to the reader that “Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side.” (Lee p.6), and later that “I had felt her tyrannical presence as long as I could remember.” (Lee p.6). Scout finds Calpurnia’s approach hard, but as much as she complains, her respect for Cal as a person never comes into dispute, for they are comments made by a young child. Although we always see Calpurnia as a kind, pragmatic character, Lee again adds to her character that shocks Scout, who instead of commenting on Cal’s temper, refers to the colour of skin. ‘There goes the meanest man ever God blew breath into,’ murmured...
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