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Double Standard In To Kill A Mockingbird

In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee explores both race and sexuality, and the intersection these two factors can have. The premise of the novel is a comment on the criminalization of black male sexuality- set against the backdrop of a rape trial against a black man in 1930’s Alabama. It is no secret that in the decades following the Reconstruction era, a double standard existed for the behaviors deemed acceptable for black versus white citizens. This double standard becomes dangerous, when it allows for the systematic oppression of black men, in a criminal-justice system some might compare to slave-era America. The intersection of race and sexuality is a particularly interesting angle to observe, as this double standard is especially prominent. Criminalizing a black man’s sexuality proves to be a powerful accusation, even if falsified, such as in the case of Tom Robinson. Despite the undeniable evidence proving Robinson’s innocence and Mayella Ewell’s advances towards Tom, he is ultimately convicted of the crime, depicting the effects of the influences of racial prejudice. It is a natural thought process to wonder if the case was against a white man being accused of raping a black woman, would the same verdict have been reached? Robinson is convicted of a crime he did not even commit, and yet historically, the rape and sexual abuse of black women by white men has been unacknowledged and unpunished in the legal system. Lee’s use of the intersection of race and sexuality serves to depict the systematic injustice faced by black Americans in the legal system. Despite the fact that Mayella is the driving force in her advances made on Tom, it is ultimately Tom Robinson who suffers from the lies spread as a result of racial prejudice. The gross injustice described in the novel is a result of the criminalization of a relationship pursued by a white woman, in which the said crime did not even occur.

Failings Of The Justice System

After watching Destin Cretton’s film, Just Mercy, many Americans will say that even though this case was from the late 80s, our country still faces many of the same issues. As a viewer, it was hard to swallow many times throughout the movie. From irresponsible policing to coerced confessions, Walter McMillian’s case had it all. It is utterly tragic that a person such as Mr. McMillian had to endure what he did, but there are cases out there, as we find out, that have it just as bad.

One theme of the film is justifying right from wrong. This involves many characters involving Darnell Houston, Ralph Myers, and Tommy Chapman. All three of these men were in difficult positions in their lives, especially for Ralph Myers who was on the brink of reaching death row. Beginning with Ralph Myers, he ended up as the state’s key witness in the prosecution of Mr. McMillian and the 1986 murder of Ronda Morrison. Already serving a life sentence, the county sheriff had threatened to put Ralph Myers on death row should he not falsly testify against Mr. McMillian. As the viewers find out, the two had never even previously met prior to the case hearing. Unfortunately for many inmates, even today, police coercion is an occurrence. Now don’t get me wrong, not every officer or member of law enforcement is involved in this, but there have been situations where this has been the case (Central Park Five, Richard Jewell). After meeting with Mr. McMillian’s lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, Myers decides to reappear in court and recant his previous testimony. Moving on to Tommy Chapman, the District Attorney, the initial prosecution of Walter McMillian was before his time in office. It was for Mr. Chapman though to work on the case after Mr. Stevenson was able to get a retrial. As a viewer, you can see that initially, Mr. Chapman had no interest in looking over Mr. McMillian’s case given the “amount of hurt” he had caused Monroe County. It is not until later on when Mr. Chapman agrees to team up with Mr. Stevenson and join in on the motion to drop all the charges against Walter McMillan. This is indeed a lot to take in and with that let’s take a step back. Mr. Chapman, District Attorney in a deep south state is left to deal with the murder of a young white woman who’s case had been already closed via a jury, is now faced with a bright, young Harvard lawyer presenting him facts he simply can not overlook. As he states various times throughout the film, it is his job to do what is best in the interest of the people in his county. Unfortunately, there are those in the community who do not care to even listen to the evidence and just look at the fact that Mr. McMillian is an African-American male who “looks like he could commit the crime.”On the other hand, Mr. Chapman has the prospect of doing the correct thing. As the film moves on, you see that Mr. Chapman begins to comprehend that Mr. McMillian is no criminal after all. Luckily for Mr. Stevenson, Mr. McMillian, and his family, Chapman comes to his sense and agrees to drop all charges. So while Mr. McMillian ends up with the justice he deserves, many other out there in the system do not. Just look at Anthony Ray Hinton who was wrongly convicted and was on Alabama death row for over 30 years. Again, thank to Mr. Stevenson.

This case can be tied To Kill A Mockingbird. Not only are both based out of Monroe County, Alabama, but both are dealing with similar instances of injustice. On both accounts, the failings of the justice system are depicted, and the ways in which these failings disproportionately affect the lives of African-American men are detailed. Despite the decades of time difference in the stories’ settings, a similar theme prevails: institutionalized racism across the criminal justice system. The immense effort necessary to clear Mr.McMillian’s name is evidence of the residual racial prejudices that continue to exist, even in the decades following the Jim-Crow era. This prejudice is experienced not only by the African-American community, but also by those attempting to clear the names of those wrongly accused of crimes, such as Atticus Finch and Bryan Stevenson. The parallels between the film and the movie are depictive of the inherently racist institutions that still exist in our nation today. In cities across the nation, African-American communities are gentrified into neighborhoods where poverty, and inequitable access to resources run rampant. These communities are the same as those in the movie and novel, which are criminalized simply for the color of their skin, and grossly underrepresented in the judicial and legal system. It is a vicious cycle, in which gentrification leads those without access to legal resources unable to represent themselves, and thus, subject to further inequitable treatment by law enforcement, and the justice system as whole.

Coming Of Age

The novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is a coming of age story, detailing the maturation of Gem and Scout, and commenting on the loss of innocence, which is a central theme throughout the novel. Growing up in the Jim-Crow era South, Gem and Scout are exposed to a violent racial dynamic, rooted in racial anxieties. This violence is seen throughout the novel, with the criminalization of black male sexuality, and arguably, the criminalization of being black. It is through the bleak imagery and plot that Lee comments on the central theme of a loss of innocence- for the injustices portrayed in the novel are what ultimately result in Gem and Scout’s forced maturation, and their exposure to a violent and cruel cultural dynamic. Keeping consistent with the tone of the novel, the injustices of the court system portrayed are unsettling, and designed to make the reader uncomfortable. These injustices are designed by Lee to make readers uncomfortable, speaking to the grim plot of the novel, and the time period as a whole. It is though the coming of age of Gem and Scout that Lee seeks to make the injustices depicted “okay.” Describing the Boo Radley’s rescue of the children attempts to compensate for the atrocities witnessed throughout the novel, and comments on the fact that Gem and Scout, despite having lost their innocence, are still children. The narrative choice to include this interaction with Boo Radley provides a glimmer of hope, in the face of grim circumstances. The injustices of the legal system, of which Gem and Scout witness first hand, are contrasted with their interactions with Boo Radley, and the childlike innocence he portrays. Despite having lost their innocence, due largely in part to the injustices described, the interactions had in the final few pages of the novel serve to retain some of the Finch children’s innocence. While the racial anxieties towards black male sexuality are dark, the narrative choice to end the novel with figure of innocence attempts to alleviate the tonal and thematic tensions throughout the rest of the novel, and to make the failure of the justice system, while unsettling, seem okay.

To Forgive or Not

When watching a Long Night’s Journey Into Day it is very hard to believe these events actually happened for such a long time. The creation of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission was a strategy that had to be implemented. For the countless lives lost through the struggle, there needed to be accountability for those responsible. We see this similar commission in Death and The Maiden with Gerardo being one of the members of the commission overlooking the previous crimes. Now the question arises, do these commissions help those affected get over the atrocities or only reopen these deep wounds? For many of the mothers and family members in a Long Night’s Journey Into Day, reliving the crimes and meeting with the perpetrators helps with closure. With Amy Biehl’s parents, they go as far as meeting the family of one of their daughters murderers. They mention how now looking back at the whole set of events, and how Amy would have wanted them to continue her work. To continue to assist the movement against apartheid, and the injustice many faced in that period.

Reverend Desmond Tutu brings up a point that I believe carries the best way to look at this whole situation. For him, he mentions how this commission needs to do its due process and look back at these crimes to ensure that this will not happen in the future. This is a similar point brought up in a Death and The Maiden. Paulina tells Gerardo how she has difficulty reliving her past pain whereas Gerardo says this is necessary for her to be able to move on and “live free” as well as for such an administration not to arise in the future. Unfortunately, apartheid was around for over 40 years and there is no possibility of going back to fix what happened. The victims cannot be brought back. What can happen is that they can be remembered, honored, and their stories be told so like Tutu said, such a tragedy will not rise again.

Eichmann : A Man of Order?

Hannah Arendt makes it a point to explain how different Eichmann’s history of causing chaos compares to that of other high ranking Nazi Party members.  To begin with, Eichmann made a great effort to prove during his defense that he had no ill will towards the Jewish population.  He feels this way because he states he had a “Jewish mistress” from back in his time in Vienna. This marks a difference from other Nazi members whose history of anti-semitism was a key part in their role during the Final Solution.  Eichmann put a lot of emphasis on the fact that he harbored no hatred towards the Jewish people but was only following orders.  He also points out that he asked to be transferred to the front lines in order to get out of his murderous duty.  Eichmann even goes as far as to say that he would have murdered his own father had he been given the orders.

Now as we all know, Eichmann was prosecuted and found guilty on all charges presented and executed in Israel on June 1st, 1962.  Eichmann always felt he was being prosecuted for the wrong charges.  He stated he acted within the Nazi laws at the time and did not feel guilty before the law but did feel “guilty before God”.  Arendt later stresses how bragging was one of Eichmann’s vices.  During the last days of the war, Eichmann was reported to have said how accomplished he felt if he was headed to the grave.  “I will jump into my grave laughing, because the of the fact that I have the death of five million Jews on my conscience.”  That quote alone negates all of Eichmann’s defenses.  Arendt also brings up the issue with the charges brought against Eichmann.  Eichmann’s attitude during the case was that he alone never committed any murders.  This follows his feelings that he was only following orders, as he claimed he never hands on killed a single person.  The prosecution did point out that Eichmann at least once killed “a Jewish boy in Hungary.”  Eichmann always felt that he should have been charged with aiding “the annihilation of the Jews” and not genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.  Even after listening to Eichmann’s defenses, “the banality of evil”, will continue to be a heavy quote related to the colonels history.