The concept of Powerful and Powerless is an integral part of our society, this idea is vividly explored in Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (Arrow Books 1997). Set in the fictitious town of Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930’s, Harper is able to explore intimately themes of prejudice, courage, community and innocence to perfectly embody the idea of powerfulness and in contrast powerlessness. This essay will further expand on these themes in their relation to characters such as Atticus, Mrs Dubose, Miss Gates and Boo Radley, and the way in which Lee is able to convey her assumptions in this engaging novel.
Courage is clearly elucidated in the characters of both Atticus and Mrs Dubose to be a quality that empowers the individual. Atticus puts himself in the middle of a conflict between Tom Robinson and the Ewells, an act so courageous that his brother compares him to Christ. Harper Lee utilises the technique of allusion in the quote “let this cup pass from you, eh? ” alluding to the night before Christs crucifixion where he prayed that he might avoid his fate. Uncle Jacks comment to Atticus calls upon this reference because he is aware that his brother was not looking forward to what was to become of him during his case defending Tom Robinson.
This technique of allusion allows the audience to truly comprehend how courageous Atticus really was, by drawing a parallel to Jesus in the sense that they both had an amazing amount of courage to go through with what was asked of them. Hence illustrating clearly the intense moral courage that Atticus possessed – being able to go forth with the trial even when it was clear that doing so would be tough. This moral courage empowers Atticus for the greater good for he is then able to provide his client with the best defence possible. Similarly, the character of Mrs Dubose had a noteworthy moral courage.
Mrs Dubose was a very ill old lady, who had been prescribed morphine in aid of her suffering. Before she died, her only wish was that she would conquer her addiction and her prevailing courage was repeatedly highlighted in her quest to be free from the drug. She still soldiered on even in times of adversity, showing a powerful bravery similar to that of Atticus, empowering both characters concerned. Furthermore, by linking the traits of Atticus and Mrs Dubose, we can see that the author uses the technique of parallelism between characters to manifest the idea of moral courage and how this empowers them.
We can easily infer that both the character of Atticus and Mrs Dubose both exude a tremendous amount of courage. Therefore Harper Lee is able to provide her readers with a deep insight into this moral trait and essentially enable the audience to conclude that this empowers an individual for the good. Racial prejudice is illustrated in the novel to kill a mockingbird to be a trait that morally disempowers the individuals and groups involved. Lee uses the technique of irony to illuminate the absurdity of the racial discrimination and prejudice that existed within the context of the book.
Miss Gates is highly prejudiced and mirrors perfectly the prejudiced nature of her greater community. In reply to one of Miss Gates pupil’s remarks concerning Hitler’s unreasonable treatment of Jews, she ironically explained “Jews have been persecuted since the beginning of history, even driven out of their own country. It’s one of the most terrible stories in history”. This statement is eminently ironic because African Americans have always and continue to be persecuted in her context.
This is amplified by her statement outside the classroom “‘it’s time somebody taught ’em (African-Americans) a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us. ‘ Miss Gates shows no from of recognition of the persecution that blacks have had to endure in her own town of Maycomb, yet she showed compassion for the unfair treatment of Jews by Hitler. Miss Gates’ narrow-mindedness and prejudiced nature in turn make her intellectually week and hence morally disempowered.
By utilizing the technique of irony, Harper Lee epitomizes the obvious prejudice that Miss Gates and most people of that time possessed and makes evident the powerlessness of having such a trait. Another theme explored by Lee in her novel that vividly explores the concept of powerful and powerless is the moral nature of small town communities, which essentially empowers the character of Miss Maudie. The book teaches how the world works by underlining the coexistence of both good and evil in small towns like Maycomb. Lee juxtaposes gothic images and Maycomb’s community morals in a way that encapsulates the idea of both good and evil.
For example, the horrific fire that grappled Miss Maudies house was mitigated by the solacing scene of the Maycomb patrons uniting together to help save her possessions. Additionally the scene of the dangerous black dog was mitigated once again with the comforting scene of Macomb officials congregating together to help protect the community from any potential harm. With this juxtaposition of ideas, Lee is able to emphasize the evil in the world but in turn emphasize how sometimes the good, i. e. community values and morals, can overpower the evil.
Therefore, the act of being part of a community and exhibiting small town morals can empower an individual like Miss Maudie. The assumption of innocence is manifested through the character of Boo Radley to be one of disempowerment. Harper Lee uses the technique of symbolism to illustrate the voiceless and therefore powerless nature of Boo. The mockingbird is known to produce music of other birds, and hence does not possess its own song as such. Mirrored in Maycombs and the audiences’ perception of Boo, is the various ‘songs’ of the Maycomb members, i. e. what other people say about him.
This disempowers Boo for he does not have his own ‘voice’, and is essentially characterized via other peoples viewpoints, not that of himself. The neighbourhood of Maycomb community is left with the perception that Boo is uninviting, dangerous and evil. His figure of love and innocence is shielded and surpassed with the stories regarding Boo imparted by characters such as Miss Maudie. Additionally, we can gather through the juxtaposition of the mockingbird and the cruel innate world in which it lives in, that Harper lee was endeavouring to, and ultimately succeeded in emphasizing the innocent and childlike nature of Boo Radley.
Lee’s symbolism of the mockingbird and the juxtaposition with the evil world in which it surrounds effectively conveys the powerless nature of human beings like Boo Radley. As evident, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ effortlessly portrays the idea of powerful and powerless throughout her many characters. Lee’s characters teach us many lessons, and impart valuable, life long information. They teach of the importance of moral courage, innocence and communities, but also the dangers of prejudice and how this can be a trait of disempowerment. Harper’s novel is truly a novel of inspiration and will be read for many generations to come.