To Kill A Mockingbird: Loss of Innocence

Harper Lee has taken Scout Finch on a journey of loss of innocence in her novel To Kill A Mockingbird. It is not so much a journey of going someplace, but a journey of encounters right in her own small county. These are all people she has known her entire life, some better than others, some she has only heard stories of, yet as she spends time with each person, her understanding of them, of their good and bad traits, is expanded. Scout loses her blissful childhood innocence of believing that most of the people in her county are just regular people as she discovers that there are deep-seated prejudices and hatred inside them. The three adults I believe Scout learned a great deal from, even though her encounters with them were short, are Mayella Ewell, Dolphus Raymond, and Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose.

Scout does not know Mayella Ewell or have any personal interaction with her, yet as she watches Mayella’s testimony at the trial, Scout learns something about how deep prejudice affects everything. Scout first notices while Mayella gives her recitation that “there was something stealthy about hers, like a steady-eyed cat with a twitchy tail” (Lee 242).  Even though Mayella does not seem like she thinks she is better than people of color, she did something that she knew would be a shameful mark on her within her own community and tried to “destroy the evidence of her offence” (Lee 272). As Atticus put it to the jury, Mayella “did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man . . . no code mattered to her before she broke it, but it came crashing down on her afterwards” (Lee 272). Scout has learned from Mayella, that when someone is desperate they will lie, even condemn another person, in order to not face their own sins. This is a negative lesson about not being able to trust what people say. While watching Mayella’s testimony, Dill starts sobbing and Jem tells Scout to take him out. This is where they meet Dolphus Raymond who teaches the children about true character. 

Dill and Scout have a talk with Dolphus Raymond outside of the courthouse during the trial. Dolphus is known as the town drunk because he always carries a paper bag with alcohol in it.  He is wealthy and owns a good portion of land on the riverbank. His family has deep roots in the area, however he lives with a negro woman and has had several children with her. Outside of the courthouse, Scout and Dill learn that he has been putting up a front for his prejudiced community when he offers Dill a drink from the alcohol in his paper bag, but it in reality is Coca-Cola. He explains he’d rather let the town belief he is a drinker: “When I come to town, which is seldom, if I weave a little and drink out of this sack, folks can say Dolphus Raymond’s in the clutches of whiskey—that’s why he won’t change his ways. He can’t help himself, that’s why he lives the way he does . . . it ain’t honest but it’s mighty helpful to folks. Secretly, Miss finch, I’m not much of a drinker, but you see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that’s the way I want to live” (Lee 268). Through Dolphus Raymond, Scout has learned both positive and negative lessons. She has learned that many of the people in her community that she thought of as good people, have a core racial hatred in their hearts. She has also learned that someone she only knew of as drunkard had a kind and non-prejudiced outlook on people. The lesson learned was to not judge people by what she hears or even what she sees, or maybe it was to not judge anyone at all. This same lesson about not judging people is also learned by Scout through her unwanted interaction with Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose.
Scout hates Mrs. Duboise. The old woman shouted at them every time they passed her house. When she insults Atticus for defending a black man, Jem cuts off the tops of her camellia bushes. As punishment he is required to go in and read to her each Saturday afternoon. Scout goes along with him, hating every moment. Mrs. Duboise was rude. She was a racist. She was disgusting. “Cords of saliva would collect on her lips” (Lee 142). She would have tremors. What Scout and Jem did not know was that she was battling addiction and Jem’s reading to her was helping her get through it. “She said she was going to leave this world beholden to nothing and nobody . . . she said she meant to break herself of it before she died and that’s what she did” (Lee 148). After Mrs. Duboise died, Atticus explains that she was a lady, that “she had her own views about things, a lot different from mine . . . I wanted you to see something about her—I wanted you to see what real courage is . . . it’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what” (Lee 149). Even though Mrs. Dubiose was a negative person, through her, Scout learned what courage and dignity are even when they are presented in someone who has far different viewpoints—even wrong viewpoints—from your own. 

Through Scout’s encounters with the differing people of Maycomb County, the lesson that she has ultimately learned is that there is always more to people than what is on the surface. At the end of the book, Scout stands on Boo Radley’s porch and looks out at her neighborhood, imaging what all the people looked like from there, standing on the peripheral of it all and restates in her mind what Atticus had told her about “never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them” (Lee 374). Her biggest takeaway was positive as she realizes that beneath the fear and anger and deep-seated prejudices of the south in the heated times of civil rights movements, most people are nice.   

Works Cited
Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. Grand Central Publishing, 1960. Print. 
image: "To Kill a Mockingbird 1" by Sew Technicolor is licensed under CC BY 2.0