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Injustice in To Kill a Mockingbird

The 1962 To Kill a Mockingbird movie directed by Robert Mulligan is the tragic story of an innocent African American man, Tom Robinson, who is found guilty of rape charges all because of the jury’s prejudice. While the film version does differ from the original novel, written by Harper Lee, it carries the same heavy shadow of injustice that the legal system is plagued with. This film, heavily weighed down with racism, illuminates the flaws that occur in a space that is praised to be the most far of them all. During Tom’s trial, Atticus Finch, Tom’s attorney, delivers many convincing arguments as to how Tom did not rape Mayella. He exposes the consensual relationship the two had, Mayella’s pleads for Tom to visit and assist her, and how Mayella’s bruises do not line up with a purely right-handed man. However, the jury did not use an unbiased eye. They used Tom’s race against him to decide that even in light of all of the evidence that proved him to be innocent, he was guilty. Racism is a major injustice that is woven throughout the flawed legal system in Maycomb, Alabama.    

In the To Kill a Mockingbird film, the injustice of racism does not simply begin in the courts of Maycomb, but it is instilled in the minds of its citizens. This becomes evident throughout the film when Atticus is approached with racist and disgusting comments. Atticus becomes the target of indirect racism himself because he is defending the innocence of an African American man. This movie illuminates the generational racism towards African Americans which leads to the deep injustice found in the legal system. The film shows that a guilty verdict does not necessarily mean a guilty man. Tom Robinson proves that in Maycomb, skin color determines guilt.

Death and the Maiden, written by Ariel Dorfman, also directly works with the same theme of disbelief as the To Kill a Mockingbird film does. Both works highlight the inconsistencies and the injustices of the legal system. While To Kill a Mockingbird shows injustice to be bound in racism, Death and the Maiden finds it through gender. Paulina, as was Tom, suffers through the unescapable pain of not being believed. The difference is that while Tom was not believed by the town of Maycomb, Paulina was not believed by her own husband. This novel illustrates the deep injustice that women experience when their story is not believed.  

Upon Roberto’s arrival, Paulina knows that the man in her own home is her past attacker. She informs her husband, Gerardo, an attorney, of her instinct.  He questions her and her gut feeling, but never turns his back on the strange man, his wife’s alleged attacker. Even after Paulina pleads for her husband to understand and believe her, she instead takes everything into her own hands. In these moments, she is not seen as getting her own version of justice, she is seen as crazy. Paulina knows that she cannot go forth and beg the law for justice for herself. Her own husband refuses to listen and believe her; therefore, she knows that she would have little luck trying to convince a court. There is such a severe injustice for women throughout the legal system that they feel as though they have to step out and do things for themselves.

The most telling lines throughout the entirety of Death and the Maiden is when Paulina and Gerardo are talking through the potential of there being a court where they right the wrongs that happened under the dictatorship. Gerardo has the opportunity to be the attorney for it.  She is less than satisfied when she hears that even after all the evidence is presented, that the criminals still may get away due to a flawed legal system. It is all up to the judges in the end, “The judges? The same judges who never intervened to save one life in seventeen years of dictatorship…Judge Peralta who told that poor woman who had come to ask for her missing husband that the man had probably grown tired of her and run off with some other woman? That judge? What did you call him? A judge? A Judge? (Dorfman 10). This quote severely illuminates that women and victims are more often than not given unfair and unjust treatment in courts of law. One’s pain and abuse is either believed or not due to the decision of one man. Overall, both race and gender show the gaps in the To Kill a Mockingbird film and Death and the Maiden’s legal systems.  

To Kill a Mockingbird – Reflection

When reflecting on To Kill a Mockingbird, I have mixed feelings. I previously read the novel in eighth grade; however, after reading it again, I realize that I did not remember most of the storyline. When returning to this text, I feel slightly lost because I do not remember talking about any of the important themes or even the actual storyline in class when I read it the first time around. We did not discuss the significance of the trial, race relations, or falsely reported sexual assault. After reading it again, I feel like reading it at thirteen in a classroom setting is difficult because of the different places people are in their maturity, knowledge, and experiences. To Kill a Mockingbird was taught in a way where the difficult parts were glossed over and we spend a majority of our time talking about Boo Radley and his mysteriousness. We also spent a lot of time talking about the hidden gifts inside of the tree. I remember being told that this book was a classic and that it was very important, but we were never told what about it made it important. I do not have many fond memories regarding To Kill a Mockingbird solely because when someone had a question about a more mature part of the novel, the student was shut down and was told to ask a parent or the subject was changed. I do not understand why we would read a novel in school where teachers did not feel comfortable teaching the true occurrences and meanings of a novel and students could not ask questions when needed. What is different now when reading To Kill a Mockingbird is that I actually understand what is happening. I see the importance of the novel when it comes to the theme of race and the importance of a fair trial. Reading this novel in the context of a Literature and Law course, where we will actually discuss the major themes, makes far more sense than reading it in an eighth grade English class.    

Racism in “Long Night’s Journey Into Day”

Throughout the graphic historical documentary “Long Night’s Journey Into Day,” there are many unimaginable moments where audiences find themselves feeling helpless. One scene in the beginning of the documentary where this is particularly prevalent is when the murder of Amy Biehl, a foreigner to South Africa, was being discussed. While she was innocently murdered, some of the South Africans felt as though white people were finally witnessing a fraction of what was happening to South Africans in their own country. One woman in particular said, “To be honest, I didn’t care much, because she’s a white lady. She’s white, she’s white. How many blacks have been died?” (0:05:53-0:05:59). This line portrays that with all of the racism, death, and hardships that some of the Africans have been through and dealt with, why should they care if one white woman died? This woman is stating that white people did not care when a plethora of Africans were murdered. However, when one white woman dies, there should be outrage. This is an example of racism, nationalism, and an extreme double standard. This woman is illuminating that in the eyes of the white community, white lives are shown to be more valuable than those of black lives, that because Amy Biehl was visiting from the Unites States, her death was of more importance than those that were native to South Africa, and that white and black people are not held to the same standards. When watching the documentary, the pain in the woman’s eyes was obvious and heartbreaking and the way she spoke showed that her patience had completely run out. Why should a white person be able to turn their backs on the deaths of many Africans; however, when one white person dies the black community is expected to mourn her death?

Gender Roles in Death and the Maiden

Embedded throughout Death and the Maiden written by Ariel Dorfman, many themes circulate through the hands of the entirety of the play. One of the main themes is gender and gender roles. Paulina is put in a position where she is in her own home with her husband and the man that supposedly raped and tortured her. In order for Paulina to cope with who she believes to be her rapist in her home, she acts out and ties Roberto to a chair. This falls out of the classic gender role that women are supposed to obtain. Women, both victims and non-victims, are told to suppress their feelings and not let their emotions get the best of them; however, Paulina closes this gap between the gender roles by allowing her emotions to run free. Paulina’s husband also seems to be shocked by the unexpected makeshift trial that occurs in his house. He repeatedly asks and begs Paulina to rethink what she is doing and to take the rational route of thinking, that killing Roberto will do nothing because she is not even positive that he is the right man. Paulina rejects these reasonings with a sense of exhaustion and anger. She will no longer listen to the man who thinks it is his duty to interject his opinions on what a woman ought to do, “When are you going to stop telling me what I can and can’t do. ‘You can’t do this, you can do that, you can’t do this.’ I did it” (24). Paulina’s unpredictable actions take gender roles and completely flips them on their head. She takes an abused woman who was taught to suppress her feelings and emotions and unties her tightly bound leash. Paulina’s actions show what a woman who has been violated mentally and physically looks like when they finally release the image of what should be. Paulina set fire to the gender roles and acted in the face of trauma the only way she knew how: with wild aggression.

Eichmann in Jerusalem and Mental Illness

Throughout Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, the trial stands as a place where Adolf Eichmann’s stories are told and where past occurrences in his life have paved the road for undiagnosed mental illness. During the trial, the prosecution and defense battle between whether Eichmann was carrying out the actions and responses of a normal person or not. Even though Eichmann was deemed to be mentally healthy, there are multiple different instances where that is easily debatable. First of them being that he could not see the difference between following the inhumane Nazi law and being a moral human being. Eichmann was not known to harbor ill feelings towards the Jewish, “He ‘personally’ never had anything whatever against Jews; on the contrary he had plenty of ‘private reasons’ for not being a Jew hater” (Arendt 26). This further portrays and stems deeper into why Adolf Eichmann turned into a cruel concentration camp killer. Eichmann, from the beginning of his career, was seen as inferior compared to the rest. He was constantly working to raise his position, but continuously failed. This constant failure was ingrained into his mine and in my opinion, is the reason why Eichmann joined the Nazi party. He yearned to feel something other than defeat, so he turned into the tyrant and began to defeat others. His past years of inferiority shaped him into a power-hungry monster who would do anything to finally be the superior to an inferior group. The Nazi party took Eichmann when he was in a place of desperation to be accepted and made him feel welcome, which only further triggered his past failures, making him dangerously loyal. This resulted in Eichmann being an extremist. He would do anything for the Nazi party, which he deemed to be following the law, even if it meant he abandoned a moral belief system. Eichmann’s lonely early career forced him down a dark path, leaving him with a dangerous mental illness that left its mark on millions.

Zong! – Format and Racism

In M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, the unusual and confusing format of the poetry proposes a large question: why did Philip decide to tell the story of the Gregson v Gilbert legal case and enslaved people in a manner that demands dissection, deep background, and intense analyzation? Philip’s use of format is directly tied to the unimaginable case that is being told. The case, which involves a ship that has been misguided and was not prepared for extended travel, states that slaves either died due to the lack of food and water or they “were thrown overboard for the preservation of the rest” (210), illuminating the fact that during this era, enslaved people were taken with less regard and were valued less than food and water to keep the white people on board alive. The lives of the enslaved were seen as just another provision; however, less than the provisions that are necessary to keep a human alive. Philip utilizes the format of her poetry in order to portray the case and a much larger picture. The words are written in a way that is difficult to understand and digest, much like the story that Philip is sharing. Philip connects her format to the story because to understand how one can trade another’s life for food is unfathomable, much like the poetry at first glance. To understand both Philip’s work and the history behind the enslaved people, there is an abundant amount of analyzation that must be done, further alluding as to why Philip chose a complex and complicated way to tell the story. Tracy K. Smith’s poem, Declaration, also discusses the issue of human rights in yet another unproportionate format, “He has plundered our- ravaged our- destroyed the lives of our- taking away our-.” Smith does this for the same reason that Philip does, to illustrate the fact that the poem is not easy to read; therefore, neither is the content laced throughout the poem.       

Is Independence Found in The Declaration of Independence?

Throughout Jacques Derrida’s abundantly technical Declarations of Independence, he forces readers to question the legitimacy of the historic American document The Declaration of Independence. Embedded in Derrida’s work, there stands a fine line between what exactly constitutes physical and emotional freedom and the act of stating that oneself is now separated from the governing entity. This line is evidently blurred. Derrida expresses confusion at two major points in The Declaration of Independence, first of them being who is the final signer at the end of the document. It is not Thomas Jefferson, as he was the writer, nor is it the representatives alone, it is the representatives signing for the people, “It is the ‘good people’ who declare themselves free and independent by the relay of their representatives and of their representatives of representatives” (Derrida 9). This line illuminates that the people, even though the entirety of the population’s signature is represented by only a few people, are the ones who have ultimately declared themselves independent. This is where the lines become blurred for Derrida. He believes the independence that has been declared only stands true in the legitimacy of the signature; however, the people who were signed for did not contribute to The Declaration of Independence nor can unknown or silent views and opinions be taken as a vote on the side of what the most powerful want. Since the power stands in the signature, according to Derrida, is the American independence valid? Another prominent issue that arises is the act of declaring one’s own independence, “Is it that the good people have already freed themselves in fact and are only stating the fact of this emancipation in the Declaration? Or is it rather that they free themselves at the instant of and by the signature of this Declaration?”(Derrida 9). Derrida is questioning the occurrence of stating independence, is the sought after independence finally grasped within the people’s hands and The Declaration of Independence seen as an acknowledgement that they are, in fact, independent or is the writing and the signature of  The Declaration of Independence the first moment that they are declaring freedom. Since the people were never given the chance for an honest vote, Derrida is stating that the representatives writing this for the people, in their name, without the consent of the people, is overall invalid.