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Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Don't Put Your Shoes on the Bed: A Moral Analysis
of To Kill a Mockingbird.
East Tennessee State University
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Stiltner, MitziAnn, "Don't Put Your Shoes on the Bed: A Moral Analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird." (2002). Electronic Theses and
Dissertations. Paper 722. http://dc.etsu.edu/etd/722 This Thesis - Open Access is brought to you for free and open access by Digital Commons @ East Tennessee State University. It has been accepted for inclusion in Electronic Theses and Dissertations by an authorized administrator of Digital Commons @ East Tennessee State University. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t Put Your Shoes on the Bed: A Moral Analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird A thesis presented to the faculty of the Department of English East Tennessee State University In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Master of Arts in English by Mitzi-Ann Stiltner December 2002 Dr. Thomas Alan Holmes Dr. Jack Branscomb Dr. Anne Sherrill Keywords: Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, moral analysis, historical view, character development ABSTRACT Don’t Put Your Shoes on the Bed: A Moral Analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird by Mitzi-Ann Stiltner Harper Lee wrote a remarkable novel that provides a great deal of moral insight for its readers;
through a use of history, moral instruction, and character development, Lee establishes a foundation for how people in an often intolerant world should live peacefully together.
Moreover, she reminds the reader that regardless of socioeconomic status or race everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness. In establishing this moral analysis one must consider the historical source of Tom Robinson’s trial, the Scottsboro Trial; the Finch children’s consistent and exemplified instruction from their widowed father, Atticus, their housekeeper, Calpurina, and other close neighbors; and the symbolic representation of the mockingbird as a peaceful and protective creature that generally gets along with other bird species.
I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to those individuals who offered a great deal of encouragement and assistance throughout this project. I appreciate the cooperation of the Monroe County Heritage Museum in Monroeville, Alabama, for helping me locate a number of reviews and essays on Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird when this project began. To my mother, Ginger, and my dearest friend, Angie, thanks for baby-sitting and giving me uninterrupted time on this project; this allowed a majority of the project to be completed. Most importantly to my husband, Tom, thank you for pushing, encouraging, and supporting my effort with this project; without you this project would not have been completed.
2. HISTORY SETS UP A MORAL FOUNDATION IN TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.......10
3. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: A MORAL ANALYSIS AND APPLICATION...............23
4. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: HARPER LEE’S CHARACTER REPRESENTATION..49
5. CONCLUSION: HARPER LEE’S FINAL POINT
Not only is To Kill a Mockingbird a fun novel to read, it is purposeful. Harper Lee wrote the novel to demonstrate the way in which the world and its people should live together in harmony through a basic moral attitude of treating others with respect and kindness. The novel received the Pulitzer Prize in 1960, which places it among the best adult novels ever written;
although it achieved this high recognition, today’s primary readers are adolescents. However, at the turning of the twenty-first century, one might wrongfully assume Harper Lee intended To Kill a Mockingbird a novel for adolescents and ignore its lessons for adults. According to “’Fine Fancy Gentlemen’ and ‘Yappy Folks’: Contending Voices in To Kill a Mockingbird,” by Theodore Hovet and Grace-Ann Hovet, Lee’s work is important because she does not supply the normal assumptions most in America harbor regarding the origins of racism. To the contrary, they argue that “Rather than ascribing racial prejudice primarily to ‘poor white trash’ (qtd. in Newitz and Wray), Lee demonstrates how issues of gender and class intensify prejudice, silence the voices that might challenge the existing order, and greatly complicate many Americans’ conception of the causes of racism and segregation” (67). Reading To Kill a Mockingbird provides its audience with a basic moral code by which to live and encounter individuals who appear different or make choices unlike those made by the mainstream populace. Therefore, this novel becomes part of our moral culture; regardless of age, people learn from the moral codes taught by defense attorney Atticus Finch, his children, and his community.
Using the backdrop of racial tension and an episode of southern living, Lee develops To Kill a Mockingbird to point out basic morals by which people should live. By Lee’s combining a fictionalization of the historic Scottsboro Trial and the novel’s use of the community to morally educate two children, her characters demonstrate moral responsibility. In the first part of the novel, Lee establishes conflict as Atticus Finch, the father, and the surrounding community, through various situations and conversations, enlighten Jem and Scout Finch with lessons of moral ethic. The moral responsibility of others is to express kindness and respect to others in a world where people of different races, socioeconomic statuses, and cultures exist. In setting the tone Lee establishes the mood through mentions of the Great Depression to remind her reader of the hardships the nation endured. In addition she uses the perspective many people had regarding different races to provide a strong connection to how people should coexist in the world. Lee sets the novel in the 1930s to provide her reader with a specific epoch in time as many of her readers would vividly recall the emotion and attitude.
Furthermore, Lee establishes a strong moral foundation through Atticus and Calpurnia (the Finches’ maid), as well as other adults in the community so Jem and Scout can learn to live in the world and get along with almost anyone. Many lessons are taught to the children through the adults with whom they come in contact; however, most importantly Atticus teaches the children that “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view –“ (Lee 30). Lee sets up several incidents in the novel requiring the children to employ this lesson. In “Communication in To Kill a Mockingbird” Lacy Daigle discusses the various moral lessons constructed. Using Atticus and the Maycomb community, Lee illustrates these morals through example, verbal statements, and experience to show these ideas as they relate to a “broader view of mankind” (Daigle 59). Several scenes depict Lee’s application of these various moral ethics: Atticus verbally chastises his children for nosing into other people’s lives, he genuinely shows kindness and respect to Mrs. Dubose even after her condemnation of his work, and he works ardently to set right the wrong being placed upon Tom Robinson.
Throughout the novel, Lee establishes a historical context with which her audience can see the necessity for moral lessons. Not only does Lee set the mood with the Great Depression she also uses an attitude to enhance her message. African Americans in the South frequently faced false allegations, and juries, because of biases, wrongfully convicted. Because Lee’s trial of Tom Robinson similarly recasts the 1930s Scottsboro trial, it seems likely she chose to use the high-profile, nationally exploited trial as the foundation for her novel. The novel’s trial, like the Scottsboro Trial, implicates a black man and accuses him of raping a white woman. The trials have similar evidence to prove the accused’s noninvolvement in the incident; however, because of white society’s racist fear during the 1930s conviction results. Fictionalizing this historical event helps Lee establish the misguided attitudes of many whites, especially those in the deep South.
During the second part of the novel, Lee‘s child characters come to a strong understanding about moral responsibility and how to apply it in life. Through the characters Arthur “Boo” Radley, the reclusive neighbor, and Tom Robinson, an African American on trial for rape, Lee demonstrates the responsibility people have in their treatment of others. Therefore, the mockingbird, a serene creature with nothing but beautiful music to offer, becomes a crucial component to the moral education of the children as they pursue Boo’s existence and reach an understanding of the real Robinson situation. Presenting the mockingbird as a symbol, Lee reminds the audience that often people respond to situations because of the unknown or past rather than the truth. Arthur Radley’s kindness becomes obvious, but because he remains hidden and reclusive he is unknown. Likewise the community knows the truth about the rape, but because of past fear and prejudice they convict Robinson of a crime he did not commit.
According to the lesson learned by Lee’s characters, one’s moral responsibility lies in respect and kindness toward others.
Tom Robinson’s character demonstrates the unnecessary hatred many white people have for races other than white. Through his character, Lee illustrates a man who works hard and tries to assist others by kindness and represents the part of society or different races that face fear from others. Atticus uncovers Bob Ewell’s lie, that he, not Robinson, has in fact beaten his daughter, but the jury, biased by fear, convicts Robinson even with convincing evidence to the contrary. Lee uses Robinson’s characterization to chastise her audience and show the mistreatment of others regardless of peculiarity, race, or culture as morally wrong.
In addition to Boo Radley and Tom Robinson, Lee creates Dolphus Raymond and Atticus Finch to show various traits of the mockingbird. Both of these characters show convincing evidence that people can live together in an often intolerant world and do so without constant conflict. Dolphus Raymond, although a minor character, is a white man living with a black woman and represents the ability of different peoples to live together peacefully. This character portrays that whites and blacks can live together, but more generally, by his inclusion, Lee demonstrates that people of different cultures can live harmoniously.
Atticus expresses that people have the ability within themselves to accept others and respect them regardless of differences. Through Atticus, the reader discovers that rumor and fear frequently exist as foundations for impressions that need to be ignored so others do not get hurt or mistreated. By incorporating the lessons learned by the children, the novel’s adult audience grasps that society needs to be less critical of other races and accept the contributions others make to society and live harmoniously. Additionally, adults should learn from Atticus that sometimes it is appropriate to do things because of being asked or obligated, and one should provide a devoted effort to the task and responsibility. Summoned to the trial by a judge, Atticus does not accept the trial in an eager manner; however, he takes his responsibility seriously and gives much of his time and energy. Lee indicates throughout the second half of the novel that adults can learn from those people who take responsibility seriously.
Clearly the novel’s audience will recognize the moral responsibility that Lee urges them to meet through an adult narrator who shares her childhood memory and takes a look at learning to treat others with respect. In doing so the audience receives a specific time period, a relationship to the historic attitudes and emotions of the people, a message of moral ethic, and a manner in which to apply those ethics. Although Harper Lee has never publicly announced an intent to morally educate her reader by such a radical and bold story, the reader of To Kill a Mockingbird should clearly see the message that regardless of an individual’s socioeconomic status, race, or culture, one should get to know others or “climb into his skin and walk around in it” (Lee 30) before passing judgment.
HISTORY SETS UP A MORAL FOUNDATION IN TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRDHarper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird in the mid-to-late 1950s, when racial tensions began heating up across the South; and so an analysis of the novel suggests that one take a close look at the historical references, economic and social circumstances of the fictional Maycomb community, and trial of Tom Robinson. This analysis provides the reader with an example of why tolerance is important regardless of social class or racial differences. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee presents a strong code of conduct individuals and communities should practice. By comparing the nation’s real-life events of the early to mid-twentieth century to Lee’s fictionalization of the Scottsboro Trial, one can see how history affects individual responses to situations and other individuals; Lee invites this approach by establishing her
novel’s context in history:
Although never settled in the novel, the opening issue of General Jackson provides the reader with the knowledge that history plays a vital role. Part one shows a historical basis for the attitude of the Maycomb community; without this information, Lee’s reader would not be able to identify the need for a moral standard. Part two of the novel harnesses the nation’s history of racism, through a fictional account of the Scottsboro Trial, to demonstrate an obligation people have toward one another. Through the carefully laid-out novel, Lee enhances the reader’s sense regarding the time period and public attitudes, thus allowing a heightened awareness of a high moral standard.