“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another).” In fact, the Bible in the wrong hand can be diabolic. You can claim to own all the truths while drowning in a deluge of lies and forgeries. Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird teaches us that and many other great lessons of life.
“It is a sin to kill a mockingbird,” says the novel. Mockingbirds are innocent and harmless. Innocence should be preserved, not destroyed. Yet goodness is always under threat from evil in the human world. This is what the novel shows.
Tom Robinson is a black American in Maycomb. He is accused of raping Mayella, daughter of Bob Ewell who is nothing more than a drunkard with too many children. Actually Mayella asked Tom into the house under the pretext of helping with some repair. When she tried to seduce him, Bob Ewell entered and he beat up his daughter for what she did. He then accused Tom of molesting Mayella. Because Bob was white and Tom black and racism was rampant in America in those days.
Atticus, a white man, defends Tom and proves him innocent in the court. Yet the all-white court judges Tom guilty and rape is a capital offence in Alabama. Tom tries to run for his life but is shot to death. A mockingbird is killed.
There are other mockingbirds in the story which we witness through the eyes of the two children of Atticus. Even those children are mockingbirds who barely manage to escape death; Bob wanted to take revenge on Atticus by killing his children. Arthur (Boo) Radley is a reclusive character who lives in hiding in his own home throughout the novel though he makes his presence felt occasionally by hiding some gifts for the children of Atticus in a tree hole. He does come out once, towards the end of the novel, and that is to protect the children from Bob Ewell’s murderous attack. Boo puts an end to Bob. Goodness can win sometimes, maybe in mysterious ways.
The novel is too well-known for further elaboration. What makes the novel a classic is its fastidious refusal to succumb to cynicism in spite of the blatant victory of evil over good more than otherwise. Atticus knows he cannot win the case for the black Tom in racist Maycomb. In fact, the people of Maycomb turn against him though they all know that Tom is innocent. It is not a question of innocence for them. It is a matter of racial superiority. A black should not ever get any kind of ascendancy over the white even if the black is right and the white is wrong. Even if the black is obviously innocent and the white is appallingly guilty.
Whenever any people try to assert their cultural superiority or racial superiority or any similar superiority, people who do not belong to the culture or race or whatever become pathetic victims. Contemporary India is a good example to understand this. There is one particular community that is always anathematised no matter what the facts are or where the truths lie.
Nobody is perfect. People of any community have their own cultural and other drawbacks and peculiarities. That is no reason for making them scapegoats for whatever happens in the country. Every pandemic is not spread by them. Every drain is not clogged with their waste. Every crime is not their creation.
They may not be as innocent as mockingbirds. Mockingbirds “don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs. They don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.” Tom Robinson was as good as a mockingbird.
All are not Tom Robinsons. But all are not Bob Ewells either. There are more Bobs than Toms in the world. There are more people subverting human values every moment of the day and the night than upholding them. That subversion becomes not only blatant but also acceptable when culture, religion and other such apparently sacrosanct entities confer their blessings upon it. Humanity should be liberated from these narrow constructs.
“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life,” Atticus tells his children, “but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it… Whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”
To Kill a Mockingbird is a mirror for us to look into. Especially when our waters are roiled by the descendants of Bob Ewells.
PS. This is part of a series being written for the #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge. The previous parts are:
3. The Castle
14. No Exit
16. The Plague
18. The Rebel
Tomorrow: The Ugly Duckling