24th August 2017

To Kill A Mockingbird Essay 1

Analyse how the use of “opposites” or contrasts helped you understand one or more themes in the written text(s).



Opposites are used in literature to emphasise key characteristics characters have by deliberately choosing two personalities, actions or situations which contrast each other.  In the text “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee describes the two characters Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch as they express their opinions on the events that occur in the novel, especially the trail of Tom Roberson. Lee’s use of opposites through the characters of Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch helped me to understand the themes of child maturation and classism present in the text and how they still play a significant role in society today.


Bob Ewell is a racist, sexist father of eight who owns a section close to the area where the majority of negroes live. He let’s seven of his children run wild, while the oldest, Mayella, keeps the household running in place of her dead mother. It is rumoured that he physically abuses his children, and sexually abuses Mayella. At the end of the novel he gets his first job in the Works Progress Admission and is fired a few days later due to laziness, showing that he has little drive for a better life and is careless to how his actions affect others, especially his children. Bob is allowed to hunt out of season so his children don’t starve, and the church gives him christmas baskets every year, but this hint of kindness is all the community offer to the Ewells, apart from the back of their hand. The only reason people do not openly express their hate towards Bob Ewell is the fact that he’s white.The Ewells are seen as dirty by the Maycomb community; Living like pigs on their infertile block of land close to the negro population is looked down upon by the white middle class citizens, due to the ideas on what is proper in 1930’s America.The quote “It’s against the law, all right,’ said my father, ‘and it’s certainly bad, but when a man spends his relief checks on green whiskey his children have a way of crying from hunger pains. I don’t know of any landowner around here who begrudges those children any game their father can hit.” gives insight of the Ewells homelife and the situation Bob has put his children in. Bob accused the black man Tom Roberson of raping his daughter Mayella, and it was brought to trial where Atticus Finch was on defence, a situation where the opposites of Bob and Atticus are brought to attention. In contrast to Bob, Atticus Finch teaches his children many lessons throughout the story by using himself as an example. He teaches them to walk in other people’s shoes and to understand what they go through in their situations. “He liked Maycomb, he was Maycomb County born and bred; he knew his people, they knew him….Atticus was related by blood or marriage to nearly every family in the town.” Atticus’ connection to the town makes it more difficult for him to break free from tradition with the judgement of his family and the people of Maycomb upon him, but he uses his connections as a way to set and example and show that the corrupt ideas held by Maycomb’s citizens aren’t fair for everyone. Atticus was also the first man in his family to move away from Finches Landing and make a name for himself, moving forward from his slavery stained family to pursue his beliefs of equality. He is able to look past the prejudice that is ever present in the Maycomb community and make decisions using his beliefs and free of interference from those around him. “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.” is one of the valuable life lessons Atticus teaches his children as they begin to develop their own ideas along the path of maturation. “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.” is another important lesson taught by Atticus in the novel, showing that he is an intelligent man and has a passion for bringing his children up in a supportive and equal manner. The opposite qualities of Bob and Atticus were emphasised during the Tom Robinson trial, when Bob Ewell accuses Tom of raping his daughter, and Atticus defends Tom. Bob Ewell presents himself as a savior for the white community, protecting their women from a raping black man. He takes the trial as a way to heighten his family’s name in the social circle of Maycomb, while Atticus is given the job of defending this man and does so to his very best ability, even though he knows the majority of the town will think down on him due to their racist beliefs.


Harper Lee’s deliberate use of opposites through the characters Bob and Atticus helped me understand the idea of a child’s maturation. Maturation is a significant theme in the text and the presented through the children, such as Scout Finch, Jem Finch, Dill and Mayella Ewell. Mayella, Bob Ewell’s daughter, lacks social maturity at the age of 19, but she is perfectly capable of running a household. In contrast, Atticus’ daughter Scout has proven that she can begin and sustain full conversations with adults, such as Mr Cunningham and countless others during the text, but she has has no desire yet for domestic skills. These opposing characteristics present in the children show how parenting techniques can have a significant effect on the maturation of a child as they transition to adulthood. Bob lets his children run loose, he doesn’t force them to do things for the benefit of their future selves, like ‘good’ parents do, but his children simply don’t matter that much to him, as though they are a chore which must be fulfilled. During the trial of Tom Roberson, Bob doesn’t once talk to Mayella directly, even though he is doing an act which is in defence of her wellbeing. Atticus’ modified authoritative parenting style bring his children to the same level as himself, respecting his children as much as he wished them to respect him. Scout is able to express her opinion on subjects to adults and is always asking about topics she doesn’t fully understand. Bob and Atticus’ parenting techniques are very different and the outcome of their children shows how these opposing techniques have effect on the children. Mayella is proof that Bob Ewell’s neglective way of raising his children has a negative effect on a child’s maturity, as Mayella doesn’t have the social skills to be able to make friends shown in the quote “‘Miss Mayella, … Who are your friends’ (Atticus said) … The witness frowned as if puzzled. ‘Friends?’”. As Atticus continues to question Mayella during the Tom Robinson trial she accused him of making fun of her as he calls her ‘Ma’am’ and ‘Miss Mayella’ and she in not used to being treated with respect. These contrasting personalities and characteristics of Bob and Atticus’ daughters and their connection to the parenting techniques they were raised on taught me that parents have a much greater significance than I imagined on the maturity and personalities of a child. A person’s morals, the reasons behind their actions and their personalities are all grown from the adult they were exposed to as children, and the characteristics they shared to others.. This idea of a child maturation shown though the opposing children of Bob and Atticus taught me how a person can have an significant effect on the children exposed to them and can shape their personalities. I was able to bring this lesson back into my own life as a thought about how the people, including my parents, that I spend time with heavily influence my behavior and image I put forward as a come to the end of a journey to maturation. As I start to seriously develop into an adult I must we weary of the influences I expose myself too if I want to become a person that I am proud of and that allows me to fulfill a life I enjoy. This goal is similar to Scout, who will be able to become a person she wants to be due to the raising she experienced. In contrast, Mayella has not been given the right opportunities to fulfill a successful and satisfying life in the Maycomb community and the social systems of 1930’s America, who will crush those they don’t like the look of.


Maycomb’s town structure is set up in a way that favours white, middle class citizens and leaves everyone else living on the outskirts of town. The fact that Bob Ewell lives in the outskirts while Atticus lives in town as a respected citizen of Maycomb helped me understand the theme of classism present in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. Maycomb is a small country town with roads of “Red slop” as they are not paved. The town is described in the opening of the text by the narrator, “A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.”. Although the townspeople are seen as dainty and passive, the goings on of the community show silent wars and depressions of certain groups, such as the blacks and the rural community. Atticus Finch lives on the main street along side his white, comfortable neighbours, while Bob Ewell lives on a patch of land near the black settlement. The fact that these characters live in opposing sides of town and experience the positive and negative factors of the Maycomb town structure, taught me about how class plays a significant role in the lifestyle of a person. Atticus has available to him all the recourses present in the white community, he is able to heighten his career if he really wants to and is not denied anything because of his life situation. Bob lacks the resources and the motivation required to get his family out of the economic and social rut he has got them into. Bob Ewell is given a christmas basket every year but his family is ignored for the rest of the time; The First Purchase church where the negro community worship has one hymn book, an example of how community resources are given first pick by the middle class white citizens, meaning equality within the community will never be accomplished unless this favoured group recognise this inequality and as Atticus says ‘Learn to live on someone else’s shoes’. Harper Lee’s use of opposites through Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch opened me up to the idea of classism being silently present within to roots of Maycomb, and helped me understand why Bob is in the situation he is and is unable to get out because of the unfair treatment of his family by the upper class Maycomb community. The presence of unquestioned classism in the Maycomb community can be related to America today, where Classism is still present in society and unquestioned by people’s morals. From classism grew racism and sexism, and the ideas were embedded that black people are poor and unskilled, and women are not as smart as men, which meant entires groups of people have been prevented from succeeding due to the prejudices people hold. Classism is one of the last prejudices left which is going unnoticed and uncontested in society due to its confusion with racism and sexism in some cases, but the in the case of Bob Ewell, the prejudice could not be confused with racism as Bob is part of the race favoured by the society of the time. The exposure of classism through Bob Ewell in contrast with Atticus taught me about Classism in general and how it is the roots of the prejudice within the novel and how if prejudgement of individuals it to be abolished Classism must be recognised and uprooted from society.


Harper Lee’s deliberate use of opposites in the text “To Kill a Mockingbird” between the characters Bob Ewell and Atticus Finch and their contrasting similarities, being their children and social standing, taught me how parenting has a significant effect on the maturity of a child, and how a community treats a person can nourish or repress a person or group. Atticus is given the opportunity pursue his desires while Bob Ewell is looked down upon by the community and not provided equal recourses compared to people like Atticus. Harper Lee’s underlying themes of Classism and Chile maturity can be linked, as Bob is unfairly cheating his children as a domino effect of the way the community treats him, but Atticus is not suppressed by the social system and as a result his children are treated as equals by their father and will be able to do the same to their children, showing the effect adult have on their children. I was also able to relate these themes to the society I live in and how Classism and the concepts that affect the maturation of a child affect individuals and groups within the 21st century and advantages towards equality and humans can come from mastering the use of these themes.


Hannah McNabb

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