Imagine a time and place where no one is equal. Colored people have to drink from different water fountains; those who were poorer are not allowed to be involved with those who were wealthier than them. As a matter of fact, if one was different, they are shunned by society. In a perfect world, people would rejoice in each one anothers happiness, but this isnt a perfect world; nor was it in the 1930s. The Southern states were an area of archaic, imported romanticism (Erisman, p.1). People of the south disliked anyone who was different from them. Even people of the same race or caste often disliked one another. There was fighting between races. Some white groups had hatred for other white group that may be mediocre or inferior to them, as did the blacks. Those who fitted the dominant race(Bloom, p.xii) were depicted as the whites.Inconsequently, the whites clearly expect deferential behavior of the blacks (Erisman, p.2). The colored men were also treated much more harshly and cruelly. In prayer and church, the Negroes worshiped in it on Sundays and white men gambled in it on weekdays. (Lee, p.118) The one single document that some believed was the cause of all of these prejudices was known as the Emancipation Proclamation. On January 1, 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued the document referred to as the Emancipation Proclamation, ordering that all slaves be freed. The Proclamation marked a radical departure in policy, but reflected the overwhelming public sentiment in the North.(Emancipation Proclamation, Encarta) About 3 million people were freed by the terms of the document, which is regarded as one of the most important state documents of the United States. Another prejudice of the 1930s in the south was the hate group known as the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan is secret terrorist organization that originated in the southern states during the period of Reconstruction following the American Civil War and was reactivated on a wider geographic basis in the 20th century. The original Klan was organized in Pulaski, Tennessee, on December 24, 1865, by six former Confederate army officers who gave their society a name adapted from the Greek word kuklos, which means circle. Although the Ku Klux Klan began as a prankish social organization, its activities soon were directed against the Republican. Their main targets were blacks, Jews and other minority groups. While all of this chaos was going on, one woman stood in the middle of it. Her name was Harper Lee. She is best known for her prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird.
People come into this world pure, the surrounding environment and society effects who and what they become. The area that Nelle Harper Lee was brought into was an area of mass prejudice. This shaped the way that she lived. Being born to Amasa Coleman and Frances Finch Lee, she was brought up in surroundings that were filled with hatred and dislike. These racial differences would be soon influencing the writing of To Kill a Mockingbird. When Lee was 5, racial incidents were commonplace; an example of this is the Scottsboro Incident. This began in 1931 and lasted for the next 20 years. This incident would eventually manipulate Lees concept of Tom Robinsons trial; where a black man was clearly innocent, but because of the prejudice in the area he was guilty due to his race. During her years of education in Huntingdon College, she edited many different magazines and books. One of which was a comic or a humor magazine (Johnson, p.xi) called Rammer-Jammer. This particular comic was about a southern politician who proclaims that our very lives are being threatened by the hordes of evildoers full of sin SIN, my friends who want to tear down all barriers of an kind between ourselves and our colored friends.(Johnson, p.xii) This comic was one of Harper Lees starts to her honored novel. After attending Huntingdon Collage, she moved on to attend at the University of Alabama for four years. This included a year as an exchange student at Oxford University. After her stay in the University of Alabama, she left and headed to pursue a writing career in New York City. (Altman, p.1) While living in New York, Lee supported herself by working as an airlines reservation clerk. After approaching a literary agent with the manuscripts of two of her essays and three of her short stories, she quit her job and in the late months of 1950 and with a loan from a friend, she was able to write full time for a year. One of her short stories would soon become her one and only novel To Kill a Mockingbird. After numerous edits, the story To Kill a Mockingbird was finally published in July 1960. Harper Lees life may seem extremely different than the story To Kill a Mockingbird, but indeed it is quite the same.
The story of To Kill a Mockingbird begins during the summer when, the narrator, Scout and his brother Jem meet a new playmate named Dill who has come from Mississippi to spend the summer with his Aunt Rachael. Dill is fascinated by the neighborhood gossip about “Boo” Radley. Over the next few years their interest keeps on growing about Boo Radley. In the meantime, they learn that their father has become the defense lawyer for Tom Robinson, who is charged with raping a white girl by the name of Mayella Ewell. As the trial of Tom Robinson grows nearer, the children become more aware of the strong feeling it has aroused in everyone in Maycomb. One day their housekeeper, Calpurnia, takes Jem and Scout to visit her church, and the children realize for the first time that the black parishioners are supporting Tom Robinson’s wife. At the trial, Atticuss questions make it clear that Mayella and her father are lying about the rape. Nevertheless, the jury convicts him because their prejudices prevent them from taking a black man’s word against two whites. Atticus is now a hero in the black community of Maycomb, but Bob Ewell, vows to get Atticus for showing him up as a liar in front of the whole town. Tom Robinson has given up hope and tries to flee the prison, but while doing it he gets caught and killed. By the time Halloween comes around, the Finch family has begun to put Tom’s death behind them. There is a pageant planned and after the pageant, Scout decides to walk home still dressed in her bulky ham costume. The cowardly Bob Ewell, seeing an opportunity to get revenge on Atticus through his children, follows the children down a dark street and tries to kill them. It is none other than Boo Radley, who had seen the attack from his window. Boo stabs Bob Ewell to death, and carries the wounded Jem home. The sheriff decides to file a report that Bob fell on his own knife and died, thus sparing Boo the publicity that would be sure to follow. Scout never sees Boo again after that night, but she has learned that he was a good man all along. She has learned a lesson about understanding and tolerance. And through the sheriff’s action she sees that sometimes there can be justice and compassion in the world. As one may see, there is much happening in this story. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the people of Maycomb were represented in many ways, one if which was the representation of a caste system not only between races, but also within races.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, there are many caste systems represented. There are the apparent and standard castes, but when one looks deeper, there is more the meets the eye.
The upper class consists of the members of the Missionary Society, Atticus, Dr. Reynolds, Judge Taylor, and so on. (Bloom, p.42) The Middle class consists of nameless individuals who flesh out Miss Lees story- Braxton Underwood, the owner-editor of The Maycomb Tribune, or Mr. Sam Levy. (Bloom, p.42) Others such as The Cunninghams are another group of middle class people. The lower class said by Aunt Alexandra as trash is mainly made up of the Ewells, who, though more slovenly than the supposedly slovenliest of the blacks, still possess the redeeming grace of a white skin. (Bloom, p.42) Other then the main castes, there is also a smaller no so perceptive caste system that is recognized by certain people, not groups of people.
The Finches are at the top of the social order. They are treated the best out of all the other castes. The second highest family is the Cunninghams. They arent the richest or the smartest people in Maycomb, but they do repay for anything that they take. In Maycomb the lowest of the white people would be the Ewells. The children run wild, the father is an alcoholic and lives off welfare, and the children do not attend school. The Ewells may be the lowest on the white caste system, but the arent considered to be the lowest in all of Maycomb. The blacks are considered to lower then the Ewells. This idea has no simple explanation except the basic idea that they are black. Finally, at the bottom of the caste system, is the mixed race. These people come from the blacks and whites that are daring enough, in this prejudice community, to marry and have children of a mixed race.
At the top of the social standings are the Finches. They are considered the highest because of the way the act toward others. Atticus is persistently treating Jem and Scout like mature adults.This shows their maturity in all of the different situations during the story. When Atticus gave Scout and Jem the guns for Christmas, he says to them, I would rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you will go after birds but remember its a sin to kill a mockingbird. (Lee, p.94) This quote not only shows Atticuss care for the mockingbird, but also his trust and confidence in Scout and Jem.
The group that precedes the Finches is the Cunninghams. Walter Cunningham plays a small but important role in To Kill a Mockingbird. A farming family, the Cunninghams caste position is above that of the blacks and the Ewells but below Atticus and the Finch family. Honest and hard working, Walter Cunningham and his son are respectable community members who represent the potential in everyone to understand right from wrong despite ignorance and prejudice.
Aunt Alexandra describes the Ewells as the dregs (Lee) of Maycomb. An evil, ignorant man, Bob Ewell belongs to the lowest substratum of Maycomb society. He lives with his nine motherless children in a shack near the town dump. Bob Ewell is known as A drunken, permanently unemployed member of Maycomb’s poorest family(sparknotes.com). They receive welfare checks, which Bob uses to support his alcohol problem.
In the 1930s, blacks were considered to be the lowest of all the people in the world. They were treated like garbage. The black people were separated from the whites and the rest of the community (Bloom, p.2). Even though the whites were disregarded from the black community, the Finches were allowed in. The Sunday before the trial of Tom Robinson, Atticus, Jem, and Scout went to the Negro church for prayer. Even though several blacks looked at them weird, they were accepted with open arms.
In the south, there were the few blacks that did mingle with the whites. This meant that there were some biracial children in the south. These people werent accepted anywhere. The whites wouldnt take them because they are black, and the blacks wont take them because they are white. These people were considered to be the scum of the south. Not a soul accepted them into their community.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, there was a very powerful caste system that was developed in Maycomb. All families and people were separated into different groups of importance. Even though prejudice is still happening all over America today, there is a real substratum of class of the people. The only difference between the social orders in To Kill a Mockingbird and real life is that in the book, people were forced into these classes. In the real world, there are mainly 4 classes: the rich, the upper of the middle-class, the lower of the middle-class, and those who cant support themselves. The rich people are people that earn a lot of money and live in luxury. They arent always rich snobs, but their behavior is, in fact, very different then that of anyone else this type of people is best portrayed by Miss Maudie. She had that entire house to herself, and in an obnoxious way she said that the house was too big anyway. The upper of the middle-class is made up of those people who have enough money to live in a good house and support their family well. They act like the average person. Always caring for others, giving to the need, and doing whatever they can do to make people happy. The Finches best portray the middle class group. Atticus gladly supported Tom Robinson when he needed help. The lower part of the middle-class is made up of the people that can barely support themselves. They can make themselves and sometimes others happy, but they are out to keep themselves around. The Cunninghams represent this the best. They always repay with what they take. Even though they arent out to impress anyone, they still have hope for a good future. The lowest of them all are the people that are constantly fighting with one another; namely the Ewells. They dont support themselves or their families. The money that they make is spent inadequately. As with Bob Ewell, they might spend the money on alcohol. Even though To Kill a Mockingbird portrays a very vivid caste system, one might need to look harder into the story to realize its true meaning.
Altman, Dorothy Jewell. Harper Lee. Dictionary and Literary Biography. Gale Research Company, 1980, 180-83.
Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Interpretations. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1998
Dave, R. A. To Kill a Mockingbird: Harper Lees tragic vision. Indian Studies in American Fiction. The Macmillan Company, 1974, 311-23.
Erisman, Fred. The Romantic Regionalism of Harper Lee. The Alabama Review. April, 1973, 122-36
Going, William T. Store and Mockingbird. Two Pulitzer novels about Alabama. Essays on Alabama Literature. The University of Alabama Press, 1975, 9-31.
Johnson, Claudia. To Kill a Mockingbird: threatening boundaries. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994, xi-xiv.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Warner Books, 1982
Margaritopoulou, Cleopatra. Symbolism and allegory in Harper Lees To Kill a Mockingbird. Chebucto.ns.ca/culture/harperlee/cleo.html