To Kill A Mockingbird - Scout's Environment

To Kill A Mockingbird - Scout's Environment
In an organized society one is usually faced with a restrictive social ladder that constrains its occupants into stereotyped categories. In this type of jaundiced backdrop, it is only natural to parrot the actions that surround you. This concept is one of the underlying themes in Harper Lee?s To Kill a Mockingbird, a coming of age story set in the close-knit, sleepy Southern town of Maycomb in the 1930?s. Six-year-old Scout Finch?s father, Atticus, is a rarity in bigoted Maycomb. He, as both a lawyer and a human being, stands up for his democratic beliefs and encourages his children to stand up for their own, though they may stand alone. In stark contrast with her father are the subjective townspeople Scout encounters daily. The aforementioned population of Maycomb sees the world in families, classes, and streaks. Helping Scout through many difficult obstacles and to come to terms with her beliefs, Atticus becomes closer to Scout as one of her most trusted sources. Through the novel, Harper Lee presents discrimination in the form of classism as being founded on the circumstances of one?s upbringing and daily life rather than being imbedded by means of genetics in one?s personality from the time of birth; aptly demonstrated by Scout in different stages of her moral development, her initial reaction to class difference, her response to Atticus? guidance, and the gradual formation of her own opinions.As the reader first encounters Scout, she is found to be influenced by a categorizing, status-oriented environment, as evidenced by her behavior towards the low status Cunninghams. Maycomb has a hostile view of people who come from families with a certain income and act a certain way. In the spirit of such animosity, one?s character is unthinkingly assumed to correspond with one?s often-unjust image. While giving the history of Maycomb at the start of the novel, Scout mentions the last two people her father defended, saying, ?Atticus had urged them to accept the state?s generosity in allowing them to plead Guilty to second-degree murder and escape with their lives, but they were Haverfords, in Maycomb County, a name synonymous with jackass? (pg. 5). In the opening pages of the book, Scout establishes Maycomb as a place where unreasonable assumptions abound. For instance, the general state of mind is that a last name can be ?synonymous? with a trait one is supposed to have. To determine the nature the Haverford?s decision, the residents of Maycomb need only the possibly unfounded link between the individuals and their names as the justifier of their actions. The likelihood that their decision is founded on a different matter is not even considered. It seems that people are not given a chance. Scout dictates this as if it were wholly logical, evidence that she is indeed susceptible to the onslaught of classism she regularly faces. This point is strengthened as the story progresses to Scout?s first day of school. At noon, Jem invites Walter Cunningham to lunch with the Finches because Walter cannot afford one otherwise. Upon discovering that her guest has different tastes than she, Scout chastises him rather rudely. In the heat of Calpurnia?s lecture about necessity of graciousness before company, Scout protests, " `He ain?t company Cal, he?s just a Cunningham? " (pg. 24). In this short phrase Scout perfectly echoes Maycomb?s sentiments towards specific families. Given that Walter is a Cunningham, relations of the lowest class of whites, he must be looked upon as an inferior, one that is not to be spoken of on the same level. Failing to be considered as company implies he is not worthy of being treated as an equal. As Scout describes Walter as ?just a Cunningham,? the reader receives the gist that Cunninghams must be insignificant as to fail to warrant any proper civility, for they are portrayed in a dismissive manner. Scout is apparently knowledgeable about the stereotype of the Cunninghams as well as the Haverfords, an image picked up from her environment and one that transcends to an event in daily life. She is undergoing her natural learning process in observing the attitude around her, then mirroring it. Scout takes the opportunity to express the classism thrust upon her by the atmosphere society creates when she fails to realize her other options.

During one of the pivotal points of the book, Scout experiences an egalitarian environment that Atticus provides, is beginning to accept his views and counsels, and therefore adjusting her perspective on social status to concur with her new environment. Scout?s transformation can be seen the most clearly during one of Aunt Alexandra?s attempt to mold Scout into a miniature version of herself. Shortly after Alexandra?s arrival Atticus fulfills her request to give Jem and Scout ?the facts of life,? saying, " ` ?You are the product of several generations of gentle breeding?you should try to live up to your name. She [Aunt Alexandra] wants to talk to you about the family?so you?ll know who you are, so you might be moved to behave accordingly? " (pg. 133). Here Atticus speaks of the Finches in an obtrusively classist manner. In broaching the fact that Scout is ?the product of several generations of gentle breeding,? Atticus is casting the Finches a rung higher than everyone else on the social ladder of Maycomb. As Scout first expected the Cunninghams and Haverfords to behave as their image dictated and treated them on the same basis, Atticus is now compelling her to do the same with her own supposed reputation. In reaction to such such uncharacteristic behavior from her father, a staggered Scout narrates, " `For no reason I felt myself beginning to cry. This was not my father. My father never spoke so? " (pg. 134). Prior to this incident, Scout had thought nothing of degrading those of a lower social rank. However, now that her father has, in her eyes, submitted to the evils of classism, Scout is shocked and hurt that he would expect her to conform also, and would be capable of saying what she acknowledges as unneccesary, opprobrious remarks. Atticus has so effectively taught Scout to be unbiased about social status that when he seems to have taken a hypocritical turn, Scout refuses to acknowledge that he is her mentor and parent, saying ?This was not my father. My father never spoke so?. His words ?behave accordingly? and ?live up to your name? reflect Maycomb?s prejudices, and his children?s distress at them implies he has taught them otherwise. From this the reader can infer that Atticus has instilled in his children the value being true to oneself and simultaneously being just. To him, this course of action would be more prudent than attempting to be someone you are not in the process of pursuing the family honor. Scout has obviously taken these lessons to heart. She believes in and trusts Atticus so strongly, she is shaken to the point of crying uncontrollably when it seems he has abandoned her. Scout has been enlightened into recognizing the hurtful nature and immorality of classism, but has not begun to assert her beliefs yet. This step to further maturation is a result of the new approach to raising Scout by a trusted source as she is exposed to the intolerant mindset of the world, thus altering her behavior towards class to configure with a new environment, while her Scout?s personality itself and certainly her genes have not been affected.

At the final stage of Scout?s development, one sees the radical change environment has wrought upon her as she confronts her aunt?s classist views with her own unrestricted ones. After Tom Robinson?s trial the Finch family is discussing the jury vote and how one of the Cunninghams was ?rarin? for an outright acquittal? at first. Scout feels she misjudged Walter Cunningham and plans to invite him to the Finch house. Aunt Alexandra responds, " `Don?t be silly Jean Louise?The thing is, you can scrub Walter Cunningham until he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he?ll never be like Jem. Besides, there?s a drinking streak in that family a mile wide. Finch women aren?t interested in that kind of people? " (pg. 224). Aunt Alexandra incorporates several aspects of classism into her comment. She retracts all physical attributes that mark him as a lower class citizen, but intimates that Walter will still never match up with Jem, a highborn Finch. Aunt Alexandra views class as an indicator for a person?s worth, while Scout and Jem insist that everyone is the same inside. The mention of a ?drinking streak? is one of the categories Aunt Alexandra neatly allots families regardless of justice or the legitimacy of her claims. Similarly she catalogs Walter as ?that kind of people,? and therefore being unfit for Scout?s, a Finch woman?s, companionship. Scout rushes to the defense of the Cunninghams, the same clan she deprecated at the start of the book, retorting, " I would hold her off as long as I could: `If they?re good folks, then why can?t I be nice to Walter? " (page 224)? Scout knows she will not win this argument but exhibits courage in trying to ?hold her off as long as I could.? She is standing up for her beliefs regardless of the outcome of the argument. Scout has not only realized the wrongdoing classism inflicts, but is now aware enough to set about trying to rectify the misdeeds. In realizing the difficulty of changing people?s attitudes towards each other, but doing what she can, Scout has made Atticus her role model and is following in his footsteps, she has completed her maturation with the change in her environment.

While the urge to classify is human nature and therefore innate, attempts to control such harmful behavior must come from self-conviction and a strong ethical situation. Scout displays this change as she at first is classist, having absorbed the town?s negative attitude, begins to reform at Atticus? guidance, and finally is confident in her own beliefs. She understands that while the exploits of the people one is associated with may have no direct consequence on that individual, it will drastically affect the way the perception of the general public. Scout realizes that for others to appreciate this, she must also do her best to influence them, as Atticus did for her, in favor of further justice in this world. She proceeds with the assuredness that the humankind can change, for while ingrained qualities can rarely be changed, environmentally influenced ones can and did in Scout?s case. Scout?s development into an informed young lady that discerns the world with an open mind, even in the hate saturated, but slowly reforming Maycomb, leaves us with the optimistic hope that society itself will progress as well. This lesson from the 1930?s still rings true today as society gradually learns to judge an person?s caliber and worth not by the stereotypical image of their class, or any other unfounded preconception, but their own premeditated actions.

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