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.  

Crenshaw’s Blending of Race and Gender

I am beginning to find that I reason with pieces such as this more now than I did before or at the start of the semester. The issue brought about in this piece is a conjunction of race and gender (or other identities) that cause one to be even more succeptable to discrimination, or any other misfortune, than any classification would alone. This intersectionality is one that Crenshaw argues has never never been effectively negotiated or understood, even by members of one of the groups.

Crenshaw writes about the ways by which black woman are affected politically, socially, and economically. The idea of a country built and structured around patriarchal ideals coincides here, and bonds with modern racism. Each, of course, are difficult to overcome and require resistance and fight. However, when non-white and womanhood are linked, a new, less identifiable struggle comes to the forefront.

When it comes to the law and how to go about addressing issues such as this one, Crenshaw writes about the importance of establishing group politics, rather than merely identity politics. It seems that she believes that the first step to understanding one’s particular position is to understand and put together each aspect of the individual that yields intersectionality.

Absolutely, this piece speaks to the issues that are represented in TKAM. The idea of intersectionality is important to the law in general due to a justice system that relies heavily upon prejudice to obtain ‘justice’. Crenshaw’s piece was an in-depth description of the way that Tom was treated, and an indicator of the some of the issues that the US still faces currently.

This piece is interesting but is certainly not what I am the best at reading and thoroughly understanding. I do think that Crenshaw makes some excellent points that I never necessarily thought about putting together. For that, I enjoyed the piece and look forward to learning more.

Tradd Stover

This Coming of Age Imparted Onto Us

No matter how we read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird the story always at its core is a coming of age story for Scout and Jem. This trial was a grueling development in the children’s life and as such has shaped them by the end. Scout’s development is what interests me most as it revolves around her self discovery in a sense. She discovers who she is in the scale of race, class, and even as a woman. This trial has taught Scout of the distinctions and separations in all of these areas. She finally can see she is not only a white person, but a comparatively wealthy, white, female. This comes as a fulfilling ending to the novel as we have seen it grow through her actions with Boo and the gifts he brings, the contrast she finds between herself and Mayella, and the distinction between her family and that of the Ewells. All of these are major points that guide Scout into realizing who she is in this world.

I find it to be no coincidence that this novel has become a common middle and high school required reading. I can remember vividly reading this in my 7th grade ENGL classes! What this books does well is impart this coming of age onto us the reader. Reading this novel was a defining event for me and many others as we grew up. The awkward silences when vulgarities were used, the sideways glances between students when hearing of Dill’s tragic family life, or the shadow that engulfs a middle school classroom hearing that Tom Robinson was shot 17 times in his back…

These are emotional events that Scout had to face and we, the reader, must face with her. This novel forces young readers to grow with it as they read it. It allows readers to follow Scout’s path and come to the conclusion of who they are. It can highlight the class, race, and gender privilege at an early age and allow us to begin understanding these concepts so that we can know ourselves. Once we know ourselves we can begin growing and fixing our prejudices, using our privilege for fairness and equality, and reconciling our innocent past with the gritty future after what we learn from reading To Kill a Mockingbird.

Mayella’s Reliance on her Identity in her Testimony in TKAM

During the trial scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, Mayella relies on her identity as a white woman to help her throughout her testimony and ultimately win over the jury. She is aware of her social status compared to Tom Robinson’s and is able to use this to her advantage. She also chooses to present herself as weak and fragile in an attempt to prove she is traumatized from the alleged rape.

When Mayella is asked to tell the jury about what happened during the evening of the incident, she initially sits silent. It is obvious that she knew she would be required to give her testimony, so she had plenty of time to mentally prepare for this moment. She silences herself and cries with the intentions of playing the victim.

If Tom Robinson was truly guilty, Mayella would have displayed confidence in her responses during her testimony. Instead, she presented tears, distress, and hesitance in her responses. When Atticus asks Mayella if she had asked for Tom’s assistance before, she first denies it, saying, “I did not, I certainly did not” (209) but when asked again she says, “I mighta” (209). Mayella’s inconsistent answers gives the jury little reason to believe her, but they ultimately take her side because she is a white woman.

In her last statement, she says that Tom Robinson “took advantage of me an’ if you fine fancy gentlemen don’t wanta do nothin’ about it then you’re all yellow stinkin’ cowards, stinkin’ cowards, the lot of you” (214). She relies on her identity to save her from having to speak anymore.

Mayella plays a major role in Maycomb’s preservation of social order. Although it is clear to me that she could have presented a much stronger testimony to ensure that Tom would be found guilty, the system worked in her favor regardless. It is the social inequality and racial prejudice of Maycomb that allowed Tom Robinson to be falsely convicted of rape.

Gender Power

Like many of the works written in the past, the role of genders matched the real-life roles. However, in The Furies, the characters did not keep their stereotypical roles of this time period in the play at all. In this play, the women had all the power, and the men were there to try and support each other.  

The first example of female power is Clytemnestra talking to the Furies about getting revenge. Through my first time reading through this, I missed the fact that the Furies were female. So, my first impression of this scene was that even as a ghost, a female still had more power than a male because she was able to give the Furies commands in their sleep. But this changed after I realized they were female.

In the end of the play, Athena is given the power to decide the outcome of what will happen to Orestes, is interesting in two ways. The first is the fact that she was going to have the final say if the votes come back a tie. If she has the power to do that, why didn’t she just do that in the beginning? I understand that she wants to give Orestes a fair trial, so the Furies don’t think she doesn’t want to hear what their side of the story, but the outcome was still the same Orestes was spared. The other way I thought this scene was interesting was because of how the play ended. After the trial, Athena and was trying to appease the Furies so they wouldn’t bring havoc to the world. This only happened because the Furies were not able to deal with Orestes the way they wanted to. But this was going to happen with or without a trial because it was Athena’s decision, so the trial wasn’t necessary.

The Furies also had a significant amount of power. They were able to challenge the ideas of both Athena and Apollo and not suffer any major consequences. The most important of the two would be Apollo since he was a male, and it is typically the male who has the power to do this.

Gender in The Furies

The role of gender varies in The Furies Works of literature written during this time period typically are reflective of the way women were viewed and seen as during the time and this is not any different. A lot of gender stereotypes are upheld in this play. On the other hand, a woman does have the most power in the courtroom and was able to speak up. 

Clytemnestra is portrayed as a crazy woman set on revenge. She is frantic and determined to get the Furies help in making sure that Orestes pays for what he did. Agamemnon is painted as a saint and that him being murdered is the worst thing that could happen. No one seems to side or even try to understand Clytemnestra and where she is coming from. Her husband sacrificed their daughter and the only one people are blaming is Clytemnestra because she retaliated. Agamemnon did not die in battle but died at the hands of the woman and that is a sin. Apollo nor Orestes have any respect for the Furies, who are older women goddesses. Apollo describes them in harsh words and even takes a stab at their virginity, which is not relevant in any sense. He questions their authority, though they are older and just as powerful. When the Furies were questioning Orestes in court, Orestes seemed to respond with surprise that he shared blood with his mother. It is apparent to Orestes, Apollo, and even Athena that being a mother does not even begin to compare to being a father. Apollo claims that there is only one parent and it is the father,  “the one named mother is not the child’s true parent but the nurturer of the newly sown seed” (Aeschylus 145). Motherhood is downgraded time and time again. Even Athena says she is a child of her father and not her mother. 

Orestes turned to Apollo for help and he sent him Athena’s way. Athena has the ultimate power when it comes to Orestes case. She is essentially the judge. Her vote is the one that broke the tie after the jurors voted so in the end, Orestes’ fate rested in her hands and she sided with him, “I cannot give precedence to the woman’s death” she murdered her husband, the guardian of the House’ if the vote is split Orestes will be the winner” (Aeschylus 148). Athena also offered the Furies a position of power, in which they would be worshipped and in return, be expected to do good things. Though Athena was the woman of power in the courtroom, she did say that this case was too much for her to decide so she chose her finest men to be the jurors and preside in the case. 

Ultimately gender norms are more or less prevalent in this play. Athena may be a woman of power, but that is the only case in which there is any respect for women by men in the play. Even Athena has misogynist ways and in the end, men are seen as the superior gender.