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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What impact does the allusion to Ivanhoe have on the meaning of Chapter 11 in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?    

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Sir Walter Scott's novel Ivanhoe, published in 1820, shares a few themes in common with Chapter 11 of To Kill a Mockingbird, and by alluding to Ivanhoe, author Harper Lee helps to underscore those themes.

Two major themes in Ivanhoe concern alienation and racial tensions. Ivanhoe is set in a time period when the Saxons in England were battling against the Normans for power, and only a few Saxons remained. The protagonist, Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe is a Saxon himself and disinherited by his father for paying allegiance to King Richard the Lionheart, a Norman king. Sir Ivanhoe fought alongside King Richard in the Third Crusade. On the return to England, King Richard is captured by Leopold of Austria, and Sir Ivanhoe returns to England to find himself disinherited. Hence, Sir Ivanhoe's disinheritance serves to develop the theme of alienation. In addition, his alienation is a result of racial tensions between the Saxon's and the Norman's; therefore, alienation also helps to develop the theme of racial tensions.

While Jem certainly is not disinherited by his father, tensions are rising in the novel because Atticus has decided to move against the grain of society by putting his all into defending Tom Robinson. These tensions are leading to the alienation of Atticus and the Finch children from the rest of Maycomb's society. Atticus putting his all into defending Robinson would be very similar to a Saxon breaking family and social ties by showing allegiance to the enemies, the Normans. In this case, Maycomb's racially prejudiced citizens can be considered the Saxons, whereas the African-American and more fairer-minded citizens can be considered the Normans. In addition, like Sir Ivanhoe, Jem fights alongside the African-American citizens by destroying Mrs. Dubose's camellias in her flower garden, which would be the equivalent of Sir Ivanhoe fighting alongside Norman King Richard the Lionheart in the crusades. Hence, all in all, the allusion to Ivanhoe helps to underscore Maycomb's racial battle between its white and African-American citizens, a battle that leads to the alienation of the Finches, just as the Saxons and Normans are battling each other in Ivanhoe, leading to Sir Ivanhoe's alienation.

Of further importance is the fact that Ivanhoe is a tremendously huge novel of difficult reading, originally published as three volumes. Scout notes that, as his punishment, Jem returned to Mrs. Dubose's house the next day ready to read to her, "armed with Ivanhoe and full of superior knowledge" (Ch. 11). Evidently, Jem hopes to show off his superior intelligence, a young version of his father's intelligence, in hopes of Mrs. Dubose changing her mind about her criticisms of the Finch children and of her showing penitence. However, not only does Mrs. Dubose frequently correct his reading, by the end of Chapter 11, Jem has learned a great deal about bravery through Mrs. Dubose that connects to the additional theme of bravery found in Ivanhoe.

By the end of the novel, Sir Ivanhoe must battle against his enemies while severely wounded to rescue a character named Rebecca for being tried as a witch, and he succeeds. In this sense, Sir Ivanhoe can be paralleled to Mrs. Dubose who, though severely ill and in tremendous pain, battles against her morphine addiction in order to die addiction-free. Mrs. Dubose also succeeds, and Jem learns a great deal about bravery as a result of her success.

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