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To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee



In the first part of the novel Scout and Jem are innocent children who are just beginning to understand the complex morality of the adult world. So far, they have seen that some people- Mr. Nathan Radley, for example- may be evil. Still, evil has never directly touched their lives. In Part Two of the story Scout and Jem are thrust into the center of a tragedy. Tom Robinson, an innocent black man, is on trial for his life, and Atticus' role as the defense lawyer puts his whole family in danger.


One Sunday, when Atticus is out of town on business, Calpurnia suggests that Jem and Scout come to church with her. Calpurnia is obviously proud to show off her charges to the members of her church, but not everyone there is glad to see Scout and Jem. One woman, Lulu, even demands that the children be turned out of the church. The white churches in town are all segregated, Lulu reasons, so why should a black church welcome whites?

This incident, occurring right at the beginning of Part Two of the novel, is one of the few times in this story when you are given a glimpse of the way some black people feel about whites. Up until now Jem and Scout have always treated Calpurnia as if she were a member of their family. It never occurred to them that just as some whites hate black people, there were blacks who felt hatred and bitterness toward whites. Nor had they ever stopped to think that some blacks may have looked on Calpurnia's loyalty to her white employers as a kind of betrayal.


The scene between Calpurnia and Lulu shows that Lee understands and acknowledges the anger that many blacks felt toward the system of segregation. However, you won't find many more references to this anger in the rest of the story. To Kill a Mockingbird is very much a novel about the white South, and the impact of racial prejudice on white people. Some readers have argued that this is a serious shortcoming of the novel- Lee, they say, tells only half the story. These readers point out that most of the black characters in the book are idealized and not presented in depth. You do not even find out very much about Calpurnia, who is almost like a mother to Jem and Scout. You know very little about her private life, or of her opinions about the white characters in the novel.

Other readers feel that Lee made a wise decision to limit her story to the society she knew from first-hand experience. As a white Southerner, the author could not know much about how black people talk and act when whites aren't around. Perhaps this is one reason why the author chose to tell her story from the first-person point of view of Scout, a girl very much like herself.

Once Jem and Scout get inside Calpurnia's church, they are in for another shock. At the end of the service, the minister takes up a collection for Tom Robinson's wife and children. When he decides that the parishioners have not been generous enough, he locks everybody inside the church and lectures them until they come up with more money- a tactic Scout can't imagine being used in her church. When Scout wonders aloud why Helen Robinson needs charity since she is able to work, she learns that no one in town wants to hire the wife of an accused rapist. The knowledge that in the adult world people who are blameless often suffer from guilt by association is yet another disillusionment for Scout. Her straightforward, childlike concept of justice is rapidly being undermined.  


ECC [To Kill a Mockingbird Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
Electronically Enhanced Text © Copyright 1993, World Library, Inc.
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