The play ‘To kill a mockingbird’ is based in Alabama in South America in the 1930’s. At the time although slavery had been abolished, down south of America was still influenced by the idea of white superiority. Slavery had been around for some time in America after the whites travelled to Africa and discovered that people with dark skin also existed. They traded their goods for black people and took them back to their own country. There, they sold them at markets to work for the rest of their lives doing hard labour and being treated in a very cruel way.
This historical context has importance in the play because the actual story line of the play is all about the part that the past plays in society in those days and how it influenced the racial opinions of the majority of people. Even after slavery was abolished, black people were still being treated badly and were looked down upon by white people. There was segregation everywhere. Black people were not allowed to sit on the same part of the bus as whites, their children would go to different schools from them and were generally treated as people who were unimportant.
The issue of segregation also has an impact on the play because without this the main events would not take place. Tom Robinson would not have been wrongly convicted for attacking a white woman, Mayella Ewell. This all happened because white people treated black people differently. All of the outcomes in ‘to kill a mockingbird’ were due to white people treating black people unjustly. The basic story line of the play was when an innocent black man, in the small town of Maycomb was accused of attacking Mayella, a white woman. He was tried in court and was found guilty by the jury.
As far as anyone in the town was concerned, Tom had lost the case even before it took place. Atticus Finch was the brave lawyer who took on the case of defending Tom Robinson. There is a real life story, which symbolises these events and the racism in the play. In Scottsboro, which is also in Alabama, in 1931 there was a famous law case, which took place. Two white women accused nine young black men of rape. The jury believed the women and eight of those men were sentenced to death. Later, one of the women confessed that she had been lying.
The supreme court of USA stopped the state of Alabama from executing the men but they still remained in jail for many years. This story is very similar to the story line of ‘to kill a mockingbird’ and the play had possibly been based on this real life story. This also expresses the racial opinions of society because the duty was part of the society and represented them when they found the men guilty. In the play ‘to kill a mocking bird’ the majority of the society had racist views against blacks but there were some exceptions, Atticus Finch, who was the lawyer taking on the case was different.
He did not discriminate against blacks and instead, he thoroughly believed that Tom was innocent and did anything he could to defend him in court. For doing this Atticus was looked down upon by the people of the town for defending a black man. He was aware that he would lose the case yet he went ahead with it. When his children asked him why he took on a case destined to lose, Atticus replied: ” Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win” This quote was said very wisely.
Although Atticus said this, he was actually referring to someone else when he said this. Later on in the play it is clear what the meaning of the quote was. When Atticus said that only when you step inside someone else’s skin and walk around in it, then you would see things from their point of view. That is what Atticus was doing when he said the quote. He stepped inside a black man’s skin and thought that even though their race has been losing since he was born, there is no reason for them to stop trying to win.
This is an example of Atticus trying to overcome the domination of the past on the events in the play. The small town of Maycomb was full of gossip, everyone knew everything about each other and people were quick to judge others. The town was divided into three parts due to the great depression which struck everyone with poverty at different extents. There were professional white people who were respected and had enough money to support themselves and their families. Atticus was one of those people.
The next types of people were the poor white people who could not really support themselves. They did not have much money and usually grew crops on land. In the play, Mr Cunningham was a poor white person because Scout realised that her family was ‘better off’ than the Cunninghams. Mr Cunningham’s son wore ripped clothes and had no shoes on his feet. I know that Bob Ewell was also a poor white person because he lived near the ‘nigger nest’. The black people were lower than the poor whites.
In Maycomb town Tom Robinson and his family were the black people who had the worst jobs, worst homes and were treated as worse humans. The only reason why there was no chance of Tom Robinson winning the case was because he was black. The past had domination on the events. The ideas of racism, segregation and negative thoughts against black people were in the past and yet they dominated what happened in the play. The culture of Maycomb was racism. The people in the town considered it as the norm, nobody felt it was wrong and nobody tried to stop it.
However, Atticus Finch tried his level best to overcome this domination. In the play ‘to kill a mockingbird’ Atticus had a very strong personality and was one of the few people who had his own opinion and did not share the opinions of the ‘norm’ of the society of Maycomb town. He had a value system in which he thought that everyone should be respected regardless of who they were and where they had come from. This didn’t just include black people but also the divided people of Maycomb town like Bob Ewell and Mrs Durbose.