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To Kill a Mockingbird and Death and the Maiden

Watching the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird was an extremely different experience than reading the novel. While the plot stays deceptively similar to the book’s–several things are cut, but it sticks largely true to what it does show–seeing the action take place was jarring in a way reading the novel was not. This speaks to the true strength of Harper Lee’s version: Scout’s perspective and her singular, childlike view on everything around her. Without this guiding the story, the film is largely centered around and led by Atticus. The movie paints a wide picture of his life as both a single father and a lawyer in the Deep South in the 1930s. Through focusing on Atticus and the trial rather than Jem and Scout’s youth, the story takes a much different turn for the viewer. Instead of being ensconced in Scout’s innocent, simple life, there is no longer any buffer between the viewer and the dark, disturbing happenings in Maycomb.

I am not sure whether it was because of my own naivete, or Scout’s, but while reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I did not grasp the significance of the scene with the crowd outside of Tom’s holding cell. Not until we discussed it virtually did I fully understand that Mr. Cunningham and his friends tried to lynch Tom Robinson before his case had even come to trial. I did not understand, as Scout did not, what exactly the stakes were for Atticus as he sat on the steps and threatened them with the sheriff. I knew there was danger, but the vague feelings of discomfort and forbearance were replaced by an immediate sense of fear and disgust in the film’s version. Seeing it played out, it is clear and repugnant. Mr. Cunningham, the man who doesn’t like to be thanked, tells Atticus: “You know what we want.” Instead of being somewhat in the dark with Scout, this time I knew what he wanted, too. Replacing the perspective of the story entirely changes the tone, though the outcome remains the same. 

Likewise, when seeing the ending with Bob Ewell and Boo Radley, I was similarly disenchanted. Scout sees Boo as a kind of talisman, protector-like figure, perhaps even an imaginary friend. He represents the curiosity and daring of her childhood, and his rescue of her and Jem is a heroic moment, though he speaks little. Seeing him in the movie, he was actually kind of scary, and it hit me for the first time: he actually murdered a man. Not that Bob Ewell deserved less for his numerous crimes, including being basically responsible for Tom Robinson’s death and attempting to kill two children. The fact remains, though, that Boo Radley came out of his house, for the first time since stabbing his own father, and killed a man with a kitchen knife. It made me wonder if perhaps Atticus had been right to tell his children to stop obsessing over him, and if maybe there was a reason he had been locked away for so long. Without the veneer of childhood, the happy ending in the movie falls short in a way that I don’t think the novel’s ending did. Without Scout running the progression of events and narrating them in her own way as they related to her, the movie simply told a sad story and did nothing to fix it. Not that it could have been fixed; the damage was done. We even see Tom Robinson’s family react to his untimely death, in perhaps the scene hardest to watch. The film sorely missed Scout’s ability to seamlessly pair awful stories with the mundanities of school, summer, and her neighbors; the resilience of a child.

In comparing Atticus’s court scene to the other such representations of trials we have studied, I was drawn to thinking about Death and the Maiden. The cases involved are utterly and completely different, but both victims–Paulina and Tom Robinson–face obstacles that they know the law cannot, or will not, overcome for them. I am conflicted about the comparison between Atticus and Gerardo, but it begs to be made. They are both operators for the state with an interest in seeing the right thing happen, but both fall short in this pursuit. Of course, it is difficult to blame Atticus for the jury’s vote, and impossible to fault Gerardo for trying to dissuade Paulina from killing someone. However, Atticus’s ultimate loyalty is to justice more than to individuals, which reminds me of Gerardo in a sense. Gerardo was affected by his wife’s sufferings, and Atticus by Tom’s, but as lawyers devoted above all else, to the peaceful carrying out of the law, both of them lost something in the process.

Someone else talked about Atticus’s reaction to losing the case, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. He was resigned, not angry, which he had every right to be. Whether or not in the novel this was simply because he hid his anger from his children, in the film we see him grapple with Tom’s sentence and Tom’s death–he is affected, but not changed. He and Gerardo, while committed to justice as they see it, are ultimately serving a future that does not include the current grievances of their clients. Paulina, while on the opposite side of the “courtroom” than Tom, has a lot more in common with Tom than Mayella, her obvious counterpart. Though comparing Mayella and Paulina would reveal an interesting dichotomy; a woman seeking vengeance though held back by her husband, and a woman seeking a wrong vengeance under directions from her father. In Mayella’s case, her testimony did lead to the eventual death of the innocent man she accused. In Paulina’s, we never find out whether or not Roberto died, or whether or not he was innocent. Both show vastly different scenarios of the aftermath of a woman being sexually abused, but showcase the power–whether welded correctly or not–victims have when they say their piece. At the same time, they show the powerless; Paulina is never allowed to fully put Roberto on trial, and Mayella, in the end, put the wrong man to death because of her father’s continued hold over her. Atticus and Gerardo, though they might have won or lost their respective cases, have the power in both the play, the film, and the novel. With the law on their side, right or wrong, they are the heroes of their respective stories, and the ones with the most ability to affect change in their respective worlds.

Not Believing Women in Literature and Film

In the TV series Unbelievable there is a serial rapist praying on women across counties who two detectives spend extensive time and resources to find. This series focuses on women and their experiences with rape and the women who are trying to catch the man who raped them. The first character introduced, Marie Adler, is not believed by loved ones and police about her rape. She is made to feel like her voice doesn’t matter and like she has to keep this tragedy that happened to her a secret. This situation Marie faces is very similar to the one Paulina faces in Death and the Maiden. These stories both focus on a key concept of not believing women. Another play that Unbelievable relates to is The Furies. In both of these works of stories, women play strong leading roles and come together as strong female forces in finding truth and solutions when faced with crime. Whether the motive is to catch a criminal or to build a better system in society, women are seen in both of these stories to be in the driver’s seat solving problems created by men.

    In Unbelievable Marie Adler is the first victim shown to the audience who is dealt a terrible hand in the way she is treated by police. She is harassed and made to feel incompetent by the two officers who convince her that she has made up the rape entirely. Through the series the audience sees her struggle emotionally with a weight on her shoulders she shouldn’t have to carry. As if having to deal with the aftermath of being raped isn’t enough, she also has to deal with not being believed by anyone and feeling as if she must suppress and hide all of her emotions about it. In Death and the Maiden Paulina deals with not being believed by her husband. Due to what is going on politically in this story with their society and amnesty trials, Paulina feels she will never get justice unless her husband’s new high-ranking position could help bring one of her rapists to stand trial for his crimes against her. Her husband leaves her without hope of any justice when it is made clear that he thinks she is wrong and fixated on blaming someone innocent for what happened to her. Marie Adler also feels as if she will never get justice due to the inability of the police to help her. The goal of the police in the simplest of terms is to protect and Marie instead receives callousness and manipulation by men in uniforms who she thought she could trust. Both women are facing a battle in which the system will not bring justice to either of them. Marie struggles with this burden of being assaulted and then deemed a liar for years and Paulina deals with the burden of being assaulted and not being believed by her own husband.

    Unbelievable also relates to the play The Furies where in both stories, women seem to hold the power and strength in problem solving. In Unbelievable, the two female detectives put their heads together into uncovering a serial rapist and finding out who he is. They not only solve this mystery of who the serial rapist is, but they also brought to light that Marie Adler was telling the truth. They uncover this truth that was buried and forgotten about by the two male detectives who had made Marie feel as if she was lying. Their finding and convicting the rapist brings justice to what happened to the victims as well as justice to Marie in feeling solidified in her feelings about what happened to her and how to deal with it. In The Furies, the Furies and Athena seem to play the role of deciding the fate of a crime committed by Orestes. This is a crime against a woman committed at the hands of a man just as in Unbelievable. Orestes commits matricide and Athena and the Furies argue about his punishment, whether he should be sentenced to death or pardoned for his crime. The Furies and Athena put their heads together in deciding what to do in this predicament. These women turn their disagreement of Orestes fate into a compromise where the Furies benefit from a relationship with Athena as she grants them power in their society rather than be outcasts of it as they were before. In both the tv series and play, women are seen coming together to compromise and problem solve for the greater good of other people. Athena and the Furies come to an agreement to work together in helping the citizens of Athens while the two detectives put their heads together in finding a serial rapist and helping his victims get the justice they deserve.

Death and the Maiden: Toxic Masculinity Stands Trial

The victim in this play being a woman shows that even in a dictatorship, death is not the only injustice that needs to be brought to the attention of the government. Paulina has had to live 15 years of her life dealing with these unspeakable acts and not being able to do anything about it. Women in this text are poked fun at plenty of times, and it seems that the theme of not believing women is prevalent here. Men suffered violence and death as well, but Paulina had her dignity forever stripped of her and these memories have never left her. The system, even a democratic one, is always flawed when it comes to believing women when they claim rape. This idea that even the person she considers closest to her doesn’t believe her exemplifies that idea that nobody ever believes women when they talk about rape and that idea that the system put in place would rather have them be silenced. Gerardo takes his wife’s perpetrator’s side, and on multiple occasions insists that women are crazy. Gerardo says, ” You know women…,” on p.14 of the text when referring to his wife. This statement was only the beginning of many other truths that Gerardo was to share on his opinion of women later on. Roberto says on page 18,” Of the two things you never share, my friend, one is your toothbrush.” This statement alludes to this other unsaid thing men do not share is women. This is ironic in both the senses that come to find out Roberto hadn’t only raped his wife, but when he had raped her, it had been with a group of men, therefore; sharing a woman. Centering women in the middle of all of this social disorder about injustice within the government and enacted by a truth commission shows how even after the dictatorship has ended, it seems women were still going to be denied that voice they needed in accusing their rapists. Paulina’s husband is involved in both matters personal and professional, as he’s on the commission board and he doesn’t support her in either aspect. It feels like it is Paulina against the world and she’s been living through a nightmare that will never be brought to justice, and even at the hands of a man who claims to love her she cannot find anyone to really and truly hear her.