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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How does Harper Lee present the black community in the book To Kill a Mockingbird?

Harper Lee depicts Maycomb's black community in a positive light throughout To Kill a Mockingbird by portraying them as kind, compassionate individuals who support each other and are grateful for Atticus's valiant defense of Tom Robinson. In general, Harper Lee depicts the members of the black community as respectful, morally upright citizens who unjustly endure racial discrimination on an everyday basis.

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Harper Lee presents the black community as a resilient, diverse community which rallies together to support each other and Atticus's efforts toward racial equality.

The community is diverse. In Tom Robinson's character, we see compassionate and brave efforts to help a fellow human in need. Tom surely realized that being alone with Mayella Ewell placed him in a precarious position, but he felt that he had to help her because no one else was going to do it. He even admitted that he felt sorry for her, which was a fatal mistake on his part but one that reveals the nature of his heart. Calpurnia represents the strong, maternal character that Scout and Jem need as they grow up. She provides wisdom, discipline, and encouragement as they face the growing tensions in Maycomb because of Atticus's work. And Lula represents the hesitant yet bold black community who does not fully trust the presence of white children.

Though the community differs, its members prove themselves resilient in the face of Tom's racially motivated conviction. At the trial's conclusion, they all rise in a singular act of respect for Atticus, whom they realize has defended a member of their community to the absolute best of his abilities—and has proven Tom innocent by any rational person's judgment. After the trial, the black community also showers Atticus's home with food as a symbol of respect and thanks. They prove that his efforts are much appreciated.

Lee presents the black community as multi-faceted yet strong. They are determined to continue to persevere through the trials they face.

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee portrays members of Maycomb's black community as sensitive, conscientious individuals, who are kind, hospitable, and supportive of each other. In Scout's racist hometown of Maycomb, Alabama, black people are discriminated against and treated as second-class citizens. Maycomb's society is segregated, and the white community subscribes to and violently enforces the racist Jim Crow laws.

Despite the awful treatment of black people from racist white community members, Harper Lee depicts their humanity, which creates additional sympathy for Tom Robinson. The Finch family's African American cook, Calpurnia, is portrayed in a positive light and plays a significant role in Jem and Scout's upbringing. Cal is depicted as intelligent, compassionate, and responsible. The Finch children love Cal, and Atticus views her as an essential member of their family.

When Jem and Scout attend First Purchase African M.E. for Sunday service, they are greeted with open arms and gain valuable insight into Maycomb's black community. During the service, the black community is depicted as resourceful and selfless by using a technique called "lining" to sing in unison and collecting an additional offering to support Helen Robinson's family. The black community also shows its support by attending the Tom Robinson trial as they gather in the "Colored" balcony and allow the Finch children to sit with them. Following the trial, the black community is grateful for Atticus's efforts and show their appreciation by leaving...

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him gifts on his back porch.

Overall, Harper Lee presents the black community in a positive light by depicting them as a hospitable, resourceful group of people who support members of their community and treat others with compassion and kindness.

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Author Harper Lee treats Maycomb's black community in a highly sympathetic manner during To Kill a Mockingbird. This is not to say, however, that she does not present them in a realistic manner: After all, it is the 1930s in the Deep South, and most of the white population treat African Americans as second-class citizens at best. Segregation is the norm, and most of the white characters react in a manner expected of the time period. There are a few completely enlightened characters, such as Atticus, Miss Maudie and Dolphus Raymond, but even the Finch children use the "N" word, and Scout often describes the "colored folks" in a condescending manner. Blacks are treated as childlike, falling for the superstitions surrounding the Radley House; they are blamed for unexplained crimes not accounted to Boo; they are not fit to share jail cells with white criminals; and they are even the butt of off-color jokes, such as Miss Stephanie's "white nigger" remark following the children's raid on the Radleys' back porch.

Nevertheless, the narration is generally critical of the white citizens' perception and treatment of black men and women, and Scout gets to see for herself that the congregation of the First Purchase Church is peaceful and God-fearing. Tom Robinson is presented as honest and hard-working, and his death proves to be a tragedy to the people who can see past his skin color. His friends heap piles of food at Atticus's doorstep in appreciation for his efforts to free him. They recognize that Atticus is their friend, and Atticus attempts to convince the jury that it is a case that "is as simple as black and white." He begs them to ignore the

"... evil assumption--that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted..."

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I like the detailed answer by the previous poster, but I still have to disagree with the idea that the black community is depicted realistically -- in the widest sense of the term "realistic" -- in Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird

The black community is indeed depicted as existing wholly apart from the white community, and blacks enter the white sphere almost entirely as workers in the service industries (e.g. Calpunia as the Finchs' housekeeper and Calpunia's son as the local garbage collector). Those specific details strike me as very realistic.

Beyond that, however, the black community in Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird is presented mostly as a type or trope that furthers the novel's theme of "good versus evil." The opening of the novel establishes that the entire story is told in retrospect; an adult speaker is looking back on her childhood with more than a hint of nostalgia. This novel does not pretend to be a historical presentation of the realities of black life in the 1930s South.

The most significant passages ni the novel that help support my point, I believe, are the descriptions of the "negro cabins" further up the road, beyond the city dump and the city itself. These descriptions clearly present the black community as cleaner, more orderly, and overall more civilized than the neighboring Ewells, a white family that lives right next to the city dump.

If you move past a surface reading of the novel (e.g. past the openly stated lesson of walking in another person's skin), you may very well come to see how the novel may be reproducing stereotypes even as it claims (on the surface) to oppose them. In this deeper reading, for example, the blacks are presented as a group of "good people" in clear opposition to the Ewells, who are presented entirely as a group of "bad people."

To me, then, the representation of black people in the novel might be more accurately described as "moralistic" (seeing things in clear-cut terms of what is good, bad, right, wrong, etc.) than as "realistic" (seing things as they truly are, in all their complexity).

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The black community in To Kill a Mockingbird is portrayed as a separate community within Maycomb. Taking place not long after the Civil War, in the South, memories of the Confederacy's ignoble defeat are fresh in the minds of those who are still alive to tell the story, as well as those who keep the anger over the defeat very much alive.

Blacks are considered to be beneath the whites. Even Bob Ewell, who is an outcast within his white society, holds himself with a sense of superiority over Tom Robinson, specifically, and all other blacks, in general.

Ewell's ability to charge an innocent Tom Robinson of raping his daughter Mayella is possible because many of the prejudiced residents of the community believe it is possible: the accusation represents the true nature of their discrimination and fear of blacks. Truth is not found in the voice who speaks it, but in the color of the skin of the accuser and the accused.

One of the big mistakes Tom Robinson makes in the story is to feel sorry for Mayella's lot in life. How could a lowly black man feel sorry for his superior? This is, in fact, quite possibly the detail that seals his fate.

Yes, suh. I felt right sorryfor her, she seemed to try more'n the rest of 'em—"

"You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?" Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to  the ceiling.

The witness realized his mistake and shifted uncomfortably.

We cannot say for certain that Tom really had a chance at a not-guilty verdict, but as we learn later, there was a good deal of argument among the jury members, so the decision was not an easy one. Based upon what some members of good conscience saw happen in the courtroom, they felt compelled to give Tom the benefit of the doubt. However, they were overruled.

The one person who is black and has a different place within the community is Calpurnia. The bottom line is that the children view their housekeeper through the lens of how Atticus sees her: she is like a mother to them, and no different because of the color of her skin.

The story seems to accurately depict the black community of Maycomb, and of the South during the Great Depression. From Ewell's vicious lies, to the lynch mob that shows up at the jail to forcibly take Tom while Atticus guards him, shows the extent to which many members of the community view the blacks. (There are exceptions, like Atticus and Miss Maudie.) Atticus takes some abuse (like Ewell spitting on him) for defending Tom, while for the children, it is much harder, coming at the hands of some adults and a good many children.

However, the bottom line in the story is the message Atticus gives his children: to know a man you must walk in his skin, and Atticus does this, and encourages his children to do the same.

He sees Tom as a man first: the color of his skin is incidental. He is realisitic enough to know how the community at large may see Tom, but Atticus' moral compass not only demands that he be fair-minded, but that he look to a person's humanity before considering anything else, and it is how he lives his life.

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How does Harper Lee present the attitudes and values of Maycomb County?

Harper Lee presents Maycomb's attitudes and values through the setting and her characters. For the setting, she describes Maycomb as an "old town" whose courthouse "sagged in the square" (5). Scout also says that the "people moved slowly then" and that there was "nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County (5). These descriptions suggest that tradition has a hold of the people as well as its town. Other descriptions of houses and the way people move help to show that proper etiquette is expected and anything out of the ordinary is frowned upon. For example, the Radley's show the town just how anti-social they are by keeping their shutters and doors closed on Sundays. Scout says the following about the town's behavior as opposed to the Radley's:

". . . closed doors meant illness and cold weather only. Of all days Sunday was the day for formal afternoon visiting: ladies wore corsets, men wore coats, children wore shoes. But to climb the Radley front steps and call, 'He-y,' of a Sunday afternoon was something their neighbors never did" (9).

Sundays are for church in the morning and social calls in the afternoon. The Radleys did neither; so the town left them to their different ways and never tried to change that by stepping foot onto their property.

Another way that Lee presents the attitudes and values of the town are through what people say and do. Some people say one thing and do another and some vice versa. In every town there seems to be people who stand up for what's right, those who cause trouble, and those who simply talk about whatever is going on. All of these types of people exist in Maycomb and they all make up the typical political hierarchy and mindset of the South in the 1930s. For instance, Atticus represents the good higher class (or leaders) of the county who stand up for what is right; Bob Ewell represents the bad lower class who causes trouble; and Miss Stephanie Crawford spreads all the good and bad about everyone.

Finally, the struggle between tradition and justice face off as the trial between Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson forces the town to also face themselves. Each person in Maycomb seems to prove his or her real character as sides are taken about the trial. Traditionalists rise up against Atticus and call him racist names while the meek and humble turn the other cheek. This keeps the gossips and tea parties employed and it would seem that not too many are affected by the end of it all.

In the end, though, the town has been tried, some steps have been taken towards progress, but discrimination and hypocrisy remain. The attitudes of the majority of the citizens remain true to the traditional social and political hierarchy which segregates people into different classes and races; but there is hope for the future and that change will occur eventually.

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How does Harper Lee present Mayella Ewell as a whole in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Mayella Ewell is portrayed as a pathetic, despicable young woman, who endures a difficult life with her alcoholic father and makes the selfish decision to falsely accuse Tom Robinson of assaulting and raping her. During Atticus's cross-examination, Mayella Ewell's background is depicted and the audience sympathizes with her terrible home life. She is not only forced to live with a raging alcoholic but also has to raise her numerous siblings by herself. Scout discovers that Mayella does not have any friends, is extremely lonely, and experiences the constant threat of violence from her debased, hostile father. Despite Mayella's terrible living conditions and despicable yard, she tenderly cares for her geraniums, which suggest that she desires to better her life. Tragically, Mayella reveals that she is just as debased and wicked as her father by lying on the witness stand and falsely accusing Tom Robinson of assaulting and raping her. The fact that Mayella is willing to sentence a man to death in an attempt to protect her reputation is vile and unforgivable. She knowingly corroborated with her father in a court of law by lying on the witness stand. Although the audience sympathizes with her terrible home life, Mayella's false testimony reveals that she is a cruel, wicked individual like her father and her actions are unforgivable, destructive, and selfish.

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How does Harper Lee present Mayella Ewell as a whole in To Kill a Mockingbird?

On the whole, Mayella Ewell comes across as a rather pathetic, pitiable figure. She is poor, lives in a crowded dump with her many siblings and violent and abusive father, and she has no friends. Scout comments on all of this in a stark moment of realisation during the trial: came to me that Mayella Ewell must have been the loneliest person in the world. She was even lonelier than Boo Radley, who had not been out of the house in twenty-five years. When Atticus asked had she any friends, she seemed not to know what he meant, then she thought he was making fun of her. She was as sad, I thought, as what Jem called a mixed child: white people wouldn’t have anything to do with her because she lived among pigs; Negroes wouldn’t have anything to do with her because she was white (chapter 19)

Here Scout pinpoints the cause of Mayella's loneliness: because she is poor white trash, other white people want nothing to do with her, and because she is white, the blacks also ignore her.  Scout further realises that Tom Robinson was probably the only person who ever reached out kindly to her, but even all this went wrong when her brutal father intervened. In short, Mayella has no-one to rely on.

Lee also encourages our sympathy for Mayella with some little details that show she has tried to make the best of things, most notably with the beautiful geraniums that she keeps in her window, symbolic of her search for some beauty and meaning in her harsh, sordid, lonely life.  However, although the reader can certainly feel sorry for her, her actions do help to convict an innocent man, and she indulges in a show of petulant behaviour on the witness stand so that our sympathy for her is ultimately lessened.

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How does Harper Lee present Maycomb’s attitudes towards the Radleys in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Harper Lee uses a variety of characters to comment on the Radleys throughout the novel. Their comments display the Maycomb community's attitudes towards the Radley family. Lee uses the character of Stephanie Crawford to convey the negative rumors about Boo Radley that are shared throughout the community. Miss Stephanie tells Jem that Boo stares into her window at night, and Scout mentions that every small crime committed in the county is blamed on the mysterious Boo Radley. Stephanie explains Boo's checkered past which propagates his negative perception. In Chapter 1, Scout mentions that when Mr. Radley died, Calpurnia said, "There goes the meanest man God ever blew breath into." (Lee 15) Miss Maudie tells Scout that Mr. Radley was a "foot-washing Baptist" and was a very strict man who punished his son severely for his childhood pranks. Scout comments that the Radleys were not social people which made them different from their community members.

Lee even uses the children throughout the novel to convey Maycomb's negative perception of the Radleys. At the beginning of the novel, Walter Cunningham Jr. comments that he almost lost his life because he ate one of the Radley's poisonous pecans. Jem and Dill's horrific description of Boo is a combination of the nasty rumors spread about him and their overactive imaginations. Even Atticus comments that the children should leave the Radleys alone, and thinks it's best not to return Boo's blanket after he gives it to Scout. Maycomb's negative perception of the Radleys stems from the fact that they are different. Maycomb is a highly prejudiced community that views anybody or anything different as negative. Their intolerance towards the Radleys not only affects Boo's reputation but hurts his chances of gaining friends throughout the community.

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How does Harper Lee present American society through the events of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Harper Lee presents American society in a couple of different ways in To Kill a Mockingbird. First, and most obviously, Lee presents America as a society rife with racial tension, division, and prejudice. Though it's clear that Tom Robinson is innocent of the crime he's accused of, he's still found guilty in a court of law. By making this plot point central to the story, Lee illustrates just how much racism is present in American society, as she points out that racial prejudice has significantly corrupted the American legal system.

To make matters worse, Lee also suggests that American society is crippled by a faulty public education system. In her exploration of Maycomb's public schools, Lee paints a picture of a stifling, dysfunctional atmosphere that rigidly adheres to curriculum, even if doing so means stunting the intellectual growth of gifted students like Scout. As such, it would appear that, not only is the United States riddled with prejudice, it's also hampered by an education system that promotes, rather than eliminates, ignorance.

There are, of course, many exceptions to these rules. Atticus proves to be the book's moral compass, and he is both highly educated and principled. Other characters, like Miss Maudie, exhibit similar characteristics. That said, Lee portrays these characters as exceptions to the rule. As such, much of Lee's novel seems to be a critique of American society, especially when it comes to the topics of race, prejudice, and education.

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How does Harper Lee present different kinds of conflict in To KIll A Mockingbird?

Harper Lee places conflict at the center of To Kill a Mockingbird. Obviously, there is racial conflict aplenty in the book, as the town explodes over the trial of Tom Robinson. The use of racial epithets is ubiquitous in the town, as is scorn for anyone who recognizes African-Americans as equal. There is also generational conflict in the book. Some of the townspeople blame the occurences that occur just before the trial, the burning of Miss Maudie's house and the rare snowfall, as being some sort of divine retribution for the amoral behavior of the children of the town. Class conflict exists as well. The well-to-do people of the town want little to do with the poor people, who they dismiss as "white trash." The jury's acquittal of Bob Ewell is a fascinating intersection of race and class. Ultimately, while he is as much of an outsider to Maycomb society as one can be, living in a shack next to the town garbage dump, he is still white, and in Alabama society in the early 1960s, that counts for much. Lee presents Maycomb, despite seeming a sleepy small town, as being torn by all sorts of conflict.

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How does Harper Lee present Maycomb and Maycomb's views throughout To Kill a Mockingbird?

Maycomb is an old town:

... a tired old town... nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.

It is isolated from other areas due to the dishonest shenanigans of one of its founders, a tavern owner named Sinkfield. Sinkfield plied government surveyors with alcohol, a bribe that

... reduced his guests to myopic drunkenness one evening, induced them to bring forward their maps and charts, lop off a little here, add a bit there, and adjust the center of the county to meet his requirements.

The town's geographic boundaries benefited Sinkfield, but it left Maycomb isolated from the river-boat transportation of the day, and

As a result the town remained the same size for a hundred years, an island in a patchwork sea of cottonfields and timberland.

Maycomb is a town of little change with few visitors or newcomers journeying its way, and Atticus is

... related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in the town.

The close-knit population is wary of outsiders, such as Miss Caroline (who hails from dreaded Northern Alabama) and the Yankee ways of the Misses Tutti and Frutti, who not only own the "only Maycomb residence boasting a cellar," but, even worse, were also "rumored to be Republicans." The residents of Maycomb are unused to change, and modern ideas--such as those presented by the New Deal politics of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt--are disdained by most of the townspeople. Needless to say, the segregationist social policies of the Deep South are solidly entrenched in Maycomb, and free thinkers like Atticus and Miss Maudie can only be satisfied with "baby steps" when it comes to any kind of change in their town.

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How does Harper Lee present such themes as racism, social inequality, prejudice, innocence, youth, the coming of age, and morality and ethics in To Kill a Mockingbird?

In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the theme concerning racism is most obviously expressed through the town's reaction to Tom Robinson's arrest and trial.Author Lee reveals that, due to racism, many Southern white people of Maycomb hold the prejudiced belief that, as Atticus describes in his closing remarks to the jury, "all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women" (Ch. 20). Due to such beliefs, Robinson's jurydeclared him to be guilty despite all evidence showing how impossible it was for him to have committed the crime. Specifically, evidence in court revealed that Mayella had been bruised in her right eye, and only a left-handed attacker facing her would have been able to cause such an injury; Robinson has been crippled in his left arm and left hand since childhood. He is so crippled that he was unable to even place his left hand on the Bible when saying the oath before taking the witness stand.Lee's theme concerning social inequality is further seen in Maycomb's relations with its African-African citizens. Maycomb is a racially segregated town, with the African-American population confined to living in what is called the Quarters, meaning what was once the slave quarters during the days of slavery. African Americans are also not entitled to education, leaving them to learn to read and write on their own and to work in only the blue-collar labor force as field hands and domestic servants.

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How does Harper Lee show her view of Maycomb through Jem and Scout's relationship?

Jem is four years older than Scout. At the beginning of the book she is just five years old and he is nine. Not only is Jem her big brother, but they are really best friends in many ways. They are very close and as a result, Scout relies on Jem for many things, including helping her to understand the world. 

As the book progresses, Jem begins to enter puberty and this marks his transition to manhood. He is maturing both physically and emotionally in ways that Scout is not yet. This means he is able to see more of an adult's perspective of Maycomb and the trial than Scout is able to, simply as a result of being a little older and more mature.

Harper Lee uses their relationship to show both a completely innocent and confused view of the world (Scout) and a slightly more mature view that is still confused at times (Jem). Their relationship helps to show how Harper Lee's own views of her world might have changed as she grew into Jem's age. By writing two young characters with ages four years apart she is able to capture and describe complete innocence and loss of innocence at the same time. 

Scout is constantly trying to figure out the behavior of her fellow townspeople, and Jem already understands much (but not all) of their behavior. He understands what racism is better than Scout, for example. So by sharing both of their perspectives, we see Harper Lee also has both views. She wants to have an innocent view of the people of Maycomb like Scout does, and yet she really does know better, like Jem.

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