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Historical Context In To Kill A Mockingbird

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David Murtagh

Ms. Riccardo

English 12 Honors

4 January 2008

Historical Context from the 1930s in To Kill a Mockingbird

"To Kill a Mockingbird [by Harper Lee] is a powerful commentary on racial injustice and small town life in the South. Harper Lee's story has roots in real life experiences in the South during the 1930s" (Giddens-White). Lee uses what he knows from living in the south and the history of the south to create a realistic setting in the novel. To Kill a Mockingbird is about a young tom-boy, Scout, and her brother Jem who have a lawyer as their father, Atticus. A white woman accuses a black man, Tom Robinson, of rape despite the fact he did not do it. Atticus takes up the case despite the tension and problems it will cause. The jury however ignores blatant evidence and Tom is convicted based on racism alone. Tom then tries to escape from prison, or so we're told, and is shot dead. The story is wrapped with racism, prejudice, and the general ideas of the south and way of life during this time. The historical context of the novel can be easily seen portrayed in the trial of Tom Robinson, the portrayal of social classes, and the treatment and actions of different races and gender in the nineteen thirties; the historical context can also be link into Harper Lee's personal life and experiences.

There are many similarities between Lee's trial in the novel, and the one that occurred in real life, the Scottsboro trials. The trials, as depicted by author Craig Bradley, began

On March 25, 1931, a freight train was stopped in Paint Rock, a tiny community in Northern Alabama, and nine young Black men who had been riding the rails were arrested. As two white women - one underage - descended from the freight cars, they accused the men of raping them on the train. Within a month the first man was found guilty and sentenced to death. (Bradley)

There are many things about the two trails are strikingly similar; The Scottsboro trial took place during the 1930s in a small town in Northern Alabama. The charges were rape and they were against a group of African-Americans by two white women, both of which were very poor and the older one was a prostitute. The jury, which consisted of all white men, over looked crucial evidence, for example "that the women suffered no injuries" (Bradley). The actions and attitudes of the Southern community in which the trial took place complicated the trial even more. After the guilty verdict, a judge and member of the Alabama Bar over turned the jury's guilty verdict in an attempt to protect the rights of the American-Americans. Like wise, the trial of Tom Robinson in the novel also took place in Alabama during the 1930s, however in a small town in the south. The charges were also against an African-American who was being accused of raping a poor white woman. The jury, just like in the Scottsboro trial, consists of all white residents of the town. The jury also ignores crucial evidence including that Tom Robison had a deformed, and useless left arm. The community in which the trial took place in also complicated the trial because of the racist beliefs and attitudes of the citizens. Similar to the judge in the Scottsboro trial, a local lawyer, Atticus Finish, defends Tom Robinson despite abuse he gets from his peers and the anger he causes in the community. Like the judge in the Scottsboro case, Atticus is a member of the Alabama Bar. The similarities in this case were obviously meant to be there and provided the reader with an insight to an actual example of this time period and what the people in the south believed in during this time. It showed the racist and biased views and treatments of the blacks, and how that effected everything up the highest power, the law.

Something else in the novel that represents the historical context is the different social classes. The socials classes are, from best to worst, the rich whites, the poor honest whites, the poor dishonest whites, and then the blacks. The rich white class was people like Atticus, Ms. Maudie, and Ms. Stephen. These were the people that had their own house and property and also were able to provide their families with food and necessities. Atticus, a lawyer, "derived a reasonable income from the law" (Lee 5) and his family "lived on the main residential street in town" (Lee 6) and even had a cook, Calpurnia. Another social class represented in the novel was the poor, but honest, whites. These are people like the Cunningham's, who are hard working farmers



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