Please explain how the following literary characters demonstrate the principle of karma (the idea that what people do to others comes back to them and how they treat others is how they will be...

Please explain how the following literary characters demonstrate the principle of karma (the idea that what people do to others comes back to them and how they treat others is how they will be treated in the future):  Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the feuding families in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, and Titus in Feed by M.T Anderson.   

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Karma is an idea which presumes that what we do and how we act now will come back to us in the same form, or worse, in the future. In the three literary works you mention, this principle of karma does appear to work.

The primary conflict in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare concerns a feud between the two most prominent families in Verona: the Capulets and the Montagues. The story opens with a city-wide brawl between members of both houses, and we soon learn that this is not a one-time aberration. The Prince arrives and warns that because this has happened three times now, the next time it happens the instigators will forfeit their lives.

Montague and Capulet agree to make some changes, but the truth is that they do not have the power or the will to stop what has been started. While they may be personally committed to peace, they do nothing to promote peace in their families or their households. Because of this long-held enmity, members of each family are always ready to pick a fight with their supposed enemies.

In the end, this raging, destructive feud between the two fathers comes back to rain destruction and loss on them. Montague loses his only son as well as a daughter-in-law and the possibility of grandchildren; Capulet loses his nephew (Tybalt), his only daughter, and any chance to have grandchildren. Their destructive hate came back to destroy them, and while their making peace at the end of the play is a nice gesture moving forward, it is too late to save them from devastating losses.

Titus is the protagonist of Feed by M.T. Anderson, and his situation is just a little different. Through a series of rather unusual circumstances, he finds himself in a relationship with a rather odd homeschooled girl named Violet. While they are together and somewhat happy for a time, when Violet goes a little crazy at a party, Titus begins to distance himself from her.

He avoids her, ignores her, and lies to her. He does relent a bit when she shows up and tells him she is dying, but he is repulsed when she asks him to have sex with her before she dies. He treats her awfully. When he learns that Violet is dying, Titus goes to her bedside and tries to apologize and somehow try to make it right, but he knows he has failed her. The same level of misery he inflicted on the innocent Violet has now settled itself upon him.

We tend to think of karma only in the negative; however, what happens to Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a positive karma.

Atticus is the champion of truth and justice. Outside of the courtroom he defends Boo from his children’s rather unkind games, he defends Mrs. Henry Lafayette DuBose from his angry son, and he tells his kids:

“Remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

In the courtroom he defends one of those mockingbirds, the innocent Tom Robinson, despite knowing that the battle is lost before it begins. Atticus is concerned about others, and he is even willing to forgive Bob Ewell for spitting in his face. At the end of the story, Atticus is repaid by the “karma gods” for his consistent kindnesses to others when Boo Radley saves the Finch children from being killed. That is almost as literal as karma gets: one of the people Atticus acts kind to performs an even greater kindness to him.

Figuratively, the seeds that each of these characters plants bears the fruit of those seeds. Montague and Capulet sow and reap destruction; Titus sows and reaps misery; and Atticus sows and reaps kindness.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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