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Racial Tension and Violence in To Kill a Mockingbird Essay

Related Topics: Civil Rights Rape Women 1950s

Pages:6 (1655 words)



Topic:To Kill A Mockingbird

Document Type:Essay


Historical Context of the Film To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird starring Gregory Peck is a 1962 film adaptation of the 1960 novel by Harper Lee of the same name. The film was produced during a decade in which the Civil Rights Movement was reaching its zenith. Blacks had been protesting throughout the South, and Martin Luther King, Jr., would be arrested in Birmingham in 1963. There he would write his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail, justifying his actions at the front of the civil disobedience. Soon thereafter would be the march to Washington and then the Selma to Montgomery march. In short, race and desegregation was on everyone’s mind. The film gives special attention to the issue of race, even though it is set in the 1930s. The activities abuzz in the 1960s were surely reflected in the film’s story. For instance, the unjust accusation of rape leveled against the black Tom Robinson reflects the Jim Crow spirit that put blacks on an unequal footing with whites for nearly a century following the end of the Civil War. The poverty of the farmers and blacks like Tom reflected the reality of life at mid-century in America: only the chosen few were permitted to be upwardly mobile, and those who like Atticus Finch thought to look out for the marginalized and oppressed were vilified by the mob for attempting to upset their order.

The film opens with Atticus Finch agreeing to defend Tom against the charge of rape. Atticus is convinced Tom is innocent and that the real aggressor is the father of the “victim,” who not so innocently actually tried to seduce Tom and was rebuffed then beaten by her father. Atticus points out the facts to the jury but the all-white jury condemns Tom anyway. Tom is largely depicted as helpless and incapable of defending himself. At one point, Atticus and the children have to fend off an angry lynch mob to protect Tom. The film thus portrays blacks as being basically poor and defenseless and in need of white assistance. Yet even the end of the film shows that there is no real hope for justice: Tom is killed in an alleged escape attempt.

Historically, the film was created during a decade of upheaval. The 1960s was a period of revolution. The second wave of Feminism got underway with Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, and that set the stage for women getting back into the workforce. Prior, they had only entered the mostly-male workforce during the first half of the 1940s when the war effort was on and the factories needed workers. When the men returned home from the war, the women returned to the domestic sphere. Thus, it was not until the 1960s that a push to get them out of the homes got underway. Change was everywhere, however—not just in the domestic sphere. Segregation was under fire ever since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. The court case brought to the forefront of American society the tension between whites and blacks and the unlawfulness of segregation. Still, ever since WW2, when blacks and whites began to fight alongside one another in war, the distance between the two races had gradually been lessened. Desegregation caused a flare up in tensions that was essentially like rousing and kicking the dead horse of Jim Crow. Angry mobs appeared and lynch mobs were on the prowl. The lynch mob in the film reflects the reality of lynch mobs in America—groups of people who set about…

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…rape is thus depicted in the film. But the film’s hero knows that the fear is unjustified and that Tom is a good man. The hero suspects the real villains are the accusers. They are lying in order to pacify their own anger and pride and outrage. Tom is the victim of their ire and of the town’s ire as well as the town allows itself to be outraged, too, believing the lies.

The end result is that the town demands the blood of the black man and ultimately gets it in spite of the reasoned and impassioned argument and defense that the hero puts up on behalf of the black man. What the film does not show is any kind of black heroism. In the 1960s there were black leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. They were black men who believed in defending the black community and who did not look for support or salvation from white men. The film does not really reflect this reality. Yet in a way the reality also does not reflect the narrative. Both MLK and Malcolm X would be assassinated in the 1960s, just like JFK and RFK, and just like Tom in To Kill a Mockingbird. The hero’s children are almost killed as well, but they are saved by a guardian angel. The evidence of the impact of the cultural, historical, political and social events of the 1950s and 1960s is seen throughout the film and its focus on racial tension, change, and self-discovery. Scout is forced to grow up and choose between following in her father’s footsteps, which lead to the light, or to boil in anger and indignation like the town and the mob always calling for blood. She chooses to follow her father, but even still violence…

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Executive Order 10925. Thecre.

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