How to Kill a Mockingbird Showed Americans New Perspectives on Racism, Sexism, and the Great Depression
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee seemed like the perfect book for this analysis because it is a classic and it is full of symbolism. The setting of the book is about the town Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930’s from the perspective of an eight year old tom-boy like girl, Scout Finch. This paper discusses how the novel portrays the time period and how it showed Americans new perspectives on issues like racism, sexism, and the Great Depression.
In the 1930’s African Americans were still very segregated from the rest of the population and treated differently. This is one of the main issues that is covered in the book through the trial of an African American man Tom Robinson. Mayella Ewell is a young girl that accuses Tom of hitting and later raping her. When Tom goes on trial he is given a public defender which is Scout and Jem’s father, Atticus Finch. Because of the society that they live in Atticus knows that there is no hope for Tom, even though he will try his absolute best to convince the judge and jury of his innocence. When Tom does go to jail there is no surprise there because of all the racism of the time period his trial never stood a chance. The racist South had so many regulations and rules in place to limit the rights of any and all African Americans, like Jim Crow laws and the “separate but equal” case. The civil war led to the freedom of all African American slaves and indentured servants, but that was federal law. Soon after the war Southern states and local governments found a loophole and started enforcing Jim Crow laws, meant to limit the rights of African Americans. These laws entirely segregated the population once again by giving African American people separate drinking fountains, schools, parks, public transportation, and the list goes on; these laws did not end until 1965 when Lyndon B. Johnson signed the civil rights act. Another one of the biggest sectors revolving around racism at the time was the idea that “separate but equal” was a justifiable and fair practice that could be applied to society. This doctrine was obviously false and unsuccessful, just like the Jim Crow laws, it separated the nation even more and only caused more tension. These two laws were few of many, but they all led to lives, similar to the fictional one of Tom, being destroyed for unjustifiable reasons.
The next big issue that Lee tackles in her novel was the high level of sexism in the south during the 1930’s. Sexism was an issue everywhere in the nation at the time, but it was definitely more prominent in the South. An example in the book would be how Scout loves to be a tom-boy and play outside and participate in sports, but then when she has to go to church or be presented in front of the town Calpurnia makes her wear proper girls clothing. Even when she is playing with Dill and Jem the boys will say mean things about her gender, or they’ll leave her behind to go do something else, for example skinnydip in the lake(pg 125). Even the women in her community judge her for how she acts, walks, and talks(pg 126). It is very evident that in the South women are held to a certain standard and they are supposed to fulfill the role of being dainty and dependent on the man for their sole source of survival.
The time period of this book lines up directly with the time of the Great Depression. This may not show within the Finch household because they are so well off, but it certainly shows throughout the rest of the town. The small town is described as “sagging” and “the streets turning into red slop” whenever it rained, describing this rundown town as if it were falling apart(pg 67). The imagery gives the reader a feel for what the Great Depression did to the South, it essentially destroyed it. People and buildings of the town seem like they’re all falling apart and with a gust of wind they just might collapse, because people could barely afford the basic necessities during this time. Many families had one or two sources of income and they were probably left unemployed at this time. With a lack of money they had to find cheaper alternatives to entertainment, people turned to radios, stamps and card collections, or sports. In the novel Scout and Jem would play with anything that they could find outside, this may not have been a necessity for them, but they probably did not have that many toys considering the circumstances(pg 170). Also the “gifts” left by Boo Radley were often very simple pleasures like pocket change or strips of gum, because things like that were often considered luxuries(pg 126).
This novel was an excellent choice and opened up so many issues with history. It brought to the table issues about sexism, racism, and what people went through in the Great Depression. Making the protagonist an eight year old girl opened up the perspectives and allowed readers to see a new side of the story.
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