“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a story about race, poverty, and equal justice, all told from the eyes of a six-year old girl.
Scout, the inquisitive youngster we all know we once were, stumbles upon some very adult themes during the summers of her youth in 1930’s Alabama. Her father, Atticus, a well respected lawyer, is charged with defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of attacking, and raping, a white woman. Through her eyes, the audience sees the injustices of racism and its inherent grasp on the legal system at the time in the deep south. Through all of it, Atticus sits his daughter on his lap and explains to her, as best he can, how wrong the world can be. Although he doesn’t explain to her the racial bias that played out in the court room with Tom Robinson found guilty for a crime he very well didn’t commit, his emotional closing statement speaks volumes.
It’s clear to see the themes of liberty involved in this film: the law and justice. As Atticus points out in his final remarks during the heated court case, within the walls of the court house all men are created equal. He follows this up with a sobering truth: that despite this, because of Tom Robinson’s skin color, he is held on a different tier – a lower tier. And because he points out injustices being carried out by a mob mentality, he is ridiculed, and his children are attacked. On an interesting aside, the film also has some interesting points to be made regarding guns. Atticus is a responsible gun owner and, in one scene in particular, makes his children aware of what owning a firearm is all about.
This film has obvious relevance today given the current cultural climate. With the “Black Lives Matter” movement starting in the face of police injustice (be it perceived or reality), the battle Atticus was fighting in the court room is one similar to that of this group. There is a difference in these movements however. Where Atticus Finch saw injustice, he used the law, whereas, in some instances, those fighting racial inequality today resort to violence. This is not to say that, should Atticus have battled further he would have net some greater good. Given societal norms, he very well may not have. This then would be an indictment of government itself, and its corruption when determining right from wrong.
Regardless of all this, it’s sad to say this film is still relevant because of the racial issues it brings up. Be the racial biases reported real or manufactured is irrelevant. What matters is we’re still talking about it.
1) Do you think it’s coincidence that the government prosecutor in the film (the lawyer trying to put Tom Robinson in jail) is shown as being slovenly, rude, and rather callous? Did the film makers make a conscious decision here? Why?
2) Is Atticus’s faith in the law, or rather the legal system, misplaced?