The Effects of Society’s Influence in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

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Society has an influence on everyone, whether they realize it or not. This fact isn’t any less true in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. This book tells a story from the perspective of a young girl named Scout in 1930s Alabama, right in the middle of the Great Depression. In this book, Scout learns several important lessons from her father and witnesses the terrible issues of racism and violence, which were very prevalent in the deep south at this time. Through all this, Scout grows to become a wiser, more matured girl. This book shows not only the development of Scout, but several other characters. A major part in these characters development came from the several influences in their society.

The events in Harper Lee’s childhood and life influenced her to write To Kill A Mockingbird. For example, one of the biggest influences in Harper Lee’s life in writing this book was the Scottsboro Trial, which was a trial in which nine African-American teenagers/young adults were accused of raping two young white women. There was basically little to no evidence of this occurring, yet they were thought by many to be guilty. In other words, because of the Southern racism of that time, nine innocent people’s lives were changed and some ended because of an unfair accusation by two white girls. The author, Harper Lee, illustrates a very similar theme and plot in To Kill A Mockingbird. Like in this story of the Scottsboro Boys, an African-American man is falsely accused of the rape of a white woman. This shows that this trial affected Harper Lee enough to write a book very similar. In the book, Harper Lee makes it obvious that she finds racism terrible and so it seems to me that the Scottsboro Trial was a direct influence on Harper Lee’s writing of this book. There is also evidence in the book itself that suggests that Harper Lee was influenced by her society. For instance, On Page 94, Francais, Scout’s cousin, says: “If Uncle Atticus lets you run around with stray dogs, that’s his business, like Grandma says, so it ain’t your fault. I guess it ain’t your fault if Atticus is a nigger-lover besides, but I’m here to tell you it certainly does mortify the rest of the family...Grandma says it’s bad enough he lets you run wild, but how he’s turned out a nigger-lover...He’s ruinin’ the family….” This quote by Francais to Scout basically says that Francais believes that Atticus has ruined the Finch family because of the way he is raising Jem and Scout, and because he is defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of rape by a white woman. According to Francais, his Grandmother has been telling him this things about Atticus. From this, we can infer a couple things about Harper Lee’s upbringing in the South. In the south at this time, supporting African-Americans as a white American was considered the ruination of a family by some. This may suggest that this could have been the case in Harper’s childhood upbringing, or that she could have seen this in families around her. It can also be interpreted from this evidence that in the deep south at this time, children's’ main source of gossip and their moral beliefs came from the adults that raise them. This would explain why racism did not fade or completely disappear even to this day. In today’s society, I feel that there is more influences from people and things outside our homes, mostly because of social media. The ways of life in Harper Lee’s society are shown in the way she constructed Francais’ character. As one can see, the events and lifestyles of Harper Lee’s society in her life greatly influenced her writing of this book.

Scout was influenced by Tom Robinson’s trial and other things in her upbringing in ways that shaped her personality and character in To Kill A Mockingbird. This quote on page 24 is a perfect illustration of what Scout was like before she witnesses Tom Robinson’s trial. “You’re shamin’ him, Miss Caroline. Walter hasn’t got a quarter at home to bring you, and you can’t use any stovewood.” After Scout says this, Miss Caroline gets angry at Scout and slapped Scout’s hand with a ruler. In summary, Scout insults Miss Caroline and gets her mad with her. This evidence highlights Scouts immaturity and rash decision-making, as well as her close-mindedness of Miss Caroline’s perspective. In fact, Atticus later teaches Scout of the importance of trying to see things from others perspectives. She was most likely like this partly because of the naturally immature mind. But I believe that the reason she was defending Walter in the first place was because of the influence Atticus had on her in teaching her about fairness and unfairness. Being a judicial worker, it would make sense that Atticus would have a good sense of judgement, and drop off that same sense to his children. An example of how Scout was changed by the trial can be found on page 267. “...I wished I was the Governor of Alabama for one day: I’d let Tom Robinson go so quick the Missionary Society wouldn't have time to catch its breath.” Scout thinks this to herself during the Missionary Society meeting at the Finches house before it is discovered by Scout that Tom is dead. To summarize, Scout believes Tom is totally innocent and would release him in a heartbeat. This shows several things about how the Trial and events around it influenced Scout. This evidence especially suggests that Scout trusts her father and looks up to him, more so than before she saw him stand up for what is right in the trial. She also learned of the significance of racism and realized from Atticus that racism is wrong. She knew that Tom Robinson was innocent and completely understood what happened in the trial. These pieces of evidence clearly show how Scout was influenced by her society and Tom Robinson’s trial.

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Heck Tate was influenced by Tom Robinson’s trial and by his society in To Kill A Mockingbird. For example, on page 190, Heck gave evidence that pointed against Tom Robinson. He basically re-enforced Mayella and Bob Ewell’s stories and accusations against Tom. This shows that Heck’s judgement was clouded, and that he would rather listen to the stories of two white people then find out for himself the truth of what happened. I interpreted this to be reasonable in his case because he was obviously not raised in any other way then most of the southerners of this time. He was prone to be racially biased, probably because he was raised just like any other southern boy. After the trial, it is apparent that Heck’s view on racism has changed. For Instance, on Page 317, Heck said: “Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch. Let the dead bury the dead.” In other words, Bob Ewell had essentially killed Tom Robinson, and now that Bob is dead, Tom wants no one else to be convicted and accused, to let this murder of Bob to be between Heck and Atticus. This may suggest that Heck now believes that Tom was innocent. Heck does not want Boo Radley to be brought in the limelight and convicted for protecting two innocent children, especially when he knows that Bob kind of deserves to be dead. Heck also knows that he can easily cover up the murder. Heck’s change of heart when it comes to racism and Tom’s trial probably came soon after he heard Atticus’ evidence that defended Tom, as there was no other pieces of evidence after the trial that show a reason for Heck to change. In summary, there was an obvious change in Heck Tate from before and after Tom Robinson’s trial, because of the trial’s influence on him.

Aunt Alexandra was also influenced by the events of this trial. As an illustration of what she was like before the trial, Alexandra said, on page 155, “...You’ve got to do something about’ve let things go on too long, Atticus, too long.” In other words, Alexandra is referring to Calpurnia, and how she (Alexandra) thinks Atticus should release her from her job. Aunt Alexandra says she thinks Scout does not need Calpurnia as an influence in her life. It can be inferred that she is just being racist towards Calpurnia. Alexandra has shown previously, before this, that she is a very stereotypical southern lady, and along with that usually comes a discreet racism, which Alexandra shows in this quote. But, after the trial, it is shown that Aunt Alexandra has changed. An example of this is on page 268, she says, “This is the last straw, Atticus.” She is referring to the murder of Tom Robinson in this quote. This shows that Alexandra is upset with the death of Tom. We can infer from this that she believed Tom to be innocent, and this probably ended her racism. She must have realized, from Tom’s trial, that he was falsely accused, and that it was simply the color of his skin that had him declared guilty. She, like several others in this book, realized the unfairness of racism. After this trial, Alexandra was also more compassionate to her brother Atticus and sympathetic because of the obvious emotional pain he was going through from the trial. She probably sympathized with him because after she realized that her views of African-Americans was wrong, she understood Atticus’s point of view in this case. In conclusion, Aunt Alexandra was greatly influenced by this trial, enough to change her from a racist southern belle to a compassionate, loving sister to Atticus.

Reading To Kill A Mockingbird shaped and influenced my outlook on people and why they act the way they do. Before reading this book my outlook on people was much like Scout’s in the beginning of this book. Scout was close-minded on why people act the way they do, as seen in Chapter 2, when she fought with her school teacher. I used to think similarly to Scout because I, like her, have seen no reason to look at things from other people’s perspectives. But after Atticus explains to Scout why it is important to look at things from others perspectives, I understand why it is important. This is significant because I believe this is one of Harper Lee’s purposes in writing this book, to change the reader to become a more understanding person of the people around us, because this is a major theme of this book. A quote that had an effect on me was by Atticus on the last page of the book. Scout was explaining what she heard from the book Atticus was just reading to her, and Atticus said: “Most people are (nice) when you finally see them.” The main character of the book Atticus was reading had been falsely accused, and when he was finally caught, people realized that he was innocent, that he was actually a nice person. Atticus was basically telling Scout in this quote that this is how most people turn out to be, after you understand them, and see the whole picture. This story is significant because it was probably a reference from Harper Lee to Tom Robinson’s case The story was much like Tom’s. Tom was innocent and falsely accused, just like Stoner Boy in the story. The difference in this story was that everyone realized that Stoner Boy was innocent, and he was left to live. Tom was not. The quote by Atticus affected me because it further assured my new learnings of people and it touched me deeply. This book influenced me in a good way. Atticus was especially a major influence in this book to me. This book illustrates the importance of understanding others, and also the consequences of misjudging people.

Society’s influence on us can make us who we are. It can affect what we say, what we act like, and it can cause us to make mistakes. Harper Lee illustrates this almost perfectly in To Kill a Mockingbird. I hope all that read this book will be able to take something from it and learn and grow from it.

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The Effects of Society’s Influence in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from
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