To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960 at the height of the Civil Rights movement in the US. Set in the depression, circa 1930, it was an instant success and focussed on common humanity through the eyes of an innocent, uncorrupted girl, Scout Finch. Set in the South, Scout’s young female voice navigates the reader through the complexities of human nature and societal conform such as morality and inequality.
Human morality is a prominent theme in To Kill a Mockingbird. Human morality is the predisposition to evaluate actions as morally good, bad or evil. Each person with their own ideas and different opinions. When Scout doesn’t understand her teacher's actions and attitudes to her, Atticus provides an explanation to get along with other people, even if you don’t agree with them. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” This is one of the most famous quotes from the novel. It‘s a metaphor for understanding people who have different opinions or a different outlook. To understand their perspective in order to gain empathy and ultimately acceptance, tolerance and compassion. Lee uses the juxtaposition of characters to provide comparison and contrast revealing social standing, inequity and morality such as the Finch’s educated home compared with the Radley’s stigmatised home and the Ewell’s uneducated and economically impoverished one.
Today, there are so many different opinions in the world as expressed through the internet where everyone has a voice. It can be difficult to get along with everyone and easy to take sides so it's important to try to understand different views. Another aspect of human morality is injustice where innocent people can be destroyed by evil, “Remember, it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird”. The Mockingbird is a symbol of innocence, as Miss Maudie explains “Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.” Today, especially in the US, many people have been subjected to gun violence by disgruntled shooters taking innocent lives in churches, malls, fairs and streets. This year alone, over 297 mass shootings have taken place in America where 335 people have died and 1219 have been wounded. There are numerous examples of corrupt officials framing innocent people in order to secure convictions as shown in the ABC’s Insight program in August this year. Australia also faces a major moral dilemma in our treatment of refugees, who are portrayed as illegal terrorists trying to ‘jump the queue’. The recent public outcry due to the deportation of the Tamil family shows that when we are given the opportunity to understand the human face and the cost, we can be compassionate and supportive.
To Kill a Mockingbird is also a coming of age story, where Scout begins to reconcile the inequity of society and her place in it. Scout is a tomboy, who wears overalls and spends her time playing with her older brother Jem and their friend Dill. Jem accepts Scout as a playmate but also uses the term ‘girl’ as a put down when he is displeased with her “I swear, Scout, sometimes you act so much like a girl it’s mortifyin’”.
Scout is subjected to societal assumptions of female behaviour by many other characters in the novel. Scout does not fit the gender stereotype expected of young ladies; she is feisty, is known to get into fights and is high spirited. For example, Aunt Alexandra informs Scout, “I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life… One had to behave like a sunbeam, that I was born good but had grown progressively worse every year”. This highlights the patriarchal expectation that women should be upbeat and positive for their husbands and fathers. Scout finds solace with Miss Maudie her neighbour, who helps Scout to better understand the world around her. Miss Maudie is a strong female character, unlike the other female characters in the book who gossip or are prejudice and judgemental, and portrays Miss Maudie as a person of strong moral character. In today’s society, gender stereotypes still play a significant role.
The term ‘girl’ is still used today in order to humiliate or shame people when they do not conform to societal norms. Women are often valued highly for their beauty reinforced by advertising, movies and television representation. The #MeToo movement gave an international voice to women and girls who have been subjected to male entitlement over their bodies and lives. The extent of the outpouring of stories has highlighted how the impact of ingrained gender stereotypes has shaped human behaviour. May studies have revealed that gender stereotypes have a considerable impact on the aspirations of both girls and boys, and while it is improving, girls are still less likely to enter male-dominated occupations.
In conclusion, To Kill a Mockingbird is a timeless story that displays and represents themes that are still relevant today. We still struggle with human morality and inequality which has been demonstrated by the universally adopted #MeToo movement that addresses our moral and societal attitudes to gender, ethical and moral judgements. As Australians, we are proud of our gun laws that protect our society but also are polarised by the politicisation of the refugee issues. To Kill a Mockingbird is a reminder for us all to exercise our moral duty to reserve judgement and prejudice in order to become a moral and equitable society.