• In total there are 0 users online :: 0 registered, 0 hidden and 0 guests (based on users active over the past 60 minutes)
    Most users ever online was 871 on Fri Apr 19, 2024 12:00 am

To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24

#172: Nov. - Jan. 2021 (Fiction)
User avatar
Robert Tulip

2B - MOD & SILVER
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame
Posts: 6502
Joined: Tue Oct 04, 2005 9:16 pm
18
Location: Canberra
Has thanked: 2730 times
Been thanked: 2666 times
Contact:
Australia

Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24

Unread post

Chapter 23 opens with the line “I wish Bob Ewell wouldn’t chew tobacco,” as the dry laconic response from Atticus to getting spat in the face, as well as allegedly receiving blood curdling murder threats.

The prospect of being raised by Aunt Alexandra, who would fire Calpurnia, is enough for the children to suffer a severe trauma, another example of Harper Lee presenting an outrageous situation with underplayed humour. Atticus provides the psychoanalysis that him accepting threats with good humour may save the Ewell children from abuse, a rather dubious looking assertion. It seems obviously wrong that the threat would be the end of the matter, but Atticus seems happy to accept this delusion. Alexandra warns him to expect a furtive attack to revenge his grudge.

Tom Robinson is on death row in one of those awful prison farms, at Enfield. I have read about the Angola plantation prison in Louisiana, which sounds like modern slavery.
https://www.grunge.com/204945/the-viole ... la-prison/ says

Conditions were so horrific that in 1884, the editor at the Daily Picayune concluded that it would be “more humane to punish with death all prisoners sentenced to a longer period than six years.” Between 1870 and 1901, 3,000 inmates died. Amid reports about the barbaric treatment of inmates, the state of Louisiana took over the prison. But some might argue that the brutal plantation mentality persisted under government-approved overseers.

According to Newsweek, in 2018, more than two dozen inmates peacefully refused to perform farm work, and called for an investigation into "slavery" at Angola.
Atticus and the children debate whether merely circumstantial evidence should be enough to justify execution, given the reasonable doubt criterion. But the factor of race is recognised as overwhelming any such sensitivities.

Atticus explains that adulthood affects reason, white against black, but that means cheating based on racial power makes a person trash.

He presents a classic statement:
The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it— whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” Atticus was speaking so quietly his last word crashed on our ears. I looked up, and his face was vehement. “There’s nothing more sickening to me than a lowgrade white man who’ll take advantage of a Negro’s ignorance. Don’t fool yourselves—it’s all adding up and one of these days we’re going to pay the bill for it. I hope it’s not in you children’s time.”


There is constant psychology. Atticus surmises that a Cunningham on the jury wanted to acquit because of how the Finches stopped the lynching at the jail, as a matter of honour. But for Alexandra, that is nowhere near allowing a Cunningham to darken the Finch threshold. Scout presses the point, and Aunty explains
“I’ll tell you why,” she said. “Because— he—is—trash, that’s why you can’t play with him. I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what. You’re enough of a problem to your father as it is.”
Jem has it figured:
“Atticus said one time the reason Aunty’s so hipped on the family is because all we’ve got’s background and not a dime to our names.”
The concept of trash as a social category provides a constant refrain. Alexandra's rests on the belief that for children to associate with those who encourage theft and indolence tends to validate those norms and undermines prospects of social success. For an individual, associating with people who are as prestigious as possible tends to be the way to get ahead in the world, both in terms of seeing successful role models and building networks of support. Which of course validates and reinforces prejudicial views about class, race and caste. For an individual to reject these norms invites the sort of reaction Atticus received from Bob Ewell.
User avatar
Harry Marks
Bookasaurus
Posts: 1922
Joined: Sun May 01, 2011 10:42 am
13
Location: Denver, CO
Has thanked: 2341 times
Been thanked: 1022 times
Ukraine

Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24

Unread post

Robert Tulip wrote:The concept of trash as a social category provides a constant refrain. Alexandra's rests on the belief that for children to associate with those who encourage theft and indolence tends to validate those norms and undermines prospects of social success. For an individual, associating with people who are as prestigious as possible tends to be the way to get ahead in the world, both in terms of seeing successful role models and building networks of support. Which of course validates and reinforces prejudicial views about class, race and caste. For an individual to reject these norms invites the sort of reaction Atticus received from Bob Ewell.
This is one of the central paradoxes of the human condition. We develop our ranking systems based on real values - values that matter. And some people, unable or unwilling to live by those value systems, are thereby in line to be labeled "trash". But there is obviously something strange going on when we observe that a person labeling another person "trash" actually means well. How can such an offensive means serve a laudable end?

For me the answer lies in the partial nature of our social constructions. We learn that the person on the next plot of land may be a source of much frustration and even fear, and yet that person is one we will have to rely on if a neighboring tribe goes on the warpath. So we construct structures of loyalty and mutual obligation which cut across feelings of personal animosity and resentment. These social constructions have some basis in actual mutual self-interest - they are not made of arbitrary whimsy. Likewise social constructions about condemning those who treat others as ore to be mined or sheep to be fleeced, these constructions also serve a useful and socially valuable role. But both these levels of abstract commonality are partial.

Jesus confronted a society which totally shunned the tax collectors, who betrayed their fellow citizens by overcharging with the might of Rome to back them up, and the prostitutes, who seduced men with pleasures and perhaps glamor not available at home, for the sake of money to provide for their old age. Both categories actively undermined society and were justly condemned. Yet Jesus consorted with them and offered the prospect of forgiveness. I believe he offered a larger frame of reference, in which each person has at least the potential for reconciliation with the goals and requirements of society. And that this prospect has to be central to the desire of each person to be acceptable and accepted.

We deal mostly with practicalities. And these include social values, some of which are everyday and some of which are waiting in the background for the unusual situation and the paradoxical case. We have to be able to recognize transcendent values that set aside the practicalities we are used to, the social values that make up our ordinary, functioning social structures. And what these intrusions of the transcendent look like, every time, is the ability to see my self in the other, no matter how degraded or threatening.

What we call progress in society comes from reorganizations of our social structures. Instead of kin we learn loyalty to clan. Instead of patriarchy we learn rights for women. Instead of legitimacy of aristocracy we learn democratic selection of government. Instead of enslaving a different race we learn relations of equality. Sometimes these reorganizations come from economic pressures that build up, created by an imbalance between the old structure and its basis in productive capacities. But real progress comes when we let the transcendent value of others create a reciprocity with the self, and find ways to create social structures that sustain this reciprocity.
User avatar
Robert Tulip

2B - MOD & SILVER
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame
Posts: 6502
Joined: Tue Oct 04, 2005 9:16 pm
18
Location: Canberra
Has thanked: 2730 times
Been thanked: 2666 times
Contact:
Australia

Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24

Unread post

Chapter 24 begins with a searing satirical society soiree, as the fine ladies of Maycomb gather at the Finch residence to discuss their good works supporting Christian missionaries in darkest Africa. Harper Lee is at pains to describe the floral dresses, the makeup and perfume, as she skewers the rank hypocrisy of this social circle. This story illustrates how a desire for redemption through doing good in the world can coexist with the most rank racism, with no apparent worry about the glaring cognitive dissonance.

Aunt Alexandra is trying to train Scout to become a society lady, but Scout persists in making comments that the genteel sensibilities of the morning tea group find tactless.
Mrs. Merriweather’s large brown eyes always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed. “Living in that jungle with nobody but J. Grimes Everett,” she said. “Not a white person’ll go near ‘em but that saintly J. Grimes Everett.” Mrs. Merriweather played her voice like an organ; every word she said received its full measure: “The poverty… the darkness… the immorality—nobody but J. Grimes Everett knows. You know, when the church gave me that trip to the camp grounds J. Grimes Everett said to me—” “Was he there, ma’am? I thought—” “Home on leave. J. Grimes Everett said to me, he said, ‘Mrs. Merriweather, you have no conception, no conception of what we are fighting over there.’ That’s what he said to me.” “Yes ma’am.” “I said to him, ‘Mr. Everett,’ I said, ‘the ladies of the Maycomb Alabama Methodist Episcopal Church South are behind you one hundred percent.’ That’s what I said to him. And you know, right then and there I made a pledge in my heart. I said to myself, when I go home I’m going to give a course on the Mrunas and bring J. Grimes Everett’s message to Maycomb and that’s just what I’m doing.” “Yes ma’am.” When Mrs. Merriweather shook her head, her black curls jiggled. “Jean Louise,” she said, “you are a fortunate girl. You live in a Christian home with Christian folks in a Christian town. Out there in J. Grimes Everett’s land there’s nothing but sin and squalor.” “Yes ma’am.” “Sin and squalor—what was that, Gertrude?” Mrs. Merriweather turned on her chimes for the lady sitting beside her. “Oh that. Well, I always say forgive and forget, forgive and forget. Thing that church ought to do is help her lead a Christian life for those children from here on out. Some of the men ought to go out there and tell that preacher to encourage her.” “Excuse me, Mrs. Merriweather,” I interrupted, “are you all talking about Mayella Ewell?” “May—? No, child. That darky’s wife. Tom’s wife, Tom—” “Robinson, ma’am.” Mrs. Merriweather turned back to her neighbor. “There’s one thing I truly believe, Gertrude,” she continued, “but some people just don’t see it my way. If we just let them know we forgive ‘em, that we’ve forgotten it, then this whole thing’ll blow over.”
The hypocritical Mrs. Merriweather seeks to express her dulcet Christian convictions, which unfortunately look to be nothing more than cover for an effort to use Christianity as an effective mechanism of social oppression. It starts with gaslighting of black people by telling them they need to be forgiven for enabling the rape of Mayella Ewell. Blithely disregarding the evidence of the Robinson case, the suggested solution to the problem of a “sulky darky” is evangelism:
“Gertrude, I tell you there’s nothing more distracting than a sulky darky. Their mouths go down to here. Just ruins your day to have one of ‘em in the kitchen. You know what I said to my Sophy, Gertrude? I said, ’Sophy,‘ I said, ’you simply are not being a Christian today. Jesus Christ never went around grumbling and complaining,‘ and you know, it did her good. She took her eyes off that floor and said, ’Nome, Miz Merriweather, Jesus never went around grumblin‘.’ I tell you, Gertrude, you never ought to let an opportunity go by to witness for the Lord.”
The background to this “opportunity to witness” is that the black servant is rightly upset at the unjust trial verdict, and this legitimate concern needs to be explained away. The irony is that today, the first Monday of Holy Week, marks the day when Jesus Christ by tradition overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple, a classic example of the "grumbling Christ" that needs to be resolutely whitewashed out of the oppressive consciousness. The gentle meek and mild Christ of the oppressive tradition is entirely a self-serving construction designed to perpetuate an unjust social order.

Then Atticus bursts in and tells Scout and Calpurnia that Tom Robinson has been shot dead at the prison farm.
User avatar
Robert Tulip

2B - MOD & SILVER
BookTalk.org Hall of Fame
Posts: 6502
Joined: Tue Oct 04, 2005 9:16 pm
18
Location: Canberra
Has thanked: 2730 times
Been thanked: 2666 times
Contact:
Australia

Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24

Unread post

Harper Lee’s description of the society ladies at tea is exquisite in its skewering of the deceptive manipulation they practice. Here is a great sample:
Mrs. Merriweather nodded wisely. Her voice soared over the clink of coffee cups and the soft bovine sounds of the ladies munching their dainties. “Gertrude,” she said, “I tell you there are some good but misguided people in this town. Good, but misguided. Folks in this town who think they’re doing right, I mean. Now far be it from me to say who, but some of ‘em in this town thought they were doing the right thing a while back, but all they did was stir ’em up. That’s all they did. Might’ve looked like the right thing to do at the time, I’m sure I don’t know, I’m not read in that field, but sulky… dissatisfied… I tell you if my Sophy’d kept it up another day I’d have let her go. It’s never entered that wool of hers that the only reason I keep her is because this depression’s on and she needs her dollar and a quarter every week she can get it.”
The quiet mockery begins with the “soft bovine sounds” of mastication, implying that these ladies have the intelligence of cows. Then the classic line of “good but misguided”, repeated for emphasis, is code for saying that Atticus Finch is a traitor to his race. The art of damning with faint praise in this case requires accepting that a person means well while condemning their stupidity as utterly failing to see the effect of their action.

Avoiding “stirring up” blacks to make them “sulky and dissatisfied” is a classic trope of racist segregation, asserting that injustice is only a problem when knowledge of it leads people to question why they are oppressed, which is inconvenient for the oppressor.

Next comes the threat of the sack for being unhappy that Tom Robinson has been wrongly jailed, noting that her servant Sophie cannot afford to antagonise her boss in this way. The casual cruelty of this statement clearly reflects attitudes that Harper Lee has regularly seen in Alabama, and this depiction is designed to embarrass people who hold these views.

The entrenched racism is sealed with the assertion that concern about injustice is just stupid, with the patronising line “never entered that wool of hers”, somehow implying that black people are intrinsically stupid when they show evidence of questioning their place and getting uppity.
Post Reply

Return to “To Kill a Mockingbird - by Harper Lee”