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.  

Just Mercy shares shocking similarities to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in that both are based in the town of Monroeville, Alabama and show a black man wrongfully convicted of a violent crime by an angry white community. However, the Mockingbird Trial took place in the 1930s and Walter McMillian’s case happened in the 1980s. The original trial shocked the Monroeville community after Atticus was able to prove Tom Robinson’s innocence and he was still convicted as guilty and sent to jail. While in jail awaiting execution for his wrongful conviction the guards shot him 17 times in the back stating he attempted to escape.

Nearly 50 years later an almost identical case transpires where Walter McMillian is wrongfully convicted of murder and is waiting on death row for his date. What has changed in those 50 years follows in the wake of To Kill a Mockingbird, there are people who testify against previous false testimonies, there is a DA who eventually agrees all charges need to be dropped, and there is a new generation who sees men like Walter as a person. Progress is slow and takes generations to grow into full blow change, but Walters story shows that very change taking place. The community of Monroeville remember how horrid it was that a man was wrongfully convicted and want things right. There is a young guard in the prison who sees Walter as a human and lets him have pictures of his family when he is in solitary confinement. There’s a young new District Attorney who struggles to protect himself from the “old guard” police force and serve justice to a man he knows was wrongfully convicted of murder. There’s a community of family and friends who 50 years ago would have been lynched if they testified coming out still in fear to testify against this unjust case. All of these are the ripples of change that the original Mockingbird case set forth for this small town and for the nation as a whole.

There is a new generation of lawyers, guards, family, and friends who grew up on the equality and justice Atticus Finch tried to grant to Tom Robinson, and not the hate and prejudice that leads to his death. These few are the ones who worked their way into the corrupt Monroeville justice system and are helping make sure it doesn’t repeat itself again and again. These points play off my earlier post about how the coming of age story is imparted onto us as we read To Kill a Mockingbird early on in middle and high-school. The work this book did, the seed it planted, is growing and has grown with everyone who knows of it. Much like Scout, the people in this movie are new to a case like this but not completely foreign to it – and they know from one very smart girl and her brave father just how to handle it.

Gerardo – Toxic Masculinity

Death & The Maiden followed the story of a woman named Paulina who after escaping from being a political prisoner, believes that her husband has picked up the doctor who played a role in her being subjected to torture and torment within her imprisonment. Paulina then decides to take “justice” into her own hands by holding her own form of a trial for her captor, named Roberto. Her husband Gerardo disapproved of her tactics from the very beginning and attempted to convince his wife to release the man who he doesn’t believe was her actual captor. 

One major theme that I observed while reading this story was the unwillingness of Paulina’s husband, to simply believe his wife. From the beginning, when Paulina says to Gerardo that Roberto is the Doctor from her time spent being a political prisoner, he immediately dismisses her case by saying that “You’re Sick.” Knowing that Paulina suffered from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder and is not fully at terms with it, I found that very abusive in nature. As a married couple, I feel that it is very detrimental to the relationship to be so dismissive of your partners feelings, especially after going through a traumatic experience like the one that Paulina experienced. 

            As an individual within the judicial system and a member of the justice commission, one would assume that Gerardo would have the skills to be able to separate his emotions and be impartial enough to listen to Paulina, instead of instantly dismissing Paulina’s point of view. But when it came to Gerardo, he had the decency to treat him with respect, and listened to his point of view. “I’d rather speak to you as if you were a client, Doctor Miranda. That will help me out.” Gerardo said. But would not have those same intentions with his wife. Gerardo’s actions very accurately depicted the concept of toxic masculinity. It is this concept that is harmful to women in more ways than one, and in the case of Paulina could have been very detrimental. 

Poetic Injustice

I find it ironic that Gerardo, a justice on the Commission, is serving the biggest injustice to his very own wife. The beginnings of Gerardo’s promise first appear on page 35 where Paulina says, “…what did you swear you’d do to them when you found them? ‘Some day, my love, we’re going to put these bastards on trial. Your eyes will be able to rove’ – I remember the exact phrase, because it seemed, poetic – ‘your eyes will be able to rove each one of their faces while they listen to your story.'” Gerardo offered her sweet, consoling words but seemingly only to keep her placated and submissive.

Gerardo’s intentions of placation continue to become more noticeable on page 45 where he and Roberto are alone in the kitchen. Gerardo tells Roberto that he needs to confess to the part, even though Gerardo has doubts that Roberto is guilty because Gerardo thinks his wife is “sick” and wants her to stop her madness. How is Gerardo supposed to fulfill his promise of justice to Paulina if all he does is question and belittle her? It seems as though every opportunity Gerardo has to seek the truth, he turns a blind eye to the evidence laying before him because, if Roberto somehow is proven innocent, Gerardo’s career would be over before it was made. His justice for Paulina is a self-serving one in which the end assists him, not his wife.

On page 63, Roberto confesses to Paulina that Gerardo coached him on his confession; however, on the following page, Paulina in turn admits to Roberto that she expected him to do so which is why she fed Gerardo incorrect details which the abuser then subconsciously corrected. Paulina had apparently abandoned hope of her husband carrying through on his promise of justice and sough it herself. Gerardo never completed his promise of poetic justice, and in the end, whatever justice was doled out was delivered by Paulina herself.

Zong!: the irrepressible and the neverending

Prior to this reading, I had never heard of the Zong case. As I read the poems, I had no idea the context of what I was reading. I did not understand the full story until I read Philip’s essay, after I had already absorbed the poems. One thing I was struck by in her commentary on her work was the idea of telling a story through not telling it. In my case, she succeeded in this mission handily. I knew nothing of the story, but by the time I read the details, I was not surprised. The horror had already been whispered to me slowly through the poems. They translated to me the essentials of the situation, which, stripped of meaning, conveyed more through silence than noise. Water-frenzy-negroes-overboard-justice-escaped. My brain painted the rest of the picture, which had already been formed but was simply fleshed out through the revelations in Philip’s essay. In this there can be seen an element of subjectivity; the story can become anything the reader finds in it.


This is in part what I believe Philip means when she claims that in writing Zong! she implicates herself–simply by allowing the story any flexibility, she allows the atrocities to be overlooked. She exposes the dead for what they were–humans who deserved respect and dignity and life–by opening the history up for inspection, but in doing so she allows them to be abused once again. In turning them from property into people, she reveals the solemn truth: they were people the whole time, no matter what any law or judge said. So she is not only savior but warden. Putting a story like this into the world; one that reveals so much of the evil humanity has the potential for, yet also allows murder victims a space for remembrance, is a powerful statement but a dangerous one.


The other thing I believe Philip could mean when she talks about guilt in authoring this work is somewhat reminiscent of Derrida’s ideas. It could be debated that just by writing about an act so singularly and irrevocably violent, Philip furthers the worlds that allowed it to happen at all. In putting the words on paper, she claims some type of ownership over such a horrific event, giving herself the power to condemn or acquit, save or abandon. From this view, the poems of Zong! become performative acclamations, words that bring long dead atrocious acts and innocent souls back into the landscape of present-day, breathing life into them and encasing them in the written word, where they will rest forever. The struggle becomes that it is impossible to separate the two; the killer and the victim, the captain and the slave, the perpetrator and the victim. They must all await judgement together. This requires the most delicate sort of artistry from an author, and this is where I commend Philip in her performance more than anywhere else; she refuses to let the dead remain unheard, yet she neglects to give them her own voice, which would, in the end, only be yet another form of subjugation for them to endure.