What you don’t know can’t hurt you, or so they say. Ignorance seems to course it’s a way through the lives of the inhabitants of Maycomb, the fictional town in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, either directly or indirectly. Racism is a direct result of ignorance, and many of the people in To Kill a Mockingbird were racist, and those that weren’t were greatly affected by it. Then there were the Ewells, who were ignorant on many other levels too. Even Scout’s schoolteacher, whose job it was to impart knowledge, was hypocritical and racist!
Racism in Maycomb was the norm. Any attempt to deviate from that way of thinking was shunned, and you as well as branded on your forehead `nigger-lover’. As Atticus told Scout, .”..nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything – like snot-nose. It’s hard to explain – ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favouring Negroes over and above themselves.”(p.113) Very few people in Maycomb dared risk the scorn of the town, but those who did were completely admirable. Tom Robinson’s trial brought out the true characters of all the townspeople. The Ewells were proved to be ignorant and crass, while others, such as Atticus and Tom Robinson, shone through with their honesty and integrity.
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The Ewells were on an entire another level of ignorance than the rest of Maycomb. Bob Ewell and his clan were the lowest of the white people in the Maycomb hierarchy, only slightly above the blacks. “All the little man [Bob] on the witness stand had that made him any better than his nearest neighbours was, that if scrubbed with lye soap in very hot water, his skin was white.” (p. 175) Bob, as a single parent on welfare, gets food stamps to provide for his seven children.
But does he use the stamps to buy them food? No, instead he buys whiskey and gets drunk. To allow him to provide for his children, the town has granted him amnesty to the hunting regulations. All the Ewell children just attend school for the first day in order to thwart the truancy people, so they are ignorant on an intellectual level too. The Ewells, though above the black society, were so much lower as far as morals and even cleanliness go. They are the most despicable and cowardly characters in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Scout’s teacher was Miss Caroline Fisher who displayed a more innocent sort of ignorance than that of the Ewells. Miss Caroline was so set to teach in the so-called “Dewey Decimal System” that she didn’t realize that she was actually hurting the children rather than helping them. She made the mistake of discouraging Scout’s reading with her father, saying, “Now you tell your father not to teach you any more. It’s best to begin reading with a fresh mind.
You tell him I’ll take over from here and try to undo the damage–…Your father does not know how to teach.” (p. 22) But, forgivably, she was also completely ignorant of Maycomb society, and social classes, unknowingly embarrassing Walter Cunningham with her inquiries as to the whereabouts of his lunch. Luckily, showing that she is a true Finch, Scout stood up for him, but in doing this, embarrassed the teacher and gained herself a stay in the corner.
Though ignorance is a definite factor in the actions of some of Maycomb’s residents, there are more noble and admirable characters to balance them out, like Atticus, Mrs Dubose, and Mr Underwood. Racism and the Ewells are both equal evils that the town has to deal with on a day to day basis. But these problems can be dealt with in the same manner. As Atticus Finch said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” (p. 34) This is the main view that Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird imparts: Judge not lest ye be judged.
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee is an ageless classic that takes place during the 1930s. In the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, there was a deadly racial attitude towards the people who were different from the general public. In a town of tunnel vision and hatred, Atticus and Scout stood out with open minds.
Atticus was the anchor of reason in Maycomb. He understood many people in town and taught his children how to understand other people’s feeling as well. Atticus believed that if you knew what someone had been through, then you would understand them better. Atticus also made Jem and Scout realize that no one is pure evil; meaning that if you look hard enough, you would find that it is good in every person you meet. Mrs Dubose, who was perceived as an “old witch” by Jem and Scout, showed great bravery in her fight against drug addiction. Atticus believed Jem would change his opinions of Mrs Dubose if he spends some time with her.
Only after Mrs Dubose’s death did Jem begin to perceive Mrs Dubose the same way his father did. Likewise, Atticus defended Tom Robinson when no other lawyer would. He was one of the few respectable people who were not blinded by the racial injustice Tom Robinson faced. Not only did Atticus defend Tom in the courthouse, but he also defended him at the jail on one occasion too. It happened when an angry mob was trying to kill Tom Robinson, but Atticus risked his life to save him from that mob. If only the people of Maycomb were willing to listen to Atticus’ wise advice, then the town would be free of racism.
Scout, symbolizing the leaders of tomorrow, began to see how other people perceived things. She started to understand the meaning of “to kill a mockingbird.” At first, Scout couldn’t comprehend what Atticus meant when he said, “It was a sin to kill a mockingbird.” As the novel progressed, Scout began to realize how people contributed to the community without harming others. For example, when Boo Radley (the shy neighbour who never went outside) killed Bob Ewell to save Jem and Scout, the sheriff of Maycomb County tried to cover it up. Heck Tate, who was the sheriff, believed that “…taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight” (279) was a sin. Tate reasoned that Boo would have hated being praised as a hero by the townspeople because he was so shy. Because she had a child-like innocence and believed that racism is wrong, she could have been the perfect role model for people of all ages.
Atticus and Scout, the few people in Maycomb who had enough senses to see the injustice of discrimination. Some people may ask how a whole town could be consumed by hatred. But even today our world continues to deal with racism. If people like Atticus and Scout did not exist in our world, then mankind would be in forever war until we completely destroy each other.
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