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An investigation of racist tendencies in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird - contd

by Sampurna Biswas
(Kolkata, India)

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According to Watson, Go Set a Watchman being the first draft of the novel is further attested yet negated by Murray’s claim of how Mockingbird was originally a collection of short stories developed by Harper Lee into a novel due to the increasing market demand during the time. According to Murray, Scout is imbibed with racist tendencies as can be seen by some scenes, one in which Scout explains to Jem in the courtroom of the normalcy of Tom’s conviction since, according to her, he is a negro and another is her desire to transform herself into a lady similar to her aunt Alexandra immediately after the revelation of Tom’s death suggesting precedence to decorum over personal feelings pointing to hypocrisy. Murray further highlights our claim by stating how Calpurnia, Atticus’ black housekeeper who actually taught Scout to write remained neglected throughout the novel in spite of being the most interesting of all the black or even white characters.

All results combined confirm the research topic of how Watchman is not independent of Mockingbird but rather is the parent or the offspring of the latter as like the former the latter too embodies racial connotations perhaps less explicitly but in an ambivalent manner. This further proves how racism is internalized in the minds of people and is difficult to uproot. The ignoring of such details of racial bias in popular literature gives rise to what Klein terms “pollutants of racism” which attaches itself to the subconscious mind of the people resulting in its eternal continuity.

Works Cited
Klein Gillian. Reading into racism, bias in children’s literature and learning materials. Routledge. 1985. Taylor and Francis e-library, 2002. Web.

Murray Jennifer. “More than one way to (Mis) Read a Mockingbird” Southern Literary Journal. 75-90. Jstor. Web.

Perry Richard J. Race and Racism, The Development of Modern Racism in America. Palgrave Macmillan 2007. Libgen. Web.

Saney Isaac. “On Racism in To Kill a Mockingbird”. Bloom’s Guides: To Kill a Mockingbird, InfoBase Publishing 2010. 55-58.Libgen. Web.

Watson L. Harry. “Front Porch”. Southern Cultures, Volume 21, Number 4, Winter 2015. Jstor Web.

Sampurna Biswas
31 December 2016

The use of symbolism in relation to the main theme of the original novels- To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.

To Kill a Mockingbird as well as its so-called sequel Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee deal predominantly with the themes of ‘racism’, ‘sexism’ and ‘coming of age’. Among these, the theme of racism was rampant during the time when the novel To Kill a Mockingbird was composed. Go Set a Watchman continues to prove the prevalence of racism in Maycomb which is quite deep-rooted and very difficult to dismiss and erase from individual’s mind.

There are certain symbols deliberately and craftily used in order to emphasize on the prevalence of racism. The aim of this work is to validate the point with the support of the following research articles.

Jennifer Murray in "More Than One Way to (Mis)Read a Mockingbird” talks about the dominant symbol of ‘mockingbird’ – why and how it is used in the original text. The symbolic suggestion is already visible in the very title of the original novel. Murray has described ‘naiveté’ via the symbol of the mockingbird. The symbol has been associated with characters like Boo Radley and Tom Robinson to show with an ‘intended force’ how these individuals are ‘unjustly marginalized, excluded, and imprisoned’. Isaac Saney further strengthens and validates the case by stating that the image of ‘mockingbird’ renders the bird as ‘harmless’. By the lines “they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us’, it is illustrated that black people are ‘useful’ and ‘harmless’ individuals like the pets in the house who are supposed to be treated with minimum sympathy. This resembles the Abolition Movement against slavery where they did not acclaim the ‘equality of Africans’ but coordinated the announcement that the Blacks will be treated in the way one treats one’s pets. Here the level of dehumanization has reached its height. Murray further adds that the ‘mockingbird’ is just a hollow signifier in this context because mockingbird as a species are considered ‘bullies’ among birds. Tom Robinson as well Boo Radley is innocent creatures yet they are bullied by the racist society.

Apart from these facts, somehow Jem and Scout are mockingbirds as well because they as children are unaware of these harsh racial facets, therefore innocent. Later they learn and tune themselves with the racist society they dwell in.

The article “When the Mockingbird becomes an Albatross: Reading and Resistance in the Language Arts” by Carol Ricker Wilson explores the variant ideas and responses from the multicultural students by introducing the novel in the classroom space and from there raises the question of “albatross”. Each student’s personal view seems to be an uncomfortable psychological burden for the other and thus the symbol shifts from mockingbird to “albatross”. The same takes place in the original novel where the opinions and ideas of the one where the opinions and ideas of the one prove to be a cruel burden for the other.

The symbol of the mad dog in a way reflects the poor plight of Tom Robinson in the novel. This symbol connects well to the animal imagery mentioned before. That Tom Robinson has been considered nothing better than a dog can be well illustrated with the help of the shooting incidents occurred in both the cases in spite of the situations being different.

Go Set a Watchman being a sequel of the former novel has used symbols like ‘river’ and ‘trains’ in order to portray the passage of time thereby establishing a subtle connection between both the times but at the same time contradicting the fact that the racist beliefs and attitudes are still indomitable in Maycomb.

While the research work was under process, these are some of the extra yet relevant ideas discovered but could not be introduced into the lengthy article. Some additional perspectives have been thus included with the support of the research articles to complete the work.

Works Cited

Murray, Jennifer. “ More Than One Way to (Mis)Read a Mockingbird”

Ricker-Wilson, Carol. “When the Mockingbird Becomes an Albatross: Reading and Resistance in the Language Arts Classroom”. The English Journal, Vol. 87, No. 3, Teaching the Classics: Old Wine, New Bottles(Mar, 1998), p.p. 67-72


Published on Jan 5, 2017

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