Back in 1960, a book emerged on the market that would be rated as one of the most unforgettable classics of all time. To Kill a Mocking Bird, written by unknown author Harper Lee, depicts a realistic picture of attitudes during the 1930’s. During this time in history, racism was a huge issue and hatred between black and white civilians led to violence, even fatalities. America was a completely segregated society. Anger and resentment was brought on when in October of 1929 the Wall Street Stock Market crashed.
The Great Depression marked the beginning of a decade of high unemployment, poverty, low profit deflation, plunging farm incomes, and lost opportunities for economic growth. Virtually all sectors of American society were affected in some way by the Depression. ” (www. education. com). White citizens felt that the coloured ‘second class’ citizens were taking their jobs as they saw themselves as the ‘superior race’. Maycomb, a fictitious small town in the deep south of America was based upon Harper Lee’s own home town of Monroeville, Alabama.
It is a town wrapped up in its own trials and tribulations. It too has the segregation between the black and white communities. Generations of families have lived and died there, so heritage is of great importance. It was very rare for people to move there from out of town. The town “grew inward. The same families married the same families until the members of the community looked faintly alike. ” (Lee p. 144). To understand women in To Kill a Mocking Bird, you have to understand that change was a taboo subject. During the 1930’s, women were seen as submissive homemakers.
Feminism in the south was unheard of. Feminists who did manage to retain a sense of urgency in stirring enthusiasm and public support for equal rights had ‘to face an antagonistic majority of their society, who felt that a woman put her talents to their best use in the domestic environs of her family’. (http://www. loyno. edu). There are a range of contrasting women in the novel; Calpurnia, Aunt Alexander, Miss Maudie Atkinson and Mayella Violet Ewell all represent different classes and ethnic groups. The Finch family are held in high regard within the black community.
Calpurnia is trusted by Atticus as this is shown when he takes her to visit Tom Robinson’s wife, Helen. I feel he does this for a number of reasons. Calpurnia is the bridge between the white community and the black community. He takes her to comfort Helen after Tom’s death. Helen would feel more at ease with ‘her own kind’. He wouldn’t be able to take a white woman, though a white woman wouldn’t even consider stepping across ‘the line’. I would also imagine that it would act as security on his part as well. A white man in a black community would be unsettling to some residents.
Calpurnia is seen throughout the novel as an educated, loyal, devoted woman. She is able to mix and adapt her behaviour to fit in with each community. The colour of her skin is insignificant to Atticus and the children. She is seen as a member of the family, not as a maid. She is devoted to the children and her ‘hard love’ approach does not lose her any respect from the children, but merely adds to the actions of a surrogate mother. Scout relates to the reader that “Our battles were epic and one-sided. Calpurnia always won, mainly because Atticus always took her side. ” (Lee p. ), and later that “I had felt her tyrannical presence as long as I could remember. ” (Lee p. 6). Scout finds Calpurnia’s approach hard, but as much as she complains, her respect for Cal as a person never comes into dispute, for they are comments made by a young child. Although we always see Calpurnia as a kind, pragmatic character, Lee again adds to her character that shocks Scout, who instead of commenting on Cal’s temper, refers to the colour of skin. ‘There goes the meanest man ever God blew breath into,’ murmured Calpurnia, and she spat meditatively into the yard.
We looked at her in surprise, for Calpurnia rarely commented on the ways of white people. ” (Lee p. 13) This illustrates how children in the south became accustomed to the social structure at that time. Calpurnia is unusual in that she was a black woman who was able to read and write. Many African-Americans at this time were illiterate, a legacy of the slavery-era laws that made it a crime to teach blacks to read and write. After the American Civil War most states in the South passed anti-African American legislation.
These became known as Jim Crow laws. This included laws that discriminated against African Americans with concern to attendance in public schools and the use of facilities such as restaurants, theatres, hotels, cinemas and public baths. Trains and buses were also segregated and in many states marriage between whites and African American people. (http://www. spartacus. schoolnet. co. uk) Her character has a double life and is shown when she takes the children to her church. Her language and speech changes, to the bewilderment of Jem and Scout. That Calpurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me. The idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages. ” (Lee p. 138-139) Yet again racial issues come into play when Cal is confronted by Lula. This illustrates that colour and anger issues exist from both communities. Some of the main themes in To Kill a Mockingbird are courage, prejudice and hatred of which Calpurnia’s character in the novel fits in to all these categories Harper Lee is trying to bring to the readers attention.
Another important figure in the children’s lives and who plays a similar role to Calpurnia is Aunt Alexandra. Aunt Alexander’s character is the only Finch family member that Harper Lee introduces to disrespect Calpurnia, showing the racial opinions and attitudes during the 1930’s. Both characters are there to help Atticus bring the children up. However, she is a sharp contrast to Calpurnia in her opinions on how the children should behave.
She is also brought in to the novel to show the prejudice attitude towards the black community at that time and to demonstrate women’s behaviour and persona befitting to a Southern woman in the 1930’s. Although Aunt Alexandra means well, her conventional attitude and ideology of a ‘lady’ does not stand her in good stead with Scout. You really have to feel quite sorry for her. She is a woman that is so socially proud of her status and family that she tends to forget to show emotional affection to the children which doesn’t earn her the respect she requires.
Although we see occasions towards the end of the novel of her caring, sensitive side, the majority of the character is portrayed as slightly racist, critical of others and extremely bossy. Her attitude towards Calpurnia shows her lack of respect to the blacks and difference in social class. Unlike Calpurnia, her critical eagerness to change Scout is in sharp contrast to Calpurnia’s moralistic approach. She finds it very difficult excepting Calpurnia’s role within the home, to the extent of trying to embarrass her by not permitting ‘Cal to make the delicacies’ (Lee p. 42), for her Missionary Society tea parties. Her social status within the community is by far, after her family, the second most important thing to her.
Yet again, she is trying to assert her authority on Scout to mingle with her own kind. Her description of poor Walter Cunningham to Scout bears allegiance to her class status. “You can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem……Because – he- is – trash (Lee p. 247-248). She is a proud woman whose obsession with breeding and heredity status is made perfectly clear to the children. Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land the finer it was” (Lee p. 143). However, we do see her character transforming from being very judgemental to revealing a warmer, compassionate side when her brother, Atticus comes under threat from the trial. This also shines through when the children are attacked, again reiterating that loyalty to her family comes before anything else. With her traits, it is easy to see how well Aunt Alexandra fits in to Maycomb society.
However, in sharp contrast to her is the character Miss Maudie, a woman who had exactly the same upbringing as her neighbour and friend, although she does not share the same views. Miss Maudie, a strong, independent liberal minded woman is very critical of the women of Maycomb and their dated beliefs. The likes of Miss Stephanie come under fire from her quick sharp witted tongue, to counteract their mean gossip of others. Her cutting but ever so witty remarks are a sign that Miss Maudie does not conform to Maycomb life. She is independent and to me is a mirror image of young Scout.
She doesn’t suffer fools gladly and is very honest when guiding Scout away from the town’s women. She is a confidante to Scout and with her wise, philosophical outlook on life she is able to guide the children’s way of thinking, in the same way their father Atticus does. Miss Maudie does not belong in the world of “fragrant ladies” (Lee p. 258), but her local influence is still potent despite being exercised in tea parties rather than courtrooms, and provides an example to Scout of how being a lady doesn’t necessarily mean exercising your right to idol gossip.
Her honest opinion and her ability to treat the children just as she would an adult, gives Scout a release from what is expected of her from her Aunt Alexandra, therefore this makes Miss Maudie a very close confidante. However, as much as Maudie and Alexandra are two contrasting characters, there is a deep sense of friendship when Miss Maudie comes to the defence of the Finch family, something that is important to Aunt Alexandra. Her biting comment “His food doesn’t stick going down, does it? ” (Lee p. 257), shows that as much as Miss Maudie is part of the community of ladies, she disapproves of their idol chit chat and beliefs.
Aunt Alexandra acceptance of Miss Maudie’s comment was be-fitting in the circumstances. “She gave Miss Maudie a look of pure gratitude……. Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra had never been especially close, and here was Aunty silently thanking her for something. ” (Lee p. 257-258). I finally want to discuss and analyse who I feel represents every theme of To Kill a Mockingbird and more. An outcast from both communities, Mayella Ewell’s character represents desperation, abuse, social class, victimisation, loneliness, pity. Even Atticus Finch, a man that represents all that is good, has something to say! Atticus said the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations” (Lee p. 33) To understand Mayella, you have to put yourself in her shoes. What would you do to hold on to what bit of self-worth you have. Mayella neither belongs with the white community or the black community.
“White people wouldn’t have anything to do with her because she lived among pigs; Negroes wouldn’t have anything to do with her because she was white” (Lee p. 212) On the social pyramid, she barely has her spot above the blacks. Her representation of ‘white trash’ in the community comes through Lee’s writings by the description of her home. Maycomb’s Ewell’s lived behind the town garbage dump in what was once a negro cabin. ” (Lee p. 187) In the eyes of the community “the Ewells lived as guests of the county” (Lee p. 187). The Ewell’s were the poorest of the poor. By giving a description of have they live you could also interpret it to being a description of the shambolic existence of Mayella’s life. There is a slight comparison when comparing Mayella and Miss Maudie and that is their love of flowers. Amongst the rubble of Mayella’s home stood a row of “brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson. (Lee p. 188). For Lee to add this sentence in, shows she is trying to show the desperation for beauty.
Their purpose could also show that no matter how bad a person or their environment is, there is always a piece of good in someone. Mayella is a victim of abuse. She has never had any friends, nor any love or affection in her life, and the only friend she had who had been decent to her is Tom Robinson. Under such circumstances, one can understand her desperation to make sexual advances at Tom. She is to be pitied rather than condemned for her act, because it was a step taken through utter desperation.
At the same time she is willing to lie in court and condemn Tom, so as to save her own life from the torturous treatment that would have undoubtedly been given to her by her father. (www. thebestnotes. com). There is evidence to suggest that Mayella was a victim of physical and sexual abuse from her father. When Tom Robinson is being cross examined in court he re-counts “She says she never kissed a grown man before an’s she might as well kiss a nigger. She says what her papa do to her don’t count” (Lee p. 214). This demonstrates the amount of abuse Mayella has to suffer. So which way does she go?
Testify against her father and suffer the consequences of doing so. Don’t forget, it will not be just the backlash from her father she would have to worry about, but from also the white community, going against what any southern woman stands for, that being fragile, innocent and helpless and of course for defending a black man. She couldn’t win and in Atticus’ words, “She struck out at her victim – of necessity she must put him away from her – he must be removed from her presence, from this world. She must destroy the evidence of her offence. ” (Lee p. 225) Mayella had little chance to overcome what has been ingrained into her from birth.
Through these many different women, Harper Lee gives an insight into many different roles that women played, both in their own lives and in society. Lee wrote the novel during the beginning of the Civil Rights era (from about 1955 to 1958). Alabama was very much in the news at this time with the Montgomery bus boycott, Martin Luther King’s rise to leadership, and Autherine Lucy’s attempt to enter the University of Alabama graduate school. (www. library. thinkquest. org) Harper Lee wanted to show how prejudiced American society was and I imagine she hoped her novel might help towards change in attitude.
The book itself is based upon Harper Lee’s own town and characters and events included were based on real people and events. Because it was written in the first person narrative, we are able to experience the delightful content of wit. Although Scout adapts to Miss Maudie’s way of thinking and is supposed to be innocent in her descriptions, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone woman referred to in the book had a title of Miss or Mrs, bar one, Calpurnia. This just reiterates a Southern Woman’s upbringing regardless of their footing on the social ladder.