Many characters in To Kill A Mockingbird are isolated from mainstream

Many characters in To Kill A Mockingbird are isolated from mainstream

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Many characters in To Kill A Mockingbird are isolated from mainstream
society. Discuss the ways in which Atticus Finch and one other
character are set apart from the society of Maycomb

To Kill A Mockingbird was set in the 1930s in the south of USA,
Alabama. At that period, slavery had already been made illegal. But
people in the south were a bitter about it because they still believed
that they needed the slaves to maintain their cotton farms. They
didn't treat the blacks as though they had the same social status as
them and basically still treated them as though they were still
slaves. This unfair prejudice was widespread throughout the south.
"Maycomb", didn't actually exist but was meant to be the embodiment of
a typical town in the south at that time.

In Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, she has created characters who
seem a little different and thus, isolated from the rest of Maycomb's
mainstream society. Prime examples of this isolation are Atticus and
the Ewells; particularly Bob Ewell.

Probably one of the most important and obvious point to Atticus
Finch's isolation is his lack of prejudice towards black people.
Although this might not be seen as something unusual at the present
day, it was at that time. More obviously so because the story was set
in the south where prejudice against the blacks was something that was
taken for granted. The people in Maycomb knew that prejudice was wrong
and yet, they didn't think that prejudice against the blacks was
wrong. They saw it as a separate matter. An example of this would be
the teacher telling the children that "Over here we don't believe in
persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are
prejudiced." The irony in it is that the reader knows that the
majority of Maycomb are prejudiced against the blacks and to say that
Hitler was wrong in being prejudiced was hypocritical. Atticus though,
wasn't prejudiced and this was what made him different.

He lets Calpurnia, a black woman, take care and act as a mother to his
children. This though is not really seen by the people of Maycomb. To
the people of Maycomb, Calpurnia is merely a housekeeper; but she's
actually much more than that. As he told Aunt Alexandra when Aunt
Alexandra wanted to dismiss her, "She tried to bring them up according
to her lights, and Cal's lights are pretty good." Unlike others, he
appreciates what Calpurnia did for him. "We couldn't operate a single
day without Cal, have you ever thought of that? You think how much Cal
does for you?" He says this to Scout when she wanted Atticus to

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dismiss Calpurnia for being harsh and unfair to her.

Mrs Merriweather, whom Scout describes as the "most devout lady in
Maycomb", doesn't appreciate what her black housekeeper does for her.
She tells her friend: "Gertrude, I tell you there's nothing more
distracting than a sulky darky." By using the word darky, she is
associating her black housekeeper's skin colour with the housekeeper's
'shortcomings'. This make the reader think that this is unfair and
racist. She also says: "I tell you if my sophy'd kept it up another
day I'd have let her go. It never entered that wool of hers that the
only reason I keep her is because this depression's on and she needs
her dollar and a quarter every week she can get it." To refer her head
as wool was to make a comment on her hair texture. This is again
racially prejudiced and makes the reader offended by this behaviour
and attitude Mrs Merriweather shows. Furthermore, she refers to the
"dollar and a quarter" as a very generous value but in reality, its

At the same time, Mrs Merriweather was pitying and sympathising with
the poor natives. She says "I said to myself, when I go home I'm going
to give a course on the Mrunas and bring J. Grimes Everett message to
Maycomb." To the reader, it doesn't seem reasonable if she thinks that
for her to give a black person some money for helping her keep her
house clean is something that is seen as superfluous while she
couldn't do more to help the poor natives.

Atticus takes up Tom Robinson's case and "aims to defend him" although
he knew that he wasn't going to win the case. He tells Scout, "Simply
because we were licked a hundred years before we were started is no
reason for us not to try to win." This shows the reader that Maycomb
was an area in which prejudice towards the blacks could be traced back
to their ancestors and this prejudice had been passed from generation
to generation.

At that time, people in Maycomb didn't like the fact that Atticus was
trying to win the case. Because, what people had expected him to do
was to take up the case just as a formality. They didn't expect him to
try to get Tom acquitted. Although the people in Maycomb showed
displeasure at him for defending Tom, they were actually letting
Atticus do something that in their hearts of hearts some of them
wanted to do but didn't dare to do it. Aunt Alexandra says, "They're
perfectly willing to let him do what they are too afraid to do
themselves." The people of Maycomb were afraid of doing it because
they didn't want to be ostracized by society and be seen upon as unfit
to live with.

One important quotation which showed exactly what Atticus believed in
was this: "some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men
are not to be trusted around woman- black or white. But this is a
truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of
men." While Atticus knew this, the rest of Maycomb chose to stereotype
the whole black community as people they had to distrust.

Atticus also respected Mayella Ewell even thought she was his
opposition and called her "Miss Mayella". Evidently Mayella hadn't
received that kind of politeness before as she thought that Atticus
was trying to "sass" her. At this point the author is trying to use
language to show that Atticus is has no prejudice in him at all. The
author also creates a contrast for the reader to look at. Mr Gilmer
addresses Tom Robinson as "boy", using it as a degrading term while
Atticus just calls him by his first name. This emphasises the point
that the author was trying to make: Atticus was different from people
because of his lack of prejudice.

The nature of Atticus's job in itself distances him from the rest of
the people in Maycomb. Atticus held a white collared job and worked in
an office. Most of the people in Maycomb didn't actually work in
offices but instead, their jobs mainly consisted of hard labour. In
Scout's words, "Atticus did not drive a dump truck for the county, he
was not the sheriff, he did not farm, work in a garage or do anything
that could possibly arouse the admiration of anyone." Scout, along
with the majority of Maycomb, looks upon men with jobs that were
associated with what a man should be doing or labelled as something
manly to do, with admiration. On the other hand, Atticus doesn't view
this as a shortcoming and is happy to read his paper and watch the
football team on the sidelines instead of playing in the game. Harper
Lee wants us to admire Atticus for his intellect and his dry humour.
Atticus often makes us laugh with small things he says which makes us
like him. For example when Jem said that Mrs Dubose's house was
creepy. Atticus said "That should appeal to your imagination. Just
imagine you're inside the Radley house." But it's also because of
Atticus's job that he is so highly respected.

Although he didn't always have the same ideals as people, he always
respected the opinions of other people. When Scout said that most
people thought that he was wrong to try to defend Tom, he answered
that "they're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled
to full respect for their opinions." As a reader, we don't agree with
this as if faced with the same position, we would probably think that
they were very wrong to be so prejudiced. Therefore, we admire
Atticus's magnanimousness in believing that they could believe in
anything they liked.

Atticus also looks past people's faults. Although Miss Dubose often
hurled abuse at Atticus for defending Tom, he still saw her as a great
and brave woman. She wanted to die free of morphine and she did it.
Atticus said to Jem: "I wanted you to see what real courage is,
instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his
hand." As readers, we admire the way which Atticus is bringing up his
children. Most fathers would categorize "a man with a gun in his hand"
as a brave man. Thus the name, "one-shot Finch" given to Atticus in
his younger days as a commendation on his shooting skills. Atticus
however, teaches his children that there is more than one form of
bravery. We also admire the way in which he simplifies complicated
matters when he's explaining it to the children. In Scout's words,
"Jem and I were accustomed to or father's last-will-and-testament
diction, and we were at all times to interrupt Atticus for a
translation when it was beyond our understanding." For example, when
he told Scout that "You never really understand a person until you
consider things from his point of view", and she didn't understand it,
he simplified his words to "until you climb into his skin and walk
around in it."

Maycomb was a place at which tradition was very important. At the
start of the story, the author introduced the Finch family by showing
the ways by which they were linked to the rest of the Maycomb
community. The author helps the reader see how important tradition is
to Maycomb by creating the character Aunt Alexandra who was meant to
be a typical lady in Maycomb of that time. Maycomb had a caste system
by which people were characterized by which family they came from.
These people were then attributed certain characteristics which they
were supposed to have. For example, "No Crawford Minds His Own
Business" or "The Truth Is Not In The Delafields". Jem said that "our
kind of folks don't like the Cunninghams, the Cunninghams don't like
the Ewells, and the Ewell hate and despise the coloured folk." This
was the unspoken rule that was used in Maycomb but Atticus again,
differed from this. When Jem and Scout brought Walter Cunningham home
for lunch, he spoke to Walter about subjects he knows that Walter has
considerable knowledge about to make him feel comfortable. "While
Walter piled food on his plate, he and Atticus talked together like
two men"

Maycomb had one family which was surrounded by an aura of mystery and
myths. The Radley family had so many stories told about them that
nobody was sure of what was the truth anymore. It was rumoured that
Boo Radley was a violent creature who even attacked his own parents
and thus, he was locked up. The people of Maycomb didn't like this
family because they didn't conform to what a normal family should be
like. Scout said that "they did not go to church, Maycomb's principal
recreation, but worshipped at home." "The shutters and doors of the
Radley house were closed on Sundays, another thing alien to Maycomb's
ways: closed doors meant illness and cold weather only." Because of
these points, the people of Maycomb saw them as different and so,
disapproved of them. Atticus however, sees that this prejudice is
wrong and tells the children that they were wrong to make up a play
about Boo Radley and his doings. Instead, he wanted them to sympathise
with Boo Radley. "What Mr Radley did was his own business. If he
wanted to come out, he would. If he wanted to stay inside his own
house he had the right to stay inside free from the inquisitive
children, which was a mild term for the likes of us." We see Atticus's
point of view by Scout reporting what Atticus said to them after they
were caught trying to make Boo Radley come out.

The Ewells are also examples of isolated characters but in very
different ways from Atticus.

Bob Ewell is isolated because many people in Maycomb regard him and
his family as the "disgrace of Maycomb". Atticus' apt description of
them was "They were people, but they lived like animals." A widower
with eight children, he is jobless and a reputed drunk. It is said
that he drinks away most of his relief checks. Although it is against
the law, he is allowed to hunt and trap out of season. As Atticus
says, "when a man spends his relief checks on green whisky his
children have a way of crying from hunger pains. I don't know of any
landowner around here who begrudges those children any game their
father can hit." Maycomb provided help in this way but they didn't
trouble themselves to take in the Bob Ewell's children, to bring up in
their own homes. Had they provided this assistance, Mayella Ewell
wouldn't have had to crave affection and care from Tom Robinson which
meant that the whole matter of her trying to kiss Tom Robinson
wouldn't even have had to happen

Bob Ewell also doesn't have any basic respect for others. He doesn't
really know how to convey his feelings and opinions through words and
so turns to using actions to express himself as we can see when Miss
Stephanie told Scout that "Mr Bob Ewell stopped Atticus on the post
office corner, spat in his face and told him he'd get him if it took
him the rest of his life." Bob Ewell did this because Atticus
"destroyed his last bit of credibility at that trial" and he had to
find some way to take it out on somebody. Bob Ewell couldn't take the
shame and embarrassment in knowing that most people in Maycomb didn't
believe his story at the trial and to try to heal his wounded ego, he
threatened Atticus and challenged him to a fight. This just made it
clearer to the people of Maycomb that Bob Ewell had been telling lies
at the trial and the people would be disgusted by the means to which
he resorted to regain his pride. This also caused him to be isolated
in the eyes of people in Maycomb because it would have made him seem
different and separated from mainstream society.

And the last and most important point to his isolation was his extreme
hatred for the blacks. Although most people in Maycomb were prejudiced
towards the blacks, Bob Ewell was an extreme case. Despite the fact
that Helen had lost her husband due to Bob Ewell maligning him, he
didn't have the decency to show her some manners. Instead, he tried to
scare Helen. "All the way to the house, Helen said, she heard a soft
voice behind her, crooning foul words." Through this incident, the
reader sees that Bob Ewell tries to pick on and bully on people weaker
than him to feed his self esteem. This makes the reader look upon Bob
Ewell as a person who tries to act strong and tough but in actual
fact, is nothing more than a coward.

Mayella Ewell was also isolated from the rest of Maycomb's mainstream
society because she tried to get attention from a black man. In
Atticus's words, "she was white and she tempted a Negro. She did
something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man."
This, to Maycomb was unacceptable and wrong.

Mayella Ewell was also isolated due to the family she came from. Scout
says that"Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the
world." "She was as sad, I thought, as what Jem called a mix child:
white people wouldn't have anything to with her because she lived
among pigs; Negroes wouldn't have anything to do with her because she
was white." She lived differently from people, in different conditions
and so she was seen as a person of lower class to most of the white
people and the black people wouldn't go near because as a white
person, she could blame anything or say anything on them and her word
would be taken against theirs.

Bob Ewell's children are also different from the usual children found
in Maycomb. They don't seem to have any principle of what is right and
wrong ingrained into them at all. One example of this is when Burris
Ewell came to school only on the first day of school. "The whole
school'd full of 'em. They come first day every year and then leave."
Part of the reason he only goes to school on the first day is because
he craves attention just like his father. He probably picked up this
trait from his father. Part of the reason why Bob Ewell brought the
Tom Robinson case to court because "he thought he would be a hero".

Bob Ewell's attitude towards bringing up his children was also very
different. He didn't really care about the welfare of his children.
"It was everyone for himself as far as keeping clean went: if you
wanted to wash you hauled your own water; the younger children had
perpetual colds and suffered from chronic ground-itch"

Although both Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch were both isolated from the
mainstream society, they were isolated in very different ways. Atticus
was isolated because he followed what he believed in; but Bob Ewell
was isolated because of his conduct and behaviour towards people in
general. The reason why Harper Lee created these characters might
perhaps, have to do with the social standings of these two men. With
Atticus at the top and Bob Ewell at the bottom of the social ladder,
the reader then can see the different ways in society isolates various
people. Harper lee might have also wanted to create a contrast for the
reader. Bob Ewell's isolation is one where the reader is meant to look
upon as something he deserves, while Atticus's isolation is not meant
to be seen as something which is difficult to live with as its self
imposed and doesn't bother him much.
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