Life Lessons in 'To Kill a Mockingbird': Critical Essay

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How can people tell if they know how someone can act without a true experience? In Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee uses Scout a character to bring a challenge and understanding of what it was like to live in a segregated society. Mrs. Lee's, classic To Kill a Mockingbird has many valuable life lessons that Scout learns and realizes through her young naive self and beliefs. Scout's most valuable life lesson in Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird she learns that educated people do not always use their knowledge properly through the mistakes of Miss Caroline; through Miss Gates, Scout discovers that teachers do not always tell students the best possible information and Miss Gates is a hypocrite, and Scout and Dill learn that not all town gossip is true when they find out the truth about Dolphus Raymond though Scout's perspective.

Scout learns that the well-educated do not always apply their knowledge properly through the mistakes of Miss Caroline. Miss Caroline makes Walter Cunningham take the money for lunch even though she knows that he could never pay that money back because of the poverty his family faces.

“The Cunninghams never took anything they can’t pay back.

You’re shamin' him, Miss Caroline. Walker hasn’t got a quarter

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at home to bring you, and you can’t use any stovewood”

The Cunningham children are farmers living during “The Great Depression.” Later in the chapter, Scout explains; “They don’t have much, but they get along with it” which is quite an amazing analysis for a young child. Scout also notices that her father Atticus represented Walter Cunningham Sr. and Walter is unable to pay him for the defense that Atticus provided for Walter. Atticus is well aware of their poverty and explained to Scout that Walter will find a way to pay Atticus for the services he provides. Walter pays Atticus back with goods from the farm such as hickory nuts and turnip greens which proves that they are an honest family, and it might take the family longer to pay back for such services, but they will pay.

Secondly, Scout discovers that people in authority do not always follow their own rules or advice. Miss Gates does not understand the concept of Aryan and not allowing any Aryan to marry anyone of another race is against the current Jim Crow Laws. The ironic part of the novel is that Scout finds Miss Gates and Miss Stephanie Crawford exiting the courthouse and Miss Gates said: “It’s time somebody taught ’em a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, and the next thing they think they can do is marry us.”(331). Miss Gates printed on the chalkboard Democracy in large letters and then asked what that means. Scout raised her hand, remembering an old campaign slogan her dad once told her. “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none”(328). Miss Gates smiled and said “Very good”, then she printed WE ARE A and the class responded, “We are a democracy”. What makes Chapter 26 and this chapter have some humor is the fact that Miss Gates knows that it may seem like a democracy but internally since they’re in the era of Jim Crow Laws it makes Miss Gates a very informative but also shows that she uses her students for bribing them to believe in Jim Crow Laws because she believes in them and agrees with what they should be because her husband is apart of the KKK. One example of this would be Miss Caroline saying that she employs experiential learning, then telling Scout not to read at home or letting Atticus teach her.

Thirdly, Scout learns that not all town gossip is true when they discover the true nature of Dolphus Raymond. Dolphus Raymond is always looked down on because he's a father of mixed raced children which makes him an easy target. Dolphus tells the truth to Scout that he is not an alcoholic. However, it is easier for the town to blame his chosen lifestyle for having mixed-race children, and his drunkenness. Mr. Raymond tells very important secrets to Scout because he knows that Children are the ones that can make a difference in a segregated society. The town thinks Dolphus is an alcoholic because he is a father of mixed raced children and segregation that was not accepted thing during the Jim Crow era. So in order to keep the Jim Crow laws alive, they created false rumors and accusations against many of the characters in the novel such as Dolphus Raymond to keep him in line and give him no attention because he's an “alcoholic” and no one wants to be around one. The irony in this lesson is that Dolphus drink Coca-cola from his sack but never denies the fact he is not an alcoholic. Later tells Scout that 'things haven't caught up to (their) instinct(s) yet.' which proves that the Jim Crows laws still exist today and she has to keep what Dolphus had told her a secret or they face complications with the KKK.

Work Cited

    1. Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 1960.
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