How does Harper Lee use minor characters in To Kill A Mockingbird to explore some of the main concerns of the novel?Chose three of the following: Mrs Dubose; Mayella Ewell; Heck Tate; Dolphus...

How does Harper Lee use minor characters in To Kill A Mockingbird to explore some of the main concerns of the novel?

Chose three of the following: Mrs Dubose; Mayella Ewell; Heck Tate; Dolphus Raymond; Tim Johnson; Grace Merriweather; Miss Caroline; Lula.

I am completely stuck and need lots of help, I have to hand in my final copy on Tuesday. Please help. Thanks :)

Expert Answers
clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think you will get several answers to this question - so I will tackle only a few of the options.  First, let's consider some of the smaller of the main concerns of the novel (themes, if you will): hypocrisy and the difficulty of being an "outsider" in a small southern town.

Grace Merriweather - is used as a character who presents hypocrisy.  In her "missionary tea" Scout records fairly accurately (if not unintentionally) the sheer hypocrisy of the "ladies of high society" that gathered together that day in the name of Jesus.  The point of the Missionary Society is to discuss (and presumably financially support) missions work in other countries.  While the ladies lament and allow their hearts to be broken for the lost souls scattered throughout the world - and back up the effort to help them and eventually save them in the name of Jesus - they then turn and badmouth the Robinsons and other black families right there in the town of Maycomb.  One says something to the effect of, "There's nothing worse than a sulky darky."  How can the same woman spread the gospel and then turn and degrade someone in her own town in practically the same breath?

Dolphus Raymond - the short of his story is that he chooses to live (and has had several "mixed children") with black people.  He is white.  This is socially unacceptable in the small town of Maycomb.  So he walks around with a brown paper bag - which everyone assumes he's drinking liquor from.  It turns out he is not a drunk at all - he is merely drinking orange soda - but it is easier for him to live with the reputation of being a heartbroken man who turned into the town drunk - than the man who chooses to live with black people.  What does that say about this society?

Miss Caroline - also demonstrates the difficulty of being an outsider in a small southern town.  With all the best and brightest intentions in the world, she starts the first day of school with a fresh face and a fresh dress... she learns within a few hours just how much she couldn't possibly learn in her school-teacher-training.  She knows nothing about any of the families of the students who sit in her classroom - and what is worse - she is the ONLY one in the room who is so ignorant.  The comical scene of the adult teacher learning from one of the young students in the class only heightens the pity the reader feels for Miss Caroline - because we are the only ones who know it really isn't her fault.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

MAYELLA EWELL.  Mayella is one of the central figures of the Tom Robinson trial, and her character is one of the best developed in the novel. The reader (as well as the narrator, Scout) feels both disgust and pity at the same time for the daughter of Bob Ewell. There could have been no Tom Robinson trial without Mayella, and the courtroom scene when she is questioned by Atticus is one of the most powerful of the novel.

HECK TATE.  Unlike other characters who abuse their power (Mr. Radley, Miss Caroline, the jury), Sheriff Tate serves as a fair and honest town leader who serves the best interests of Maycomb--much in the same way Atticus serves the town and its citizens. He is a necessary ingredient in many scenes--including the mad dog episode--but he is essential to the Tom Robinson trial and the final chapters following Bob Ewell's attack on the Finch children.

LULA.  Certainly a very minor character, Lula only appears in one scene when Calpurnia takes Jem and Scout to her church. A Negro woman, Lula displays a racist view of white people, and the author probably wanted to remind the reader that prejudice is a two-way street.  

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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