Essay: Civil Rights Explored in to Kill

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Civil Rights Explored in to Kill a Mockingbird

History is a powerful teacher. One novel that demonstrates this point is Harper Lee's novel, to Kill a Mockingbird. This novel teaches many truths but perhaps the most significant involves the importance of civil rights and the dangers of prejudice. Tom Robinson's case and Atticus' decision to defend him are illustrations of human behavior that are sometimes not pretty. The children in the novel serve as perfect observers as they attempt to understand why tom's civil rights are violated. Through the eyes of children, prejudice is an ugly, illogical thing that does not make sense. The novel parallels many historical events that echo the same sentiments regarding the African-American plight for civil rights in the United States. Their relevance add credibility to the novel in that while the story may be fiction, it is based on events that were very real. Civil rights belong to all American citizens and this is difficult for some to accept as segregation was slowly dissolving. Tom has no civil rights in this story because of the color of his skin. He is innocent and even when Atticus' argument is court is strong, it does not matter because he is African-American. Civil rights become precious when they are at risk. We come to appreciate them when someone tries to take them from us and this is what the novel expresses. Every citizen deserves to be treated as such despite skin color.

Historical parallels provide strength and validity to Kill a Mockingbird. Tom's trial parallels the Scottsboro Boys trials in 1931. The cases are similar in that African-American men were accused of raping two white women. Another historical event that can be seen as a parallel in to Kill a Mockingbird is the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education trial in 1954. The Supreme Court ruled that segregation was unconstitutional but what we learn from this event is that while laws can be hanged or instituted, people and their prejudices do not change so easily, if at all. This was never more true than in the South. Tom's circumstance illustrates just how little people change even when the law insists they behave in a particular way. When people are told to do something, sometimes they become more aggressive because they resent being ordered to do something they feel is wrong or unnecessary. This can never be more true than when people are forced to change behaviors that have been instilled into their lifestyles for decades. Maycomb demonstrates this notion perfectly as a southern town deeply rooted in the old ways where African-Americans were treated like pieces of property and had no rights to speak of. However, African-Americans were free according to the law but in every day life, they still had to deal with whites that could not accept the fact that they were equal.

In 1957, the president of the United States had to send National Guard troops to a high school in Little Rock, Arkansas because people simply could not accept the law. This move illustrates the depth of hate that runs through society. When the president must take action to calm a situation, that situation has gotten completely out of hand. What we the novel teaches is that civil rights are important and they belong to every American citizen. In Maycomb, Tom had no civil rights except for the ones that Atticus so desperately wanted to give him. With these historical events still fresh in the American memory, to Kill a Mockingbird becomes a case for civil rights in any age because sometimes people find it difficult to accept change.

The issue of civil rights emerges most predominantly with the case of Tom. Sadly, Tom's civil rights are threatened even before he makes it to trial. He is considered guilty because he is a black man before anyone hears his defense. Atticus' decision to defend Tom reveals Maycomb's racism in that the white townspeople cannot fathom why Atticus would choose to defend Tom and are outwardly angry with him for doing so. The bitterness displayed at Atticus and the children demonstrates how some people are conditioned to believe certain things rather than actually think about them in a logical manner. Tom's trial is nothing but a farce when it comes to civil rights. While we are seeing the trail through the eyes of children, we are not prevented from seeing the injustice that is taking place. In fact, it is through these young and innocent eyes that we come to see how awful people can be to one another. Gilmer's cross-examination of Tom was no doubt successful, but that does not make it right. Through Dill's reaction, we can see the injustice. Dill's comprehension has not been clouded by prejudice and when he sees Tom's civil rights abused as they were, he becomes ill. He tells Scout, "It ain't right, somehow it ain't right to do 'em that way. Hasn't anybody got any business talkin' like that -- it just makes me sick" (Lee 199). This scene captures the very essence of what is happening and it can only be perceived this way from a child's perspective because that perspective is not contaminated with racism. Dill is the youngest of the children and he does not know why Gilman can speak so rudely to Tom.

Instinctively, Dill knows the difference between right and wrong even though he might not be aware of what he is doing. He knows that Tom's rights are being abused even though he might not be able to articulate it with words. Jem is also deeply affected by the trial. He is brought to tears because Tom is convicted. He, too, is distraught about the verdict and deems it unfair. It is Jem's discussion with Atticus that Jem comprehends the depth of racism and prejudice. He also learns that even in the courtroom, civil rights do not matter when prejudice raises its head. Jem wants to "do away with juries" (220) since they do not seem to operate fairly. Atticus tries to explain how prejudice does not work that way - it is from the heart of man and it cannot be curtailed by any law or jury. Tom never had a chance in Maycomb because he was African-American and "the white man always wins" (220) in Maycomb. This scene allows us to see how the concept of prejudice is difficult to grasp at times, especially when it is so against human decency. The powerful trial illustrates the way in which civil rights can be violated.

Civil rights also becomes a point of contention in the Finch household when Alexandra and Calpurnia seem to exist in two different worlds. Alexandra does not think that it is acceptable for the children to visit Calpurnia's house. She also think that Atticus has given Calpurnia too much freedom when it comes to raising his children, telling him that he has "let things go on too long" (136) with her in his home. Alexandra represents the racism that tends to take individual rights away, especially when it comes to matters of race. Scout finds herself pulled in two different directions as she matures. Her aunt tells her one thing and Calpurnia and her father are demonstrating a different type of lifestyle. Alexandra represents the single-minded individual that is perfectly content with doing things the way they have always been done without giving much thought to why they are done. It is interesting to note that the children in the novel give more thought to actions and behavior than Alexandra does, which reinforces the notion of a blind society content with stripping away the rights of its citizens. From this blindness comes the thoughtless actions that destroy lives and the senseless killing of mockingbirds. Adam Smykowski… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Civil Rights Explored in to Kill.  (2009, March 21).  Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/civil-rights-explored-kill/7740992

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"Civil Rights Explored in to Kill."  Essaytown.com.  March 21, 2009.  Accessed May 22, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/civil-rights-explored-kill/7740992.