To Kill A Mocking Bird By Lee Racial categories are created in the film To Kill A Mockingbird through a complex societal hierarchy founded in difference. Although all of Macon county lives in poverty, the town does not unite on the basis of this shared experience, but instead focuses on their differences, both real and imagined, to segregate themselves. The town operates under a general assumption that wealthier whites hold the most power and prestige, followed by poorer whites, while all blacks, regardless of financial station, are considered to be the lowest citizens. General depictions of black men and women in the film are of household servants and ignorant, docile farm workers. The only slight indication that there were any educated blacks in Macon comes from the appearance of the preacher at Tom Robinsons trial. Held on charges of raping and beating a poor, white woman, Mr.
Robinson is portrayed as a meek and nearly helpless man. The fact that he can barely speak in his own defense, relays both the idea that black men were uneducated, as well as the idea that blacks were afraid to step over the boundaries of their society. Attics Finch, a kind and fair white lawyer, is the only person to speak up for Mr. Robinson. This demonstrates the idea that the lowly black man needs a benevolent white man to “save” him and direct his life along the right path. Black men and women in the film are unable to make their own decisions.
Clearly, there were obvious lines drawn in Macon, delegating specific roles to the various groups of citizens. The dark pigment of Mr. Robinsons skin placed him on the bottom rung of society, forcing him into a subservient position. It is difficult to discern whether the film is attempting to garner sympathy for the oppressed black community, or reinforce stereotypes of ignorant and complacent black men and women. While the initial depictions of the black community center around the Finchs maid, Calpurnia, the respect with which the family treats her is far from the norm.
Ranging from the callous indifference of several of the white law-enforcement officers, to the blatant racism of the group of country farmers, much meaning is assumed from difference. The racism of Macon seems to stem from the Southern history of slavery. Blacks continue to be classed as servants, and not equals, to the white townspeople. With no other opportunities available to them, the black workers attempt to make the most out of what they have. They are faced daily with the stigma attached to the color of their skin, a difference which assigns the entire black community an inferior status. Especially evident in the treatment of blacks by the poor, white farmers, is a desire for dominance over the blacks. Bob Ewel, the father of the victim, expresses his distaste by referring to black men as “boy,” a term we have seen is weighted by heavy historical significance.
This racism most likely stems from the substandard treatment these farmers receive from the wealthier population of Macon. In the blacks, the farmers are looking for a place to vent their own frustration and exert power over another group. The idea of ethnic identity as an illusion opened my eyes to the fallacy of a single identity for every group. Using only the basic elements of family life for example, it is clear to see that the Finch family is very different from the farming Cunningham family, despite the fact that they are both white. This illusion shows up again in the lumping together of all of the black men and women of Macon into a single category, at the expense of any individual identities. Even Tom Robinson, the man held on (false) charges of raping a white woman, is never developed as a character.
The audience is left to imagine that he is “just” another poor, black farmer. I chose this film because of the use of difference as a foundation for social hierarchy. Throughout the film, there is much lumping of various ethnic groups. A group identity is favored over the individual identity, and all assumptions are based on the idea that each member of a group shares the same thoughts, values, and identity. Seeing the various episodes of the film through the eyes of the young narrator, Scout Finch, also offered a unique perspective to the film.
The questioning eyes of a child are often as critical as any educated outsider looking in on Macon could be. Through this course I have learned that a persons identity can never be truly known by anyone. Identity is therefore never shared by an entire group of people. One should try to examine the individual person, and not assign the person attributes and an identity that they cannot possible know. As Atticus Finch tells Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of viewuntil you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”.