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In Chapter 19 of To Kill a Mockingbird, how do you feel about the description of...

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mark222 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted November 22, 2011 at 11:56 AM via web

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In Chapter 19 of To Kill a Mockingbird, how do you feel about the description of Tom:?

"Tom was a black velvet Negro, not shiny, but soft face, and when he spoke we saw flashes of his teeth. If he had been whole, he would have been a fine specimen of a man".

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted November 23, 2011 at 12:43 AM (Answer #1)

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Needless to say, this description of Tom would not exactly be considered politically correct in the 21st century. However, it is actually meant to be a complimentary commentary by Scout, who already assumes Tom is innocent of the charges against him and is beginning to see that he is a respectable man as well. Remember, Scout is young, and this part of her narration probably comes from her youthful voice, and not from her adult perspective. Scout still uses the "N" word occasionally, and refers to Negroes as "colored," so she is not completely devoid of racist tendencies. Atticus has lectured her in this regard, but Scout still picks up on the racist talk of her schoolmates and other Maycomb citizens. But one must remember that this is the 1930s, and most white people considered Negroes somewhat inferior even if they did not use racial epithets or treat them unkindly. Even Atticus uses the word "colored," which was actually considered a kind term for Negroes at the time. (Remember, Calpurnia also uses the "N" word on occasion.)

Scout's usage of the word "velvet" is meant in a positive way, since velvet is considered a soft and beautiful material. Her use of the word "whole" simply refers to Tom's "shriveled" arm and hand, and one really should not be offended by her suggestion that he is "a fine specimen of a man"--even in 2011.


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