Tuesday, July 06, 2021

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

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Utopia: Restitution, Philosophy, and Conformity

In Utopia, Thomas More introduces concepts of restitution, other’s first, and conformity. While the ideas of a Utopian society sound wonderful, being able to execute and maintain it, pushes the culture into something quite sinister.  

The idea of restitution of thieves, instead of the practice of More’s era of imprisonment and hanging, seems much more fitting to the crime. This is an idea that was ahead of its time. He writes, “those that are found guilty of theft among them are bound to make restitution to the owner, and not, as it is in other places, to the prince, for they reckon that the prince has no more right to the stolen goods than the thief; but if that which was stolen is no more in being, then the goods of the thieves are estimated, and restitution being made out of them, the remainder is given to their wives and children; and they themselves are condemned to serve in the public works, but are neither imprisoned” (More 1). Restitution is good for everyone involved. It can give back to the owner what was lost (although, technically, the Utopians didn’t own anything so they didn’t really need this law), but it also gives the thief another chance to make good and possibly be rehabilitated since he is put to work. 

I like the philosophy that is taught and upheld, which teach people to be selfless. “The reflections that he makes on the love and gratitude of those whom he has so obliged, gives the mind more pleasure than the body could have found in that from which it had restrained itself” (More 1). If all societies had the philosophy of others first, the world would be a better place. I think it is this premise that would make a Utopia, because if everyone is taught without any prejudices or hate, life everywhere would be a Utopia. I can’t fault an entire society trying to live this way, and kudos to those who can pull it off. That’s where my admiration stops, because I believe it is just a philosophy and can’t be maintained, which moves into the idea I don’t think is a good idea, that of conformity. The philosophy is to be applauded, yet the way they enforce it, is not.

Everything in Utopia is uniform. The structure of the cities are the same, “all large and well built” (More 1). The people have the same manners, dress, laws, governing bodies. Thoughts. Everything is the same. While this seems great in the sense of equality and not having anyone preening about because they own more or have better stuff than another, anytime people are forced to conform, that is freedom taken away. Even the amount of family members you have is something that has to be conformed to. “No family may have less than ten and more than sixteen persons in it, but there can be no determined number for the children under age; this rule is easily observed by removing some of the children of a more fruitful couple to any other family that does not abound so much in them” (More 1). I don’t believe that human beings are capable of living with 1) being told what to do all the time, and 2) living without any kind of self-expression. It almost sounds like a type of brain-washing where the priests educate the children, using “all possible methods to infuse, very early, into the tender and flexible minds of children, such opinions as are both good in themselves and will be useful to their country” (More 1). Yeah, that doesn’t sound like free will at all. This same type of social conformity is thrust on the old and diseased as well. If they reach that state and are unwilling to take their own life, they will not receive an honorable funeral, but their bodies thrown into a ditch (More 1). That reeks of forced social pressure. I do not like the idea of forcing everyone to behave the same and taking choices away. This sounds like freedom, but socially, it is not. It’s pretty much a behave-this-way-or-else construction. 
Image: "Utopia" by Felipe VenĂ¢ncio is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Faerie Queene: The Archetypical Hero

According to Joseph Campbell’s idea of the archetypical hero of the main protagonist being called out of his normal life into a more supernatural type world, The Faerie Queene meets this criteria and then some. The hero generally starts out in his normal world. The Redcrosse Knight is a young man who has not seen war. He wears “on his brest a bloudie Crosse he bore, the deare remembrance of his dying Lord” (Spenser 1:2:1-2). He wants to prove himself so he gets the Call to Adventure from Gloriana the Faerie Queene who sets him on a mission to slay the dragon that has been keeping the princess Una’s parents and kingdom captive. So starts the journey. 

Edmund Spenser used a lot of symbolism in his poem. The young knight represents England. He is heroic, but also a little foolhardy in his eagerness to jump into adventure. Una represents truth and faith, or the church. As James W. Broaddus puts it in Studies in Philology, other characters such as “Archimago, Duessa, and Orgoglio could represent Satan’s work in the papacy” (578). Redcrosse does not yet have full faith. He shows this through his impulsiveness to run into the cave and fight the dragon/snake even while Una (truth) was advising him not to. His immaturity in the faith was showing. Likewise, when Archimago deceives him with visions of Una and another man, “if he had known what faith really is—he would have doubted the evidence of his senses before he doubted Una” (Broaddus 580). But he was still young in his full conversion to being a Christian and the bad influences achieved the separation of Una and the knight or symbolically, England and the church for a time. It is only after Redcrosse has gone through several more tests and been in the company of deceivers such as Duessa that he comes forth as the true defender of the faith and is ready to slay the dragon. Which brings us back to the archetype of the hero. 

 After the call to action, our hero is given helpers in the form of Una and the dwarf and they all cross the threshold into the supernatural world of adventure. They are “led with delight, they thus beguile the way, until the blustering storme is overblown; when weening to returne, whence they did stray” (Spenser 1:10:1-3).  They have entered the next world and move into the phase of the journey where they encounter a Series of Tests. In each test, Redcrosse learns something about himself, although it takes turning his back on Una, the truth, and going off alone and being imprisoned by pride, represented by Orgoglio, before he matures enough in his faith and is recused and brought back to health by Una. He is then ready for the Final Battle with the dragon, which is epic. Once the dragon is defeated, he is promised to Una, yet must still Return to his Everyday World to honor his pledge to the Faerie Queene. And so we see that Redcrosse has followed the journey of the archetypical hero, coming full circle back home, but as a different person who has grown into the knight he esteemed to become at the beginning.
Works Cited
Broaddus, James W. “Spenser’s Redcrosse Knight and The Order of Salvation.” Studies in Philology Vol. 108, No. 4. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23056053?seq=7#metadata_info_tab_contents
Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. The Project Gutenberg. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/15272/15272-h/15272-h.htm