By Irene Y., 7th Grade
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in a sleepy Southern town; however, on a closer inspection, the town has an evil side. The majority of the town is prejudiced against people of color, a few parents neglect and even abuse their children, and some men attempt to commit murder. The characters in this story react to this evil in their own ways. While Atticus fights the injustice head on, Jem and Scout learn to respond to evil with strength.
Atticus, the standard of moral righteousness in the novel, takes a stance against evil, but he also underestimates the damage a truly evil person can cause. When a black man is falsely accused of raping a white girl, everyone in Maycomb County expects him to be pronounced guilty. Atticus attempts to convince everyone that racism is unjust in his closing statement: “There is no person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire” (232). Not only does Atticus defend Tom, but he also argues that the very idea of racism is illogical. He points out that the white people of Maycomb County have the same flaws as black people do. Atticus courageously stands up to a dangerous problem that is so ingrained in the South during the 1930s. A few weeks after the trial, Bob Ewell threatens Atticus on the street. When Jem and Scout confess that they’re worried for Atticus’s safety, he responds, “ Jem see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute… He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there” (249). Atticus tries to understand Bob Ewell’s actions, but in this case he is too understanding. Atticus underestimates what Bob is actually capable of doing. He believes that the worst that Bob can do is abuse his children, but in reality Bob attempts to murder Jem and Scout. Atticus’s desire to sympathize with others allows him to stand up for justice but it also leaves him vulnerable to malicious people.
When Jem first encounters evil he responds with anger, but he then develops into someone like his father and stands up for what’s right. After the jury proclaims Tom Robinson as guilty, Jem walks out of the courtroom his face “streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheerful crowd” (242). As Jem walks out of the courtroom with Scout, we can notice that everyone else in the crowd doesn’t seem to care about the unjust results of the trial. Like most children, Jem has a better sense of what is morally right and wrong than adults do. Jem witnesses how Tom Robinson is falsely declared guilty when it is clear that he is innocent, and Jem responds to this with resentment. Yet Jem grows into someone who stays level-headed yet firm when encountering injustice. When Scout attempts to crush a rolly polly, Jem stops her and tells her not to. She asks why and he responds, “Because they don’t bother you” (273). Jem explains to Scout how it’s evil to kill an innocent creature, and so he tells her not to kill it. Even though a rolly polly is just a bug, it represents innocent people who have done nothing but good, and yet are still prosecuted. Jem is starting to think like Atticus as he stands up for other people.
As a six year old girl, Scout doesn’t understand evil when she encounters it, but as she becomes more aware she imitates her aunt Alexandra and starts to act like a lady. When a crowd of men surround Atticus and demand to see Tom Robinson, Scout runs up and says to one of them, “Hey Mr. Cunningham. How’s your entailment gettin’ along… Entailments are bad” (174). The crowd of men, motivated by their interpretation of justice, decide to take matters into their own hands. They decide that Tom is guilty before the trial even takes place and conclude that he has to die. However, Scout doesn’t realize the reason why all the men are here and instead tries to lighten the mood and behave like they are in a living room at a dinner party. In other words, Scout isn’t aware of the evil that surrounds her. After Scout witnesses the outcome of Tom Robinson’s trial, she is able to recognize the evil that is present in her community. At the tea party, Aunt Alexandra and Scout are informed that Tom Robinson had been shot to death while trying to escape jail. This shocking discovery shakes Aunt Alexandra and Scout; however, Aunt Alexandra still keeps her composure and returns back to the women. Scout with her “best company manners” asks a lady if she would have some cookies. “After all, if Aunty could be a lady at a time like this so could I” (271). Instead of handicapping Tom to stop him from escaping, the guards shoot him 18 times. Scout’s father had fought for justice so hard but now Scout had to witness the failure of her father and the entire justice system. Scout, who has been a tomboy for the majority of her life, learns how hard it is to be a lady. Being a lady is not just wearing dresses and drinking tea, but a lady needs to be able to keep her composure and have a lot of strength in dealing with hardship.
The book shows in a clear way how certain characters respond to evil in their own unique ways. While Atticus is already an adult and is able to face the evil, he still has his limitations. Jem and Scout grow and learn how to respond to evil. In fact, growing up means being able to face reality, which takes strength and courage. Even knowledgeable and admirable adults like Atticus don’t see things for what they are. Facing reality is something that people should work on for their whole lives.