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To Kill a Mockingbird Essay

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Cultural values and social practices change and evolve over time.
Cultural values and social practices inevitably over time as individuals and societies are subject to change with it. In the timeless bildungsroman novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1960) written by Harper Lee, it explores the confronting experiences of a young child, living in a world of racism, injustice and disability. In a more modern context, however, the novel “The Family Law” (2009) written by Benjamin Law, is a hilarious memoir describing the quirky and “stranger-than-fiction” family circumstances that he and his family lived through. Both of these texts vividly describe their culture values and practices, and looking at it from a 21st century, modern perspective, we can see how much these morals and principles have changed.

The novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird” is set in a town called Maycomb in Alabama in the 1930s and is a story about racism, injustice and empathy through the eyes of a young girl, Scout Finch. Scout is nearly six years old when the novel starts, and she lives with her brother Jem and her widowed father Atticus, who is a lawyer. In the novel, the Maycomb society is extremely rigid, conservative and unjust in terms of race and class. Any person who is black or is associated with blacks were looked down upon, and it is just assumed that “that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted.” The injustice towards black people is also shown through the Tom Robinson case. Even though there is sufficient and reliable proof that Robinson is innocent, he is still charged as guilty – simply because he is black. Those of lower class are also disregarded such as Arthur Radley. Arthur is a man in his 30s, but during his teenager years, he became wild and his father locked him in their house and has never been seen since. The children of Maycomb refer to Arthur as “Boo”, as if he were a ghost. They made up stories and terrible rumours about him, and he is constantly being degraded, even though he is innocent. This also brings us to the importance of the title of the novel: “to kill a mockingbird”. The significance of this title is seen through a key passage in the novel: “Atticus said to Jem… “Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird." That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. She said, "Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
In the novel, Robinson, Boo Radley, Jem and Scout are the “mockingbirds”. The mockingbird represents anyone who is weak, innocent and defenceless, and to kill a mockingbird in that sense means to take advantage of someone who is weaker than you. Tom Robinson was exploited and was accused of rape, and even though everyone knew he did not do so, they still charged him guilty, because he was black. Boo can also be considered a mockingbird, as he is taunted and looked down upon, even though he is nothing like what people describe him to be. The community take advantage of his absence and vulnerability to make fun of him, although he has done nothing wrong. Finally, Jem and Scout are also referred to as “mockingbirds”, when Bob Ewell tries to take revenge on Atticus for making him look bad in front of Maycomb. He decides to attack his children, who have done completely nothing wrong. The children are innocent and naïve, but they are the target because they are so weak and helpless. Without the intervention of Arthur, Bob would have easily killed the children and impact Atticus’ life greatly. Lee effectively uses analogies such as these to create a more confronting method to illustrate the inequality and injustice that people faced in history. For example, she uses an analogy of the Maycomb courthouse to describe how cultures are changing: “…the concrete pillars supporting its south roof were too heavy for their burden; they were all that remained standing when the original court house burned. Another court house was built around them, or is it better to say, built in spite of them…the Greek revival columns clashed with a big nineteenth century housing a rusty unreliable instrument, indicating a people determined to preserve every physical scrap of the past.”
This passage demonstrate that the pillars were ancient – what they held before and what they are now are of the past as the world has changed; there is no point trying to support something that is not worth supporting. In this way, segregation is like this pillar – the people who are racist and segregate themselves from others are the pillar. They only uphold their own values, but these values are wrong and out-dated, and it is changing. Also, Lee adds irony to this analogy, as a courthouse is the place where everything is supposed to judge what is right and wrong – it is a place where everything should be fair and just, yet, so many bigoted and unfair things have happened there. “To Kill A Mockingbird” is also about empathy and heroism. The bravery that Atticus had to stand up for the blacks was considered incredulous and degraded for doing so. He knew that the jury was going to charge Tom guilty; yet he still fought and defended him just as he would defend any other innocent person. “It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” He teaches his children, especially Scout the important lesson about empathy. He says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” He explains that even though some things are wrong, you have to look at it from another person’s perspective and understand it from their point of view. In the novel, people’s views do change, and not everyone is racist. For example, Mr Dolphus married a black woman, but due to the disgust of the white community, he pretended to be a drunk so that he could “give them a reason...folks can say Dolphus
Raymond’s in the clutches of whisky – that’s why he can’t help himself and lives the way he does.” Change does happen slowly, and once again Lee uses metaphors and analogies to portray this. When the jury took longer than usual, Atticus says he thought there was “a shadow of a new beginning”, and he knows that wrong beliefs and values were starting to change. But most importantly, change can only come about through individuals first. This can be seen through the jail incident. When Mr Cunningham comes with a lynching mob, all it takes for him to realise his wrongs was when Scout talks to him. Scout was so innocent and unsure about what was happening, but it was this that made Mr Cunningham realise what he was doing was wrong and for him and his mob to go home. A mob is made of individuals, and each and every individual is capable of being nice people, because every individual has a heart. Atticus says to Scout at the end, “Most people are (real nice), Scout, when you finally see them”. The way Lee structure the book is also very significant. The two major victims of the novel, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are merged at the end at an ultimate climax. The themes of racism and disability are therefore also combined. From all the events that happened in the novel, at the end, we can see that slowly, but surely, the values that the community and individuals holds are beginning to change.

“The Family Law” is a memoir written by Benjamin Law about himself and his family. From the first chapter we can already see how much culture has changed between two generations. He begins by describing his father whose attitudes and values are much different than those of his children. He expresses his experiences with his father in a humorous and light tone, and uses lots of hyperboles and rhetorical questions to engage the reader in his tales. An important part of the chapter is the description of his father’s childhood. Law’s father had only seen his own father (Law’s grandfather) once in his whole life, as he moved to San Francisco to earn more money. When Law’s father turned 12, his father moved back to Hong Kong to see him, but within 30 minutes of seeing his son, he died. Law describes this moment: “Is it possible to describe what happened next without sounding like a liar?” From this chapter, we can already see how much culture has changed between 2 generations. Before, China was poor, but now it has become much more updated, innovative and modern. The fact that his grandfather had to go to America to earn money – this is usually uncommon as families nowadays are much more likely to stay together. Also, it is much easier to communicate nowadays with improving technology compared to previous years, where even electricity was scarce. In the first chapter of “The Family Law”, we can already see distinct cultural differences between the past and the present.

Cultural and social values have definitely evolved over time – some changes may be slow and gradual such as racism or equality, and other perhaps quite fast such as technology and design. Either way, beliefs and values must change as over time, morals and customs evolve as well.

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