Justice as a theme in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the films “Murder on a Sunday Morning” and “I am Sam”
For individuals and society as a whole, justice will always be an issue. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the author Harper Lee has addressed the issue of racial prejudice and social injustice in a community. The author presents a role model for moral and legal justice in the character of Atticus Finch, both an honourable man and lawyer, who tries to create justice for all. The issue of social injustice and prejudice are also explored in the documentary, Murder on a Sunday Morning, directed by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade and the film I am Sam, directed by Jessie Nelson. Both texts convey the idea that certain individuals are victims of intolerable injustices in society because of their race or mental capacity.
Harper Lee uses a range of techniques to allow the reader to see that justice will always be an issue for individuals and society as a whole. The title of the novel contains a very literal connection to the plot, but it carries a great deal of symbolic weight in the book. In a story of innocence destroyed by evil, the ‘mockingbird’ comes to represent innocence and victims of social prejudice. Thus Atticus warns his children not to shoot a mockingbird, both literally and figuratively, as “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” This symbolism of the mockingbird is linked specifically with the unjust trial of Tom Robinson and his death, which is likened “to the senseless slaughter of songbirds.” It is symbolic of a mockingbird being shot down when Tom is accused of the rape of Mayella Ewell, a white girl, thus putting his word, the word of a “sorry negro”, against the word of a white woman.
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His crime is that he “felt sorry” for a white woman and that “all Negros lie, that all Negros are basically immoral beings.” Through this, the racial prejudice which is specifically targeted toward the African-American community is clearly illustrated. The idea that justice will always be an issue for the individual is further illustrated by the injustice shown towards Boo Radley all throughout the novel by the people of Maycomb. As well as being a symbol of the Mockingbird, Boo is also a source of childhood superstition for Jem and Scout, a superstition that is fuelled by Maycomb’s “usual disease.” Scout learns, however that it doesn’t matter what society has conveyed Boo to be, “you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in the.” She has felt and understood the injustice that has been inflicted on Boo throughout the years as a misunderstood character in Maycomb’s society.
The irony is also used throughout the novel to convey the injustice issue for individuals and society as a whole. Miss Gates, Scout’s teacher, is ironically oblivious to the fact that Maycomb treats its African-American residents similar to the Jews in Germany. She is assured that in Maycomb, they “don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced.” This statement is ironically contrasted to her reaction to Tom Robinson’s trial, “time somebody taught them a lesson.” This illustrates just how ignorant the people of Maycomb are to their prejudiced ways and how this injustice affects the individuals in their society. In the documentary Murder on a Sunday Morning, the idea that justice will always be an issue for individuals and society as a whole is further explored.
Throughout the documentary, de Lestrade allows his subjects to do all the talking for themselves, occasionally allowing main participants in the case, such as the defence attorney Patrick McGuinness to talk directly to the camera. From early on in the documentary, McGuinness comes off as a charismatic, honourable man and lawyer. He tells the audience of his initial reaction to the news story of Brenton Butler, “As I learned more, I became increasingly angry,” conveying to the audience both his view on the incident and the moral values that he holds; making use of his anger and values to defend Brenton Butler to prevent a travesty of justice from taking place. Brenton Butler, a 15-year-old who was brought into the criminal justice system for the sole crime of being a black person near the crime scene; the ideal culprit.
De Lestrade further conveys the idea of the injustice issue to individuals by offering the film from a straightforward view of the preparations for the trial and trial itself, from the point of view of the defence. This point of view represents the police and law enforcement on the case as lazy and more inclined to believe a white witness than a black defendant. The cruelty and incompetent work done by the police and Det. Michael Glover illustrates clearly the type of attitude and prejudice that are thrust upon those that are minorities in the community, “it’s niggers like you that make me mad,” – in this case, Brenton Butler, because of the colour of his skin.
In the film I Am Sam, the idea that justice will always be an issue to individuals and society as a whole is further enlightened. Throughout the film, the viewers are invited to take Sam’s perspective – to view life through the eyes of an autistic man living alone with his small daughter. Subtle camera shots are used to illustrate the sometimes pitying but mostly prejudicial stares of the community around Sam, as they are opposed to his taking care of his daughter because of his condition. Through the story, Sam struggles to gain the legal right to care for his daughter who has now surpassed him in intelligence, whilst continuing to be a victim of social injustice and discrimination in the community because of his illness.
The attitudes of the court officials, as well as Sam’s own lawyer, continue to portray the issue of justice to the individual, and the harsh assumptions of the community on Sam because of his illness, “you think what they think…you think Sam can’t take care of Lucy!” The bitter music in the film as Sam goes through the process of his court hearings further illustrate the bitter, non-caring stance that the court holds against this man because of his illness, and their firm belief that because he is mentally ill, he hasn’t got the capacity to nurture and take care of his own daughter. This attitude of discrimination inflicted on certain individuals is closely linked to that in To Kill a Mockingbird and the assumptions made about Boo Radley by society.
In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, as well as the related texts Murder on a Sunday Morning and I, am Sam, each composer has used their unique styles of writing and filming to confirm the statement that justice will always be an issue for individuals and society as a whole. Illustrated through issues of racial prejudice and discrimination of the mentally ill, all composers have made it clear that justice has always been an issue in society and for certain individuals and will continue to be unless changed.