What do we learn about Maycomb’s values and sense of justice in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee? (in comparison to Scout and Jem)

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee made a crucial move in telling the story of Maycomb's experience of upholding racism and injustice through the eyes of a child. Children like Scout and Jem see the world more clearly in terms of right and wrong because they have not yet been fully indoctrinated into the logic of the adult world. A child like Scout is too young to worry about the threat of undermining a racist social order in allowing a black man, innocent or not, to escape an accusation of raping a white woman. Instead she is able, through pure eyes, to see an innocent man being unjustly convicted of a crime that the evidence shows he did not commit. Because Scout is too young to be a conscious stakeholder in an apartheid society, she is the perfect vehicle for revealing the slippage between justice and convention (upholding white power at all costs) that infects Maycomb. We learn through the children that the town places maintaining a racial hierarchy above justice, and we can perceive what is going on more clearly because it is not portrayed through the veil of adult rationalizations. 

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

We learn several important points about Maycomb though the trial of Tom Robinson. 

First, we learn that most of the people in Maycomb do not really care that justice is done. When Tom is charged with rape, the majority of the people in Maycomb (at least the whites) do not care about their truth. They will simply side with Mayella, because she is white. And Tom is guilty, because he is black. So, much of the town is seriously racist. For instance, Mr. Cunningham and a mob of people come to harm Tom while he is in prison. They were even going to harm Atticus. 

Second, there are some in the town that do care about justice, but they are a small minority. Atticus is the obvious example, but there are others such as Ms. Maudie, Heck Tate, and a few others. But this minority does not really have a voice. 

Finally, you also have the black community. For the most part, black characters are interested in justice and value human life, like Calpurnia and Revernd Sykes. They are kind, sacrificial, morally upright, and stand for justice. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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