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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.  

Modern Day “Death and the Maiden”

Ariel Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden” was written 30 years ago about the Chilean regime. While it may seem specific, the play offers thematic elements that aren’t confined to the context of the play and are actually still relevant today. When reading the play, I felt that I had heard the story before, and I had actually seen it twice before reading what I consider the original. As a crime show fan, I’ve watched all of Criminal Minds and a lot of Law and Order SVU. Both shows pride themselves on using relevant topics for their content so I was surprised to realize that a play about Chile written 30 years prior was a basis for episodes from the shows. It proves to me that the topic of survivors finding a place in the law is still very much relevant today. 

The Criminal Minds episode “Unknown Subject” is about the BAU team trying to catch a serial rapist, not knowing that one of the former victims had kidnapped a man she believed to be the perpetrator. She believed him to be her attacker because he played a song that had been repeatedly played while she was raped, creating a physical reaction for her. This directly takes an element from “Death and the Maiden” because of the song. She uses a gun and kidnaps him to hear his confession, like Paulina does to Roberto. The discomfort with the situation of the “at home” version of the law is the same as it is in “Death and the Maiden”. The episode makes you uncomfortable because as the man is pleading his case to the survivor, he seems so rational and believable. This is very much like Roberto. He tries to outsmart her by throwing logical alternatives to her belief that he committed the crime. Like Paulina, the survivor is portrayed to be the one that is crazy. She seems overly aggressive and irrational- a contrast to the man who seems to be trying to bring reason in the situation. In Law and Order SVU, “Remember Me/Remember Me Too”, the situation is similar. The kidnapped man who the woman believes the perpetrator is believed. He is thought to be the rational one trying to bring reason into a situation created by the woman who he calls “a crazy bitch”. Because the man is portrayed as the rational one, both episodes are uncomfortable. This leads for me to the question of where the law provides space for survivors, especially female survivors. The reality is that in each of these works, the law does not offer an obvious place for women. So much so that the women believe that it is better to kidnap their alleged abuser rather than turn to the police. These women are angry. The law seems to be actively working against them and believing the perpetrators and so they believe that they have to find justice for themselves. This anger and frustration with the law is misplaced by the women which causes them to be portrayed as crazy and irrational. As discussed in Criminal Minds, the system is a revictimization of these survivors so they create their own system. The law is imperfect here. It does more to serve the perpetrators than it does for the victims so the victims get angry. Their credibility is destroyed with their anger because of how they seem, giving the credibility to the alleged perpetrator they have kidnapped. Even though the two shows were made much later than the play, the fact that they used the premise of the play shows that this topic is still very much an issue today and the law is still not giving survivors the space that they need.  

What is interesting about the episodes I watched is that both TV shows have a much stronger resolution that “Death and the Maiden”. In Criminal Minds, the BAU bursts in and convinces the survivor to put down her gun by telling her that the guy she kidnapped isn’t the perp. When he walks outside though, they arrest him for the 12 rapes. The man in Law and Order is also found to be guilty. We don’t get that same resolution or even an answer in “Death and the Maiden” and I think that is often the result of the law. I think the fact that these two modern takes end differently than the play proves that the law is moving more towards finding concrete answers for survivors. Maybe it is going to take a long time still and it is not going to be an easy journey, but the modern versions could be showing a shift in mindset of the people, which could lead to changes in the law. And this change could provide room for survivors in the law- something that each of these works prove is necessary for the success of justice.

Each of the works also prove how important a confession is to the healing of survivors. While they each change elements of the story, especially the endings, all of the survivors on the show want a confession. It is why each of them create their own “trials”. It shows how important the truth is for the law and for the healing of victims. These women need to hear their attackers confess and tell the truth so that they may start their healing process. The space in which they do this is their own because the law does not provide one for them.

Collective Guilt

Between the last several readings, I’m seeing a common issue running all through the legal and philosophical issues raised in Eichmann in Jerusalem, Death and the Maiden, Long Night’s Journey into Day, and now coming to a head in Country of My Skull. How do we legally deal with situations where we aren’t sure where to put the guilt and blame?

Obviously this issue existed in the case of the Nazi Holocaust, and so the Eichmann trial butted up against it to some degree. His defense rested on the idea that he acted with no malice and was essentially following orders. This implies a shifting of the blame for his crimes from himself to the collective Nazi party, or at the very least his superiors. But the idea wasn’t fully developed as in fact there was one man on trial and one man punished.

Moving to Death and the Maiden, We again saw a single man on trial (if we may call it that) for his crimes, but it is set against the backdrop of a country that has instituted a truth commission and is unsure how to apply legal blame and punishment for crimes. It is argued by Gerardo that they cannot punish Roberto because the only way the country is able to keep from descending into chaos is by granting general amnesty. There are just too many people implicated in the old regime. Lurking under that whole play is the idea that the entire old Chilean regime is guilty and thus cannot be punished. It’s neither practical nor possible.

Moving to South Africa, this idea finally comes fully out. The entire Apartheid regime has essentially collapsed and lost power, but it’s legacy lives on. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) is granting amnesty for crimes in exchange for truthful testimony of them, but for Krog, it is apparent that the real problem South Africa has is that it is so hard to draw the lines of guilt. while there may be relatively few literal perpetrators of the crimes of Apartheid, there are many thousands of beneficiaries of those crimes.

“In a sense, it is not these men but a culture that is asking for amnesty” (Krog, pg 121)

Krog goes on in the same chapter to talk about how people reacted to her presenting her ideas of collective guilt. She tells of several people who called into her radio show, outraged that she was saying that they were guilty of the horrible crimes of apartheid. Their claims were some version of “I am not guilty of the crimes of murder/torture/rape/etc. because I did not commit them. my benefiting indirectly does not make me complicit or guilty.”

Krog seems deeply conflicted about this idea but I think she ultimately decides that there is some level of guilt held by the beneficiaries of those crimes. Personally I am far from convinced that this is true, but leaving that aside for the moment, I don’t think it’s practical or helpful. How can you punish a whole culture? How can you punish people who didn’t actually DO anything? And if you start going down that road, where does it end? If you look hard enough, and carry that idea all the way, aren’t we all then somehow guilty of everything? Don’t we all as people carry the guilt of every terrible thing that has ever happened, simply because we exist in the same broken world as everyone else? If you start with collective guilt, where can you stop? I don’t think you can. And so wether collective guilt is real or not, it seems impossible and impractical for the law to punish. This is a limit to the law. Right or wrong, law doesn’t have the power to walk down that road.

Roberto’s Inconsistencies

            Ariel Dorfman certainly gives her play “Death and the Maiden” an ambiguous ending, and it leaves the reader wondering two things: if Paulina killed Roberto and if Roberto was guilty or innocent. Since the time interval of events is so short, the reader is never able to get a good judgment on Roberto’s character. When reading the play, I noticed some inconsistencies in Roberto’s character that would make me believe that he is guilty.

            One inconsistency begins in act one scene two when Roberto shows up at Paulina and Gerardo’s home. Roberto and Gerardo discuss how serious the punishment should be for the past dictatorship and they share their opinions on the amnesty of the past regime. Surprisingly, Roberto takes an extreme stance and says that the people of the past dictatorship should all die. He says, “I’m for killing the whole bunch of them” as well as “there are people who simply don’t deserve to be alive.” This merciless and violent stance is expressed quite casually and calmly as well, and these statements would indirectly characterize him as a violent man. Now later in the play in act two scene two, Roberto is pleading to Gerardo to free him and says, “I’m a quiet man. Anyone can see that I’m incapable of violence- violence of any sort sickens me.” This statement is a complete contradiction to his violent stance on the past regime. How could Roberto advocate for the death penalty to all involved in the dictatorship when “violence of any sort sickens” him? I would argue that at the beginning of the play is best way to judge his character because he is not tied up and in his most natural state. This state would show his true personality because he does not know that Paulina is Gerardo’s wife. Also, the violent nature without a doubt line up to what he is accused for.

            The next inconsistency is brought to light by Paulina. Roberto successfully manipulates Gerardo into getting the story from Paulina in order to forge the false confession. However, Paulina gives Gerardo false information in which Roberto corrects in fear of not getting the confession correct. This provides further proof that Roberto is lying and trying to manipulate Paulina into thinking that she has the wrong guy. The corrections that Roberto makes are so unique to the story that in order to know that information he had to have been involved in Paulina’s torture..

Self-Reflection in Death and the Maiden

The play, “Death and the Maiden” by Ariel Dorfman is a play that displays a lack of justice for the assault of the main character Paulina. Throughout the play, the audience sees her response to Roberto, and just how angry and vengeful she is towards him. The audience watching this conflict occur and unfold, can almost feel like the audience is a jury. We observe the situation at hand and form our own opinions and thoughts on it and decide what it is that we believe. At the very end of Act III before Paulina is supposedly about to shoot Roberto, there is a large mirror that descends from the ceiling and down in front of the audience in the stage directions. I think this is an interesting addition by Dorfman to this play, and really causes the audience and the readers of the play to think. 

The use of the mirror at the end of the play, and the use of the spotlights flashing over random members of the audience before the epilogue I think is a powerful moment. The mirror represents self-reflection and causes the audience to think and literally forces them to look at themselves and think about their complacency to what has happened, as well as whether or not justice is being served. I think the complacency speaks to both what has happened to Paulina and whether or not we believe her and also to the fate of Roberto. The mirror falls right before what we would assume is when she shoots him, and the audience doesn’t get to see it. The mirror I think probably raises questions like how do they feel about what’s happening ? Were they accepting of and okay with Roberto being shot? Do they feel satisfied witnessing what has happened without knowing the outcome? This makes me think about the Me Too movement today, and the women who come forward with their stories and testimonies of the sexaul abuse they have faced, and the lack of belief people who heard their stories had in it and them. The use of mirrors in literature has always been symbolic of reflection and seeing oneself for what they truly are and what they truly think, which is no different in this play.