Why do the people in To Kill A Mockingbird act the way they do around black people and why do they convict Tom after Atticus proves his innocence? Also, who was Atticus' wife and why is she rarely...

Why do the people in To Kill A Mockingbird act the way they do around black people and why do they convict Tom after Atticus proves his innocence? Also, who was Atticus' wife and why is she rarely mentioned?

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d-white5309 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When reading To Kill a Mockingbird, it's essential that you remember the time period in which the story takes place. Although it was written in 1960, it takes place in the 1930s, which was a difficult era for the United States, particularly in the South and other rural parts of the country.

The story takes place prior to the integration of blacks and whites, meaning that the two lived in very separate worlds, figuratively and literally. In general, many people during this time believed that black people were inferior to whites and treated them as such. There were, however, some people that didn't feel quite this way and made an effort to treat them as equally as they could without violating social expectations. Atticus, Jem, and Scout represent those people that were sympathetic to the black community and tried to treat them well, whereas Atticus' sister and many other characters represent the racist perspective.

Racism is perhaps one of the most complicated aspects of American culture, which is one of the things that Lee attempts to address in To Kill a Mockingbird. Many characters are portrayed sympathetically, even those that have racist feelings. These portrayals are all a part of Scout and Jem coming to realize that people are never just good or bad, but can in fact be both.

This conflict over race is critically important to the outcome of Tom Robinson's trial. Atticus clearly proves that Tom did not and could not have raped Mayella, while also proving that it was her father that attacked her. In the 1930s, the subjects of rape and incest simply weren't discussed the way that they are today and the idea that a father would do that to his daughter was unacceptable to many people. In light of that, the jury (and many townspeople) chose to find Tom guilty because the truth was too difficult to accept.

As for Atticus' wife, Lee is never clear about what happened to her, other than to say that she died. Like the other subjects, people in the 1930s didn't talk so openly about things like they do today and wouldn't have been likely to bring up her death unless there was a good reason.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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