“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is one of the greatest works of American literature of all time. It has been reprinted again and again, and is a staple in almost any writing or history class. There are a number of reasons why it can be argued that this novel is one of the greatest ever written, but perhaps the most compelling reason is the fact that the very mature and complex themes explored in this novel are all relayed through the eyes of a child. This very unique perspective allows the reader to see the issues of racism, justice, and identity in an entirely different way.
The story of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is told in first person by Jean Louise Finch, or “Scout”, a young girl living in Alabama during the time of the Great Depression. The nickname “Scout” is a clever indication of the perspective of the story. A scout, in essence, observes and gathers information and relays it to others. This is exactly the case with Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She relays exactly what she sees, and attempts to make sense of it all through a child’s understanding. The truly compelling factor...
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Jean Louise is the narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird; so, the reader is able to read the story from the eyes of an adult looking back as she experiences these events from her young self. In the beginning of the book, Scout is 6 and going into the 1st grade. By the end of the novel, Scout is in third grade and around 8 years old. These years should be innocent times for a little girl, but she is faced with extraordinary experiences that range from bigotry and racism to understanding adult themes such as sexual assault, or rape. Little girls at this age should be worried about which doll to play with, or which picture book to read, but Scout is anything but a normal little girl. She's a very intellectual, literate and rambunctious little tomboy who lives with her brilliant, yet kind and wise father--and when her father is asked to take on the case of his lifetime, her life changes, too, and she cannot escape without losing a little bit of her childhood.
Scout's "loss of innocence" means that she is introduced to adult topics before her time. In chapter 12, Scout visits Calpurnia's church and discovers that people won't hire Tom Robinson's wife Helen because of the rape charges against her husband. This event teaches Scout that people are prejudiced and discriminatory not only to alleged criminals who haven't been proven guilty, but towards their family as well. This is the first time that Scout asks about what rape is, and she asks Calpurnia rather than her father, as in the following passage:
"Calpurnia sighed. 'Old Mr. Bob Ewell accused him of rapin' his girl an' had him arrested an' put in hail--'
'Mr. Ewell?. . . Why, Atticus said they were absolute trash--I never heard Atticus talk about folks the way he talked about the Ewells. . . Well if everybody in Maycomb knows what kind of folks the Ewells are they'd be glad to hire Helen. . . what's rape, Cal?'" (124).
Calpurnia stepped in it first with Scout. Before this moment, Scout heard children like her cousin Francis call Atticus a "ni***r lover;" (83) and Cecil Jacobs said he defended "ni***rs" (75) but those times did not refer to the issue of rape. Calpurnia, on the other hand, does not give the definition to Scout and refers her to her father.
Scout asks her father about rape in chapter 14. Atticus's answer is as follows:
"He sighed, and said rape was carnal knowledge of a female by force and without consent.
'Well if that's all it is why did Calpurnia dry me up when I asked her what it was?" (135).
Clearly, Scout does not understand the issue completely and the conversation steers completely away from learning about what rape is to the fact that Cal took the kids to her church as Aunt Alexandra has a fit about it.
When Bob Ewell takes the stand in chapter 17, he testifies that he saw Tom Robinson "ruttin' on my Mayella!" (173). Reverend Sykes pleads with Jem to get Scout and Dill out of the courtroom in an effort to preserve their innocence, but Jem, not wanting to leave, tells the Reverend that Scout doesn't understand anything that's going on.
While waiting for the verdict, Jem discusses rape in front of Scout again with Reverend Sykes. Scout gets another definition of it as follows:
". . . it wasn't rape if she let you, but she had to be eighteen--in Alabama, that is--and Mayella was nineteen. Apparently you had to kick and holler, you had to be overpowered and stomped on, preferably knocked stone cold. If you were under eighteen, you didn't have to go through all this" (209).
All of the above passages show how rape becomes more and more defined for Scout as the story progresses. Reverend Sykes tries to quiet Jem about the topic a second time, but he claims again that Scout doesn't understand. Scout assures him that she does. Scout may not understand the intimate details, but she can pick up on the stress and importance of the situation as she experiences life before, during and after the trial. She also experiences how horribly people act, speak, and treat each other because of this trial. She learns that her world isn't as rose-colored as many children are led to believe so early on in their lives.