The autobiographical element is evident in Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Bestseller To Kill a Mockingbird. There are many exceptional resemblances in various characters depicting her life. The characters have been carefully structured by Lee to tell a story. Harper Lee’s father’s name is Amasa Coleman Lee and her mother Frances Cunningham Finch Lee, prominent names in the classic works To Kill a Mockingbird. The character of Atticus Finch was designed to be a kind, respectable man who made his living as an attorney who decides to defend a black man who was accused of raping a white woman. Lee’s father Amasa was also an attorney who defended two black men accused of killing a white storekeeper. In the article “Harper Lee Before To Kill a Mockingbird” Robert Sullivan states “Her father, a lawyer and the model for Atticus Finch in the novel, had been born in Butler Country in 1880 and after he married Frances, the couple moved to Monroeville in 1912. There he was a supremely respected man and, in fact, served in the Alabama state legislature for a dozen years, from 1927 to 1939. He once defended two black men accused of killing a white storekeeper; both men were eventually convicted and hanged. Clearly, this family remembrance made an impression on young Nelle.” It is through her character Atticus Finch, readers learn about the realism of racism in the community and in the court of law.
Harper Lee depicts herself with the protagonist Jean Louis Finch also known as Scout. Lee structured Scout to be a tomboyish, strong, opinionated individual whose open-mindedness caused many clashes with her elders:
“Teach me?” I said in surprise. “He hasn’t taught me anything, Miss Caroline. Atticus ain’t got time to teach me anything,” I added. Miss Caroline smiled and shook her head. “If he didn’t teach you, who did?” Miss Caroline asked good-naturedly. “Somebody did. You weren’t born reading The Mobile Register.” “Jem says I was. He read in a book where I was a Bullfinch instead of a Finch. Jem says my name’s really Jean Louise Bullfinch, that I got swapped when I was born and I’m really a— (Lee 22)
According to the article “Autobiographical Elements of To Kill a Mockingbird,” Peregrine states:
Harper Lee, as a child, was also not feminine and felt unchallenged, as well. Like Scout in the book, she also developed an open-mindedness that was cultivated by her father. He preferred to do what was moral instead of going along with the popular opinion. The primary similarity that should be noted between Harper Lee and Scout in the novel is that they both broke constraining social barriers.
Both Lee and Scout scoped the issues of prejudice and racism instead of settling for what everyone else believed during the time period in which they lived.
To Kill a Mockingbird place in historical fiction is another element found in the story. The setting takes place in the 1930s. Lee parallels a time in which calamity corrupted the human mindset. The Great Depression disabled many people financially. In the article, “Standards Focus: Historical Context, The Great Depression,” the author points out that “People’s life savings suddenly disappeared, and as a result, people could not afford to pay their house payments or buy food, clothing, or other necessities.” (Secondary Solutions). In her novel, Lee describes the Cunningham’s as a family of poverty “Walter Cunningham was sitting there lying his head off. He didn’t forget his lunch, he didn’t have any. He had none today nor, would he have any tomorrow or the next day. He had probably never seen three quarters together at the same time in his life.” Through Walter Cunningham’s character, Lee demonstrates the dire situations families endured during the time frame of the Great Depression.
Harper Lee uses symbolism to help readers have an in-depth meaning. The title itself symbolizes enjoyment. The Mockingbird is known for their memorization of mimicking music which brings joy to people. As stated in the article Mockingbirds: Introducing Birds to Young Naturalists, “The bird actually sings at great lengths in musical phrases that are pure mockingbird song.” Scout is reminded by Atticus to leave the mockingbirds alone when she is gifted with an air-rifle “”Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it as a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “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, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.””
Besides the mockingbird, Boo Radley is another example of symbolism. In the beginning, both Jem and Scout tell countless stories about Boo Radley they’ve heard over the years and engage in many games of who can catch a glimpse of Boo. Further along in the story, Boo Radley proves to be a caring man through his heroic efforts in protecting her. His change of character demonstrates Scouts maturity throughout the story.
Scout and Jem experience in the novel.
Irony is another element Lee uses to bring forth her thoughts of prejudice and racism. When Bob Ewell is called upon as a witness in Tom Robinson’s trial, he is called by his full name Robert E. Lee Ewell. This action depicts the Confederate soldier Robert E. Lee who fought in the Civil War and was against slavery.
Foreshadowing is used as another element. Lee allows readers to slip into the character’s mind, seeing their perspective. Scout and Jem begin finding gifts in the tree hole. Both are excited about the gifts but are afraid of the possibilities of problems the gifts might cause by accepting them. This scene foreshadows Scout’s relationship with Boo Radley, someone who eventually demonstrates his goodness. Foreshadow can also be found in Tom Robinson’s trial. After Tom is found guilty, Atticus says “this may be a shadow of the beginning.” This statement depicts the injustice blacks will face in the future.
The symbolism, irony, and foreshadowing of Lee’s classic works To Kill a Mockingbird, clearly demonstrates the theme of injustice, racism, and prejudice. It allows the readers to view how others are quick to judge someone based on their color of their skin. All the elements combined made it possible for Lee to deliver her message in a single story.
In the contemporary work Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey uses a variety of conventions which include narrative, language, and theme. The point of view is seen by Charlie Bucktin, a thirteen-year-old boy. By using the character Charlie as the narrator, Silvey helps his readers identify with the young thirteen-year-old, preparing his audience for what is to come.
Silvey places events in the story that lead up the climactic event without revealing too much information during that specific moment like the one when Charlie has doubts in believing Jasper didn’t kill Laura Wishart:
“I don’t see any sticks about, Charlie, d’ you? Or wind. And it can’t have come loose, cause I wrap it up and tie it. Cause I don’t want anyone to know about this place.” I nod, dazed. I can’t think properly. Everything falls silent again. “So what are you saying? What does this mean?” “Charlie. Listen. I’m saying she didn’t do it.” “So who did?” I ask, before a cold feeling of terror and dread suddenly has me backing away from him. I gag on the word: “You?” (Silvey 11)
Silvey reveals to his audience the doubt that that town has for Jasper Jones’ innocence. This doubt places the readers in the same position as Charlie Bucktin in that specific moment, and every other citizen in Corrigan whose views of Jasper Jones are demeaning.
Furthermore, using imagery, Silvey displays to his readers how disturbed Charlie has become after seeing Laura Wishart’s body. Charlie describes his feelings as “a snowdome paperweight that’s been shaken. There’s a blizzard in my bubble.” The snowdome is metaphoric regarding Charlie’s world, a world of seclusion and innocence. Another example of imagery is the word “sorry” that Jasper sees written on his tree and on a car in Jack Lionel’s yard. When Jasper sees this word, he assumes that Jack Lionel is responsible for Laura’s death. However, in the future, he learns that sorry was written by two different people. Additionally, “sorry” demonstrates the insufficiency of remorse in Jasper Jones.
Silvey diction reveals Corrigan’s racial views of Jasper Jones “Afterward, I orbited my parents. I listened to my father air the same platitudes to every concerned parent who wandered our way. Nobody talked about what had just happened. Not one word. Then someone mentioned Jasper Jones. The same way they did when the post office burned to the ground.” Without directly stating, readers can infer Jasper Jones is being accused of something and was previously blamed for the burning of the post office.
Charlie loses his innocence the moment he decides to jump out of his window to follow Jasper Jones. Charlie’s escape through his bedroom window is symbolic of a child being born, entering a world of sin and becoming exposed to all the unknown elements. Charlie, who has been sheltered from the world by his parents, had a very little perception of reality. As the audience, we can see Charlie’s perception unfold as he is faced with the reality of prejudice and racism in his hometown of Corrigan.
Jasper Jones is set in the 1960s in the small town of Corrigan, Australia where everyone knows each other’s names. The town is not accepting of non-whites which makes it difficult Jasper Jones and the Lu’s who are targets of hate crimes and racial slurs. Jasper Jones takes place during the Vietnam War. Australian troops were sent to fight against Vietcong which resulted in racism against the Vietnamese’s:
“A woman called Sue Findlay, whom I’d never met, had walked from the hall’s belly to see Jefferey’s mother quietly pouring water from one of the urns into her teacup. Sue Findlay was a boxy woman with a thick bob, and from what I was told later my father, she just detonated. Her eyes had lit up like someone put a penny in her. She screamed until her face was red, then stomped over to Mrs. Lu. She slapped her cup up, right into her chest and her chin, staining her thin summer blouse and scalding her skin.” (Silvey 132)
Through his contemporary work Jasper Jones, Silvey exposes the reality that sometimes telling the truth is not always the best thing to do. If Charlie would have gone to the police, Jasper Jones, an innocent boy, would have been arrested for the murder of Laura Wishart. The novel also demonstrates how difficult it is for someone to keep a secret. The anxiety of Charlie Bucktin is felt throughout the story.
Prejudice is very much in existence today as it has always been in the past. Not much has changed since the Vietnam War. Both Harper Lee and Craig Silvey have presented their chosen theme, prejudice and racism through the protagonist of their classic and contemporary works. Through the eyes of their protagonists, readers have a full view of the cruelness other individuals/characters have endured. Both authors convey the theme in a way their audience can relate, shedding light on racism and prejudices.
Between the 1930s and 1960s, racial prejudice was at its most high in America and Australia. Blacks and Aborigines were not allowed the privileges the white people had. Both novels portray very detailed events that pay close attention to prejudice as a theme so that the reader will be able to comprehend the racial inequality of the times in which they take place. These books show prejudice amongst many nationalities in their own unique ways, but one can argue that Jasper Jones is a by-product of To Kill a Mockingbird, this argument will later be discussed in this essay. Contextual Information Racism (CIR) was a very common and well-known practice in the early 20th century America. It was a popular form of discrimination mainly for use against African-Americans. The large migration of African-Americans occurred between 1910-1930 and ignited what would become known as the black-white segregation in America. African-Americans were treated with little to almost no respect and were looked upon rather as property than human-beings. However, the title of ‘slaves’ would eventually subside after Slavery became abolished. Although the institution of slavery became illegal, we still see forms of segregation here today in local communities. The quality of life between African-Americans and whites vary drastically from each other. Harper Lee expresses these differences in his novel To Kill a Mockingbird by having the theme of prejudice in a time period more accustomed to racial inequality.
Furthermore, the comparison in both classic and contemporary works is good and evil. Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird is seen by his community as creepy and odd. However, later in the novel, Boo Radley finds an opportunity to redeem himself by saving Jem and Scout. Boo Radley represents a “Mockingbird” a good soul who was corrupted by the hands of his father and a tainted image by how he was perceived by society.
Mad Jack Lionel, a long-time resident of Corrigan also had a tainted image when the people of his community assumed he murdered his wife. Jack Lionel was feared by the youth in his community. Nonetheless, Craig Silvey reveals the truth of Mad Jack Lionel’s wife’s death later in the novel which changes how his audience and characters in the novel perceive the character, Jack Lionel.
In contrast to Mad Jack Lionel, Bob Ewell, a poor drunken unemployed member of Maycomb wrongfully accuses Tom Robinson of raping his daughter. Bob Ewell symbolizes evil compared to Mack Jack Lionel who represents good. Both authors have crafted their characters to convey messages that needed to be heard by the audience of their era.