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Critique please: REVISED response paper - To Kill A Mockingbird

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This is my 9th grade daughter's revised paper. I gave her more detailed instructions this time and sat with her as she wrote. She's been working on it for over a week. Thanks!


To Kill A Mockingbird


     To Kill A Mockingbird is a novel that should bring about a strong response in those who read it. This book teaches us about the innocence of childhood. It also shows us the harsh reality of racism. Finally, in the character of Atticus, we see one man’s strength and determination to do that which is right instead of that which is easy.

     The theme of childhood innocence is seen several times throughout this novel. The character of Arthur “Boo†Radley can be seen as symbolic of childhood. He is awkward and shy, much like a child hiding behind a parent in certain social situations.  He laughs when he sees Scout hit his house when the children are playing in the tire. He leaves gifts for Jem and Scout. He protects the children when they are attacked by Bob Ewell. In his mind, Arthur probably saw this as a simple case of protecting Jem and Scout from the “bad man.†After this, Arthur’s innocence is in need of protection. This is evidenced by Sheriff Tate’s statement, “All the ladies in Maycomb includin’ my wife’d be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight-to me that’s a sin.†Scout even recognizes the need to protect Arthur when she says, “Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingird...†We see another example of childhood innocence in Dill. He is deeply hurt and confused by the way in which Tom is treated by the prosecuting attorney. When Scout tells Dill that Tom is “just a Negro,†Dill responds, “I don’t care one speck. It ain’t right, somehow it ain’t right to do ‘em that way. Hasn’t anybody got any business talkin’ like that - it just makes me sick.†In this case, we see a child, in his innocence, speak the truth. The adults have become accustomed to and have accepted a certain degree of racism. Dill believes that Tom should be treated with respect, no matter what his skin color is. Scout also shows us the innocence of childhood. When Jem and Scout discuss the classes of people, Scout says, “I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.†Scout fails to see that people often put barriers between themselves and other classes or races, particularly during this time in history. We also see that Scout doesn’t understand that the mob outside the courthouse is there to kill Tom, and, if necessary, even Atticus. In her innocence, Scout speaks to one of the mob leaders, Mr. Cunningham, and asks about his legal matters. She also asks about his son Walter and asks Mr. Cunningham to tell Walter hello for her. She is completely unaware of the possibility that Mr. Cunningham would hurt or kill Tom and her father. Jem faces a loss of his childhood innocence as a result of the trial. He felt confident that Tom would be acquitted. When instead he’s found guilty, Jem must face the ugly reality that the racism in his community is strong enough to convict an innocent man. Finally, a loss of innocence occurs when Jem and Scout were almost killed by Bob Ewell.

     The injustice of racism is also a theme of this book. Tom Robinson, a black man, is accused of raping a white girl by the name of Mayella Ewell. In spite of overwhelming evidence that supports Tom’s innocence, the all-white jury finds him guilty. It’s obvious to me that this decision is based on Tom’s skin color rather than on the facts presented by Atticus. Also, most of the white people in Maycomb see themselves as superior to the black people. They feel as if the black people owe them simply because they have “allowed†the black people to co-exist with them. This is evidenced by Mrs. Merriweather’s comments: “If we just let them know we forgive ‘em, that we’ve forgotten it, then this whole thing’ll blow over.†She goes on to say, “…there’s nothing more distracting than a sulky darky.…You know what I said to my Sophy, Gertrude? ‘Sophy, you simply are not being a Christian today. Jesus Christ never went around grumbling and complaining.’†There is also Mrs. Farrow, who says, “…looks like we’re fighting a losing battle, a losing battle...doesn’t matter to ‘em one bit. We can educate ‘em till we’re blue in the face, we can try till we drop to make Christians out of ‘em, but there’s no lady safe in her bed these nights.†This attitude is sickening. It’s as if the black people have no right to feel outraged and hurt by Tom’s conviction. They are simply expected to keep quiet, do what they’re told, and be content with their lower place in society.

     Atticus is known for being an honorable man. He is the kind of character that one should not only respect and admire, but also strive to imitate. He is a good father. He works hard to provide for Jem and Scout but also has time to talk with and teach them as well. He explains difficult things in a way that makes sense to Jem and Scout. We see many examples of how much respect he has from the community. Atticus is specifically chosen by Judge Taylor to take Tom’s case because Judge Taylor trusts that Atticus will truly defend Tom to the best of his ability. Atticus takes the case despite knowing the potential threats and humiliation that it could cause his family. A neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, calls Atticus a “nigger-loverâ€, and Scout also hears it being said at school. Eventually, when Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout, the case almost costs Atticus the life of his children. Because Atticus believes in Tom’s innocence and his right to justice, he is willing to take whatever consequences come with his defending Tom. In short, Atticus takes the case because it’s the right thing to do. He says he could never face his children if he didn’t take the case. During the trial, Atticus presents an excellent case for Tom’s defense. He has worked to gather enough evidence to exonerate Tom. In his closing arguments Atticus says, “To begin with, this case should never have come to trial. This case is as simple as black and white...I have nothing but pity in my heart for the chief witness for the state, but my pity does not extend so far as to her putting a man’s life at stake...and so a quiet, respectable, humble Negro who had the unmitigated temerity to ‘feel sorry’ for a white woman has had to put his word against two white people’ know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negros lie, some Negros are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women-black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men.†Atticus attempts to get the jury to see things as he sees them - in the light of truth and justice.

     When one finishes this novel, there are many things on which to reflect. Jem and Scout are harshly introduced to the reality of racism and injustice in their community. They are almost murdered by Bob Ewell, which is certainly an experience that forces them into an adult world. Tom is found guilty, even though he is innocent. In Atticus, we see an honorable and moral character. It is the kind of character that we hope to be.



Edited by freeindeed

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