A Loss Of Innocence
“The world’s ending Atticus! Please do something!” (Lee 64) This was the innocent voice of Jean Louise Finch, the protagonist in “To Kill a Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee. Jean doesn’t understand what racism is, what violent acts are, and other issues that are applicable to the real world. Through the characterization of Scout, Lee reveals that innocence often obscures a child’s knowledge of violent experiences such as racism, rape or murder, because their knowledge of those types of encounters are limited. Children often don’t know much about the topic of racism. In this novel, there are two major examples of this.
Firstly, Scout is affected by the town’s response to Atticus defending Tom Robinson. Even Scout’s cousin is indirectly involved in this as he calls Atticus an lover. When Jean asks Atticus about the topic of racism, the conversation goes something like this, “A n—– lover, I ain’t very sure what it means, but the way Francis said it….” (Lee 86) Her uncle Jack rants about how children shouldn’t know and use such words, but Atticus told him that children can now the meaning of such words, they just should not use it. In contrast, there is yet another type of racism that is discreetly present, how some blacks viewed whites in those days. For instance, when Jem and Jean go to the black church with Calpurnia, one of the members present said, “You ain’t got no business bringin white chillun here…” (158). The negative connotations used in this quote (“ain’t got no business, white chillun”), indicate how some black people viewed the caucasian race. This shows how Scout’s innocence limited her knowledge, about such a controversial subject.
Children aren’t aware of the topic of rape. One day, Scout overhears a man comment, “They c’n go loose and rape up the countryside for all of ‘em who run this county care.”(136) Scout doesn’t understand what rape is, as she is a young girl, so she asks her father, Atticus, the meaning of the word. He grows sober, and says, “Rape was the carnal knowledge of a female by force and without consent.”(136). Scout again demonstrates her innocence of violent topics such as rape. Children are the ones most affected by murder. Scout experiences two versions of this tragic topic. A great example of this was the appalling Tom Robinson murder. It all started when Atticus first informed them of the death, “Tom’s dead. They shot him. He was running. It was during their exercise period. They said he just broke into a blind raving charge…” (239).
Jem was extremely affected by Tom’s death. At first, he was extremely shocked, because for the first time, he was exposed to the injustices of the world. Finally, another great example is the attempted murder on Jean and Jem. They are, for obvious reasons, extremely shaken up. Scout hastily describes the scene, “He slowly squeezed the breath out of me. I could not move. Suddenly he was jerked backwards…” (266). This event, surprisingly, led Scout to figure out that Boo Radley had saved them. Knowledge is often limited by a child’s innocence, because they only have a limited amount of experiences.
In “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, the protagonists Jean, and Jem are extremely naive and innocent in the beginning of the book, but as the book progresses, and their innocence starts to strip away, they soon have to face the hard cold facts of the world, such as prejudice, discrimination and murder. Harper Lee also uses great character development as she transforms Jean, the narrator, from a innocent and a naive girl to a girl who understands discrimination and prejudice of social class and race. In her novel, readers can also make inferences that children don’t understand violent experiences because their innocence blinds them from doing so. Readers see that it takes Scout to go through Tom’s trial to fully understand the extent of how much the world is different from what she thought it was.
One should understand prejudice and discrimination, and they shouldn’t be ignorant of the fact that it exists. As an English journalist once said, “No man knows the value of innocence and integrity but he who has lost them.”
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