Scout’s Perception of Truth and Reality
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it” (Lee 33). Atticus Finch tells this quote to the main character, Scout Finch, in the book To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Jean-Louise Finch (Scout) is a young girl living in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. She lives in a society that resents blacks, and one judges people based on color and family history. Atticus, trying to teach his children good morals and values, teaches Scout to see things from different perspectives. He believes that seeing things from other people’s angles helps one get a better understanding of the truth. Though Scout is unable to see things from different perspectives at the beginning of the book, she slowly acquires that skill. As Scout starts seeing things from the perspectives of Calpurnia, Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson, she begins to see past her ignorance and realizes that society has a great capacity for evil, but also has a great capacity for good.
At the beginning of the book, Scout was young, ignorant, and childish. She was only eight years old, and lacked the ability to see all the sides of the story. Scout was narrow-minded, and thus had a negative view of Calpurnia. “I had felt her tyrannical presence as long as I could remember” (Lee 5). Scout believed this because she was always forced to listen to Calpurnia, and Atticus always chose Calpurnia’s side over hers. However, this perspective could not be more false. Though Scout did not realize it at the beginning, she soon realized how wrong her opinion was. At First Purchase Church, Scout saw how difficult life was for African-Americans in Maycomb County. She saw Calpurnia speak two different languages, one that the regular church-goes understood, and one that Scout and Jem understood, to make both parties felt comfortable. She found out that Calpurnia had educated herself and her son, when most of the black community was uneducated. She saw how Calpurnia stood up for her beliefs, and for her and Jem, to Lula by saying, “It’s the same God, ain’t it?” (Lee 136). Seeing Calpurnia’s struggle, and love for her and Jem, Scout realized her perception of Calpurnia was wrong. She realized that Calpurnia was more like a mother figure to her than a servant. In a time of mutual hatred between the black and white communities, Calpurnia demonstrated love and peace. She did not think of anyone in a negative manner, no matter how evil they were to her. Despite Lula saying mean things to her, and Aunt Alexandra attempting to relieve her of her duties, Calpurnia remained kind and loving. Seeing Calpurnia’s struggle and love for her, Scout saw beyond her immaturity and saw how Calpurnia was actually like her mother, and not a tyrant.
Scout changed her perspective of the person she feared most (Boo Radley), by putting herself in his shoes. At the beginning when Scout was immature and childish, she actively listened to the neighborhood gossip about Boo Radley. She heard her neighbors’ say bad things about him, some statements accurate, others not. Hearing what people said about Boo Radley, she grew afraid of him, and made fun of him. Scout, Charles (Dill) Harris, and Jem soon begun playing a game called “Boo Radley”, where they rudely imitated him and his family. The trio would run past his house in fear, but later began mockingly running up to his porch. Boo disregarded their disrespect and impoliteness towards him and left the kids presents in a tree. The presents included chewing gum, dolls, a watch, and pennies. Though she does not understand this at first, Scout soon learned that Boo left her presents in an attempt to start a friendship. This incident caused Scout to begin changing her perception of him. This is evident because Scout said, “Boo was our neighbor. He had gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good luck pennies and our lives. But neighbors give in return… We had given him nothing, and it made me sad” (Lee 320). Scout realized that he was being friendly, but she had not been friendly back to him. She had not considered why he had given the presents, but just accepted them. Later, he put a blanket on her shoulders when she was outside watching the fire at Ms. Maudie’s house, knowing that she must be feeling cold. Moreover, when Bob Ewell attacked her and Jem, Boo Radley saved them. Once they got home, Scout began talking to Boo. While talking, she learned that he was not who she thought he was. He was not the mean, scary figure that she tormented, but was a caring, benevolent figure. She learned this by putting herself in his shoes. Atticus asked her if she understood why they would be telling townsfolk that Bob Ewell stabbed himself. Scout said, “Yes sir, I understand… Well, it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird” (Lee 317). Scout said this because she understood that if people found out that Boo Radley had saved her and Jem, Boo would receive unwanted attention. This instance showed her growth from becoming a young, immature girl, to a developed lady who saw things from different perspectives.
Viewing life through the lens of Tom Robinson, Scout learned how evil society could be. At the beginning of the story Scout lived in her own world, mostly oblivious to what was going on around her. She did not take much interest in what was going on around her if it did not involve her. This was despite her sitting with Atticus everyday as he read the news on the Great Depression, World War II, and racism against colored folk. Slowly she became more aware of the world she lived in. She eventually learned more and more about Tom Robinson, and his unfortunate situation. Though for much of the book she did not know the details of the case, she heard others call Robinson a “nigger”. Scout did not know what this word meant but she understood that it was a hateful word. This caused her to get angry, whenever someone called her father a “nigger-lover”. This was her first glimpse at how evil society could be. Later, during the Tom Robinson trial Scout learned that society was more evil than she thought. Being an innocent girl who did not inherit racist beliefs from her father, Scout could not understand why the white jury convicted Tom Robinson. Along with most people, she knew that he was innocent. Atticus later explained, “In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life” (Lee 252). Scout felt sorry for him because when she attempted to see life through his lens, she saw nothing but pain and suffering. Her perception was confirmed when she learned that Robinson chose death, rather than to continue to suffer. From the Tom Robinson case, Scout learned the truth about the evil, racist society she lived in.
At the end of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout was a completely different person compared to the beginning of the book. She transformed from an oblivious, ignorant, narrow-minded child, to a mature lady who had the ability to see things from different perspectives. Her open-mindedness helped her see the evils of society through the lens of Tom Robinson, but also helped her see the good through the shoes of Boo Radley and Calpurnia. She learned that Tom Robinson was the unfortunate victim of generations of racism; that Boo Radley was a kind, big-hearted friend; and Calpurnia was like her mother. Once Scout looked past her ignorance and begun seeing events from multiple angles, she determined that society had a great capacity for evil, but also had a great capacity for good.
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