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To Kill a Mockingbird; Loss of Innocence

By MartinDonnelly Nov 13, 2012 1105 Words
To kill a mockingbird, wrote by Harper Lee is a novel that shows the prejudice, discrimination and racial segregation in the mid 1930’s, the time of the great depression. Harper cleverly gets across many themes in the novel such as social class, injustice, racial segregation and the strong influence on gender. A key theme is the loss of innocence especially to our main characters Jem and scout. Jem slowly loses it over time in the book as he matures into a young man however he is pushed along the way by some of the life experiences he endures. The main one been the point when he is distraught at the fact that Tom Robinson is found guilty at the trial, Throughout the trial, Jem watches with great interest, and is convinced that based on the evidence, there is no way the jury can convict Tom. So when the verdict comes back as guilty, Jem feels as though he’s been physically attacked.

Judge Taylor was polling the jury: "Guilty... guilty... guilty... guilty..." I peeked at Jem: his hands were white from gripping the balcony rail, and his shoulders jerked as if each "guilty" was a separate stab between them. (21.50)

While Jem’s certainty about the trial’s outcome is receiving these blows, the verdict also seems to be a broader attack on things Jem thought were true: that the legal system is just, that innocent men are acquitted, that Maycomb is a community of good, fair-minded people. After the trial, Jem struggles to figure out why people are so eager to divide into groups and hate each other. Scout says that people are just people, but Jem isn’t so sure.

"That's what I thought, too," he said at last, "when I was your age. If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? Scout, I think I'm beginning to understand something. I think I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time... it's because he wants to stay inside." (23.117)

The Tom Robinson trial makes Jem lose his faith in humanity. Will he ever get it back? Is there a way to acknowledge all the evil people do and be able still leave the house? (Atticus might have something to say about that.) Jem is unconscious for the conclusion of the novel, so he doesn’t have the same moment of revelation that Scout does, but perhaps his waking up will also be a kind of rebirth. this is where we see Jem show his feelings most. Scout From the beginning, is more terrified of Boo than Jem or Dill are. While the two older boys push at the edges of their fears by attempting to make indirect contact with Boo, Scout hangs back, not wanting to bring the monster’s wrath down upon them. When she does get drawn into their schemes, she pays for it with sleepless nights.

Every night-sound I heard from my cot on the back porch was magnified three-fold; every scratch of feet on gravel was Boo Radley seeking revenge, every passing Negro laughing in the night was Boo Radley loose and after us; insects splashing against the screen were Boo Radley's insane fingers picking the wire to pieces; the chinaberry trees were malignant, hovering, alive. (6.84)

In Scout’s fevered mind, Boo expands into a dangerous world, where every sound signals a threat. And later, when Scout realizes that it was Boo who brought her a blanket, she’s nearly sick, as if realizing that she had just walked along the edge of a cliff in the dark and only survived by chance. While part of Scout’s fear of Boo she shares with any kid who ever thought there was a monster under the bed, it also seems linked to a fear of unknown dangers lurking in the seemingly familiar.

As time passes and Scout faces down more real threats, her fear of Boo lessens. He lurks in her imagination not as a monster but as a neighbor, who feels familiar even though she’s never actually laid eyes on him.

But I still looked for him each time I went by. Maybe someday we would see him. I imagined how it would be: when it happened, he'd just be sitting in the swing when I came along. "Hidy do, Mr. Arthur," I would say, as if I had said it every afternoon of my life. "Evening, Jean Louise," he would say, as if he had said it every afternoon of my life, "right pretty spell we're having, isn't it?" "Yes sir, right pretty," I would say, and go on.It was only a fantasy. (26.5-6)

This shift in Scout’s interest in Boo reflects her growing experience with different kinds of people; having seen the likes of Bob Ewell, poor Boo doesn’t offer much in the way of chills anymore. Having faced the evil of real people, perhaps Scout doesn’t see the unknown as scary in itself. Or perhaps her changing view of Boo has something to do with post-trial shifts in her ideas about community, and what makes for good neighbors.

When Scout finally does meet Boo, it causes yet more upheaval in how she thinks about not only him and her community, but also herself.

Neighbors bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad. (31.23)

Seeing Boo makes Scout see herself differently, and she’s not entirely pleased with what she sees. This moment of self-examination suggests that Atticus stopped too soon with his advice that putting yourself in another person’s shoes allows you to understand them better – it also has the potential to let you understand yourself.

While Scout may be exaggerating a bit when she thinks, “as I made my way home, I thought Jem and I would get grown but there wasn't much else left for us to learn, except possibly algebra” (31.31) – what about calculus? – she has learned a great deal, not just this evening, but over the four years of the book. The question is, what will she do with this knowledge? What kind of person will it enable her to beco

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