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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

THE NOVEL

OTHER ELEMENTS

THEMES

JUSTICE AS A SIMPLE CONCEPT

Related to the theme of innocence and experience is the novel's suggestion that innocent children can often see large moral issues more clearly than adults. Scout, Jem, and Dill never waver in their horror at the injustice done to Tom Robinson. The adults in the story, however, see all the complexities of the situation to the point of being blinded to the central issue of right and wrong. However much Scout may grow through her exposure to new experiences, one hopes that she will never lose her childlike undertaking of justice. In the view of this novel's author, justice is a simple concept. To recognize the difference between justice and injustice does not take any special degree of wisdom or sophistication. In fact, the learned members of the community- such as the judge and prosecutor- and the proudly religious Baptists who are spectators at the trial are, willingly or not, allied with the machinery of injustice.


This way of looking at justice may seem obvious, but many writers and readers do not necessarily agree with it. Some readers feel that Lee in effect stacked the deck in favor of simplicity by making Tom Robinson such a straightforward, harmless character. What if Tom had been outspoken and troublesome? What if the children had some reason, however slight, to dislike him? For that matter, aren't Scout and Jem's attitudes just reflections of the beliefs of their father? Innocent or not, the children might take a completely different view of both the trial and Boo Radley's plight if they came from a less fair and tolerant home.

If you read closely, you will see that Harper Lee does not ignore these questions completely. She has many positive things to say about the value of education and children's ability to learn morality from the examples set by various adults, including Atticus, Miss Maudie, and Mrs. Dubose. Nevertheless, the conclusion of the novel still supports the belief that justice is easy to recognize and define. In deciding how to deal with Boo Radley, the sheriff trusts his own compassionate impulse more than he trusts the law and police procedure. And Atticus, the lawyer, agrees.

You might be interested to compare the view of justice in this story with a novel that takes a very different point of view such as William Golding's Lord of the Flies. In Golding's novel, a group of children cast away on an island are seen as amoral creatures who become more cruel and power hungry as their memories of civilized life grow dimmer.

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