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To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24 
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 To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
To Kill a Mockingbird


Please use this thread to discuss Chapters 19 through 24.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
In Chapter 19, Tom Robinson is on the witness stand. He explains his relationship with Mayella Ewell, arising from walking past their house every day on his way to work and being asked by Mayella to do odd jobs. He knows any physical advances could get him killed. This is all completely believable, whereas the Ewell’s testimony sounds like lies.

The only thing I don’t get is why Mayella in her testimony appeared not to know that Tom had lost a hand.

Scout has the impression Mayella is the loneliest person in the world, with no comprehension of what it might mean to have friends. The Ewells are white trash, ostracised by everyone: “Maycomb gave them Christmas baskets, welfare money, and the back of its hand. Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her.”

Tom’s explanation of the events is that Mayella sent all the children to town, invited him in and hugged and kissed him, saying “she never kissed a grown man before an’ she might as well kiss a nigger. She says what her papa do to her don’t count.” It all appears well planned.

Tom tells the court that when Bob Ewell appeared at the window, “He says you goddamn whore, I’ll kill ya.” At which point Tom ran away: he says “Mr. Finch, if you was a nigger like me, you’d be scared, too.” Mayella had put him in an impossible situation, condemned if he stayed or left.

This is all such a tragedy, combining incest, poverty, racism and injustice.

Bob Ewell can see the relationship with Tom is entirely instigated by his daughter, and the shame requires the sacrifice of the black man as expiating victim, essentially the scapegoat for his own incestuous actions which isolated his daughter and left her with only Tom as a possible relationship.

Tom’s farm employer then stands up and states “I just want the whole lot of you to know one thing right now. That boy’s worked for me eight years an‘ I ain’t had a speck o’trouble outa him. Not a speck.” Which gets him thrown out of the court. The message is that Tom is entirely dignified and honourable. But this is a battle between truth and the deceitful expiation of white supremacy.

The cross examination by the prosecution is typified by the question “Had your eye on her a long time, hadn’t you, boy?”

The underlying theme is that it was a grave error of judgement for Tom Robinson to help out Mayella, an attitude of simple friendly generosity, when there was no one around to see, out of pity for her sad situation. The idea that a black man could feel sorry for a white woman struck the whole audience as an affront to the established order of things.

The kids leave the court while this is going on. Scout explains the problem is that the prosecutor is hateful. The building theme is that blacks in rural Alabama could do nothing to shift the white view of them as sub-human.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Robert Tulip wrote:
The only thing I don’t get is why Mayella in her testimony appeared not to know that Tom had lost a hand.
I agree. I would say it is a plot hole, and I imagine an editor pointing it out and, after discussing it for hours, concluding that it could not be fixed. Putting the best face on things it could be taken as further evidence that the Ewells assumed they would never have to face any challenge to their story. That things would be taken care of, for example, by the whiskeyed-up farmers who came into town to lynch Robinson.

I would also be surprised if the accused would have been allowed to testify in a typical town of this size in the South. It sets up the dramatic moment when the prosecutor underlines, "You felt sorry for her?" and we know the jury will not accept that, but I suspect it was unrealistic.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Scout has the impression Mayella is the loneliest person in the world, with no comprehension of what it might mean to have friends. The Ewells are white trash, ostracised by everyone: “Maycomb gave them Christmas baskets, welfare money, and the back of its hand. Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her.”
More of Lee's keen insight about the inhumanity at the base of it all. Scout, being young, treats everyone as a person. Most adults are too caught up in their insecurities to be so straightforward or courageous.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Tom’s explanation of the events is that Mayella sent all the children to town, invited him in and hugged and kissed him, saying “she never kissed a grown man before an’ she might as well kiss a nigger. She says what her papa do to her don’t count.” It all appears well planned.
If this had really happened, giving that testimony would have sealed his fate. I have real trouble believing such a thing as this testimony ever happened.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Bob Ewell can see the relationship with Tom is entirely instigated by his daughter, and the shame requires the sacrifice of the black man as expiating victim, essentially the scapegoat for his own incestuous actions which isolated his daughter and left her with only Tom as a possible relationship.
And that scapegoating is the aspect that raises this to the level of archetype, above any serious question about plot holes. It plays out a drama that festers within most people, of guilt and denial of guilt and fear of people's condemnation, of shame and resentment of shame and maybe rage that life does not treat us better.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The underlying theme is that it was a grave error of judgement for Tom Robinson to help out Mayella, an attitude of simple friendly generosity, when there was no one around to see, out of pity for her sad situation. The idea that a black man could feel sorry for a white woman struck the whole audience as an affront to the established order of things.
So kindness and simple human connection are not always a solvent to social ills, and can even be an invitation to trouble. It's a kind of tragedy, really, with Tom Robinson having the fatal flaw of simple human empathy. That can get a person crucified.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Harry Marks wrote:
Scapegoating is the aspect that raises this to the level of archetype. It plays out a drama that festers within most people, of guilt and denial of guilt and fear of people's condemnation, of shame and resentment of shame and maybe rage that life does not treat us better.
Knowing your interest Harry in René Girard, who made this theme of the scapegoat a core of his anthropological philosophy, I thought you might find this scapegoat analysis in To Kill A Mockingbird worth discussing.

I have not read Girard, but just looking at the linked summary page it is clear how his ideas help us to analyse the social dynamics of racism as touching on universal or archetypal sentiments that can potentially be broken down by changing how people think. Gerard’s themes of mimicry and desire describe universal phenomena in psychology. In To Kill a Mockingbird these themes play out in the reactions of the Ewells and the town, using blame of the scapegoat to defuse conflict and tension, but in an entirely deficient way. The importance of the book is in bringing these irrational hidden attitudes into widespread public scrutiny in a friendly accessible format.

Lynching makes the black man the scapegoat for the wider social problem of the refusal to discuss racial hierarchy. Brute force replaces rational explanation as the basis of legitimacy. This syndrome has the side effect of being impossible to justify by logic. As a result, criticisms of racial exclusion are deflected by emotional rage, as seen recently in the Capitol riot. The racist mentality is inherently unstable over time due to the dissonance between empirical observation and racist ideology.

Harper Lee generates sympathy for Tom Robinson as the sacrificial victim, making him a Christ figure in a different way from Atticus Finch.

The way Gerard discusses this scapegoat syndrome is that after the frenzy of execution of the innocent, the community seeks to expiate its guilt by sanctifying the victim. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the paradigm of this scapegoat model, although versions exist written by the executors that continue to blame the victim.

Gerard sees this activity of ritual sacrifice as explaining religion as an essential instrument of social cohesion due to its ability to meet deeply instinctual emotional desires through irrational sublimated violence.
Harry Marks wrote:
So kindness and simple human connection are not always a solvent to social ills, and can even be an invitation to trouble. It's a kind of tragedy, really, with Tom Robinson having the fatal flaw of simple human empathy. That can get a person crucified.
The irony in your comment about the cross is that the Christianity of the Gospels and Epistles seeks to dissolve all social enmity, but institutional Christianity has become a bulwark of tribal conservative culture with its extreme racist sentiments.

This extreme dissonance can only be sustained by the ability of Christians to construct a mythological fantasy that completely deflects any coherent analysis of the Bible. The tragedy of Christ was the effort of a perfect man living by love who met the cruel response from his society of having nails driven through his hands and feet and being left on a tree to die.

The archetypal meaning of the Christ story emerges from the belief that love is stronger than hatred, that the inevitable trajectory of human culture is toward a more inclusive and rational order, where a man like Tom Robinson will be dealt with justly.


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Last edited by Robert Tulip on Tue Feb 16, 2021 8:20 am, edited 2 times in total.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Robert Tulip wrote:
I have not read Girard,
Neither have I, but I have read a lot of "popular level" discussion of his work. The first I ran across it was in a discussion of mimetic desire in the context of modern commercial materialism. Yet I find the mimesis in "Mockingbird" to be going on at a different level. Mayellen Ewell longs for human company. Her efforts at flowers, and a presentable house, are pitiful attempts to be accepted. She does not seem to be aching for things, as Girard would have it, but works at a few things in an effort at acceptance.

It seems to me that Girard had some deep insights, but maybe concentrated them too much in materialism. Certainly I would argue that his system doesn't encompass the Ewells very well.

Robert Tulip wrote:
Gerard’s themes of mimicry and desire describe universal phenomena in psychology. In To Kill a Mockingbird these themes play out in the reactions of the Ewells and the town, using blame of the scapegoat to defuse conflict and tension, but in an entirely deficient way. The importance of the book is in bringing these irrational hidden attitudes into widespread public scrutiny in a friendly accessible format.
That part works for me. Robinson's victim status is created entirely by his pity for Mayellen. The tension is too much for her, and when she lets it burst into the open, too much for White society. Their irrationality is both customary and, in the heat of the moment, a functional response to their contempt for the Ewells and their insistence on holding Black folks at the bottom of the hierarchy. Someone must be at fault, be an offender, and Robinson has been chosen for that role by his misplaced generosity.

I sense that you are correct to observe that the scapegoating defuses conflict in a deficient way, but I am having trouble putting my finger on that deficiency. I suppose it has something to do with scapegoating never satisfying people's sense of the true forces at work, but simply gives them an object for their rage and a sop for their feelings of inadequacy.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The racist mentality is inherently unstable over time due to the dissonance between empirical observation and racist ideology.
That's an interesting, and insightful, observation. Interesting because we often think of stereotyping as a sort of generalization from observation. If Black people are always less educated and facing obstruction to energy and enterprise, then racism will interpret this as their fault. But the average observation will tend to confirm the stereotypes. You seem to be saying that observation of generosity of spirit, of gentleness, of effort, of intelligence, requires the racist to erase these good qualities as some sort of aberration or even, as in Robinson's case, some challenge to the social order.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The irony in your comment about the cross is that the Christianity of the Gospels and Epistles seeks to dissolve all social enmity, but institutional Christianity has become a bulwark of tribal conservative culture with its extreme racist sentiments.

This extreme dissonance can only be sustained by the ability of Christians to construct a mythological fantasy that completely deflects any coherent analysis of the Bible. The tragedy of Christ was the effort of a perfect man living by love who met the cruel response from his society of having nails driven through his hands and feet and being left on a tree to die.
The tragedy, for me, has come to be not even a tragedy. He was killed by the Romans, but unlize Reza Aslan I think he chose the confrontation. My view is that he saw the Messiah mythology inherited from the Maccabees episode as a threat to his people's lives, but moreso as a threat to their relationship to God. So he confronted it by claiming to be Messiah and then getting himself killed as a martyr. I rather suspect that he expected some kind of continuation of the movement (just as there were those preaching the message of John the Baptist in Greece, according to Paul's letters). But yes, the cruelty of the response by authorities and crowd alike is certainly an illuminating episode, telling about the human heart in situations of conflict and domination.

Robert Tulip wrote:
The archetypal meaning of the Christ story emerges from the belief that love is stronger than hatred, that the inevitable trajectory of human culture is toward a more inclusive and rational order, where a man like Tom Robinson will be dealt with justly.
There must have been some sense of hope in the time within which Lee wrote her story. I think she puts her hope in people connecting as "just people" and illustrates this at several points in the story. But she grasps another force at work, resisting such straightforward rationality and goodness. It is Girardian and works by scapegoating, as you say.

But I think she has captured an illustration of this horror at work in such a way that the human depth of being in the story is allowed to emerge, and we see Mayellen's longing as much more poignant and individual than Girard's social envy. In doing so Lee may have illustrated her own point, as I think great literature tends to do, that the humanity we have in common is deeper than the structures we erect to obstruct connection.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Chapter Twenty begins with the amazing discovery by Scout and Dill that Mr. Dolphus Raymond, a rich landowner who scandalously lives with blacks, is not a dissolute drunkard but in fact drinks Coca-Cola. The parable is that things are not as they seem, and that the perspective of the genteel justification of racism readily distorts perception by prejudice, with the illogic that because he lives with blacks he must be morally degenerate.

Dolphus explains that he likes his dissolute reputation among people he disrespects. He is inured to the hostility of the burgher caste and happy to deceive them. Scout felt she “shouldn’t be here listening to this sinful man who had mixed children and didn’t care who knew it, but he was fascinating.”

Back in the court, Jem summarises proceedings as an open and shut case for Tom’s innocence. Scout and Dill have returned just in time to hear Atticus sum up the situation.

Adopting an easy familiarity with the jury, Atticus says the reasonable doubt criterion for conviction has not been met. With no medical evidence, and totally unreliable witness accounts, the real guilt sits with Mayella Ewell, guilty of putting a man’s life at stake in an effort to get rid of her own guilt for breaking the rigid and time-honored code of tempting a Negro.

She struck out at her victim to destroy the evidence of her offense. She did something unspeakable in that racially divided society: she kissed a black man. Circumstantial evidence indicates that Mayella was beaten savagely by someone who led almost exclusively with his left, but Tom Robinson only has a right hand.

Atticus accuses the Ewells of cynical confidence in their testimony, grounded in the evil assumption that all Negro men are not to be trusted. In reality, all races are equally prone to immorality. He cites Thomas Jefferson that all men are created equal, recognising the weight of the conservative rejoinder that equality can be overdone – for example the people who run public education promote the stupid and idle along with the industrious.

This shows how modern politically correct views about self-esteem and equality of outcome have been around for a long time. Conceding to the views of the jury, Atticus recognises unequal endowments of brains and opportunity and other gifts, but then claims that equality before the law is the great leveler, based on the integrity of the jury system. This is a direct call to the jurors to abandon their racial prejudice and apply the law with justice, as a duty to God to believe Tom Robinson.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
The last plot twist comes at the expense of Mr. Atticus Finch. He is distraught over the death of Ewell, and wants to be scrupulous about legal accountability. The sheriff insists that Ewell fell on his own knife, despite some ambiguous evidence to the contrary. Finally he gets it through to Finch that he is not protecting Jem.

This scene grew on me. I was turning over in my mind Lee's advocacy for ordinary human contact, and I realized it was embedded in this last business. If Mr. Nathan Radley's cementing of the knothole is an image for the religious zealot's rejection of human contact, the sheriff's empathy for Boo Radley is an image for the kindness of ordinary people. I found it very moving, and a wonderful way of tying up some of the separate strands of the narrative under her main theme.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
It might be soon to talk about the novel's ending, but I will anyway. I find the plot after Tom Robinson's trial to be not quite satisfying, a result of the problem of finding endings after a morally significant climax--the guilty verdict. Mark Twain faced the same problem in Huckleberry Finn. After the climax of Huck deciding to accept eternal damnation by not turning in Jim, Twain ends the book with the Tom Sawyer nonsense of freeing Jim, a process that strips Jim of dignity. Lee doesn't fare so badly in her book, but the big moral question raised in the trial is orphaned, I feel. Tom Robinson is gunned down in prison as he attempts futilely to escape. There had been no outrage or even grumbling over the verdict, apparently (this is 1935 Alabama, after all), and Tom getting himself killed probably confirms White opinion of Black behavior. Atticus lost his case, but he isn't about to step forward as a warrior for racial justice. That is quite believable in terms of the times; Atticus isn't personally at fault.

Harry had said that making Bob Ewell the bad guy felt like a misstep. Making him a crazed killer who exacts revenge on Atticus by going after his children seems to me to continue funneling the moral failing of the society into one person. It appears that this plot device is more about achieving closure on the Boo Radley subplot. It would have been a large hole had Lee not returned to Boo. Her handling of the final scene is well done even though perhaps a little too subtle. I don't know, however, how Lee could have concluded her book in a manner that kept the racial caste questions in focus, while not seeming to anachronistically reflect the concerns of a 1960 liberal.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Chapter 21 delivers the verdict. The process is explained through the eyes of Scout, beginning with the entrance of the domestic servant Calpurnia to the court to inform Atticus that his children are missing. The court staff tell him they have been watching all along from the colored balcony.

Jem expresses again his total confidence that Tom will be acquitted, with no jury deliberation required for such an obvious verdict.

Calpurnia’s indignation at the presence of young children at a rape trial is augmented by the silent sadness of shame radiated by racist Aunt Alexandra at dinner once Calpurnia has dragged them home. It does seem astounding that a court would allow children to watch such a trial, but this is a plot device to enable the innocent to observe the innocent. The children watch the trial without any racist baggage, looking from the pure perspective of justice, which is how Harper Lee wants us to see the case too.

The objective is to transform the corrupted and degraded attitude of the old south toward a state of grace, from a morality grounded in division to one that supports social integration.

Scout and Jem are back in court for the verdict, which is attended by a remarkably patient packed public gallery, such is the notoriety of the case. A key exchange between the young Jem and the black Reverend Sykes about the judge’s summation summarises the problem of the whole story of To Kill a Mockingbird:
Quote:
Jem smiled. “He’s not supposed to lean, Reverend, but don’t fret, we’ve won it,” he said wisely. “Don’t see how any jury could convict on what we heard—”

“Now don’t you be so confident, Mr. Jem, I ain’t ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man…”
For Lee to say Jem’s comment is “wise” continues the rich vein of bitter ironic humour that courses through this satirical morality tale. Readers entirely see that Jem is utterly naïve to the ways of the world, speaking only with the innocent wisdom of babes. Readers can in fact understand that the entire court proceeding has been a charade, a formal process to satisfy legalities for a community who regard facts as of no relevance, when the opportunity presents to put blacks in their place through public humiliation. Jem cannot imagine that such a hypocritical travesty of justice is possible.

Like the chorus in a Greek Tragedy, the public gallery waits for hours for the return of the jury, with every passing minute only increasing the anxiety about the likely verdict among Tom's supporters in the still-packed and silently still courtroom. Like a dream of underwater swimmers, Scout watches the twelve men return, observing their failure to look Tom Robinson in the eye. She then watches Jem’s reaction, as each guilty verdict comes like a dagger in his back.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
Chapter 22 provides reflection on the verdict. Atticus explains to Jem,
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“They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep.”
A large quantity of food gifts have arrived at the Finch residence in appreciation for the defence effort.

A local lady asks about who gave the children permission to go to court, with viral gossip about them sitting in the Colored balcony as some sort of message.

This leads on to the assertion about Maycomb County, “We’re the safest folks in the world. We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us.”

The problem that Jem immediately points out is that this moral hypocrisy sits badly against the complete lack of support given to Tom Robinson by anyone except Atticus.

To which the rejoinder: “His colored friends for one thing, and people like us. People like Judge Taylor. People like Mr. Heck Tate. Stop eating and start thinking, Jem. Did it ever strike you that Judge Taylor naming Atticus to defend that boy was no accident? That Judge Taylor might have had his reasons for naming him?”

Keeping the jury out so long is seen as a step forward. But the chapter ends ominously, with Bob Ewell threatening to get Atticus.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
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.
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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:
Quote:
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
Quote:
“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:
Quote:
“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.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
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.



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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
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.

Quote:
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:
Quote:
“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.


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Post Re: To Kill a Mockingbird: Chapters 19 - 24
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:
Quote:
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.


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