Through Scout’s Eyes: The Concept of Perspective
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee is one of the greatest works of American literature of all time. It has been reprinted again and again, and is a staple in almost any writing or history class. There are a number of reasons why it can be argued that this novel is one of the greatest ever written, but perhaps the most compelling reason is the fact that the very mature and complex themes explored in this novel are all relayed through the eyes of a child. This very unique perspective allows the reader to see the issues of racism, justice, and identity in an entirely different way.
The story of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is told in first person by Jean Louise Finch, or “Scout”, a young girl living in Alabama during the time of the Great Depression. The nickname “Scout” is a clever indication of the perspective of the story. A scout, in essence, observes and gathers information and relays it to others. This is exactly the case with Scout in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She relays exactly what she sees, and attempts to make sense of it all through a child’s understanding. The truly compelling factor in this is that while adults tend to “tailor” their words to fit a social form, children speak whatever they think, regardless of how it will be perceived.
The originality of “Mockingbird’s” perspective can be seen in the very first few sentences, when Scout refers to the summer her brother Jem broke his arm. One recognizes right away that if an adult were telling this story, the first few sentences would no doubt reference Tom Robinson or Bob Ewell. Children, however, have a different idea of importance and structure than adults. A child relaying an event that happened in his/her life might devote all of their description to something an adult would regard as trivial, and gloss over something an adult would deem crucial. This fact adds a certain raw honesty to the plot of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A child is not likely to lie about events for no reason, so the reader perceives the story with an added level of credibility.
In the narration of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Scout often relates events that occur, and individuals’ reaction to them, but rarely if ever offer any analysis or reasoning for either. When describing her first day of school, Scout relates how their new teacher’s repeated attempts to educate them are thwarted, and how she ends up crying at her desk. Though Scout never says so, the reader is left to surmise that the teacher, fresh out of college, is more than likely “out of her element” in the backwoods of Alabama. This is an example of Lee’s brilliance as a writer. When every element of a story is explained explicitly, the reader is likely to become bored. When, however, certain components are not stated, but rather deduced, the reader becomes engaged. This is yet another example of the value of a child’s perspective.
Lee continually reminds us of whose perspective we are reading the story through, often in very clever and unique ways. During Tom Robinson’s trial, Scout, Jem and Dill watch on from the balcony of the courtroom, where the African American community is forced to witness the trial, segregated from their white neighbors. Because of Scout’s unique physical perspective, we realize that we are witnessing the events of the proceeding through not only from her, but also the African American’s eyes. Scout’s position is also symbolic. As a child, she looks on physically, as well as symbolically above her adult comrades, whose views are blocked by one another.
Ironically, Scout’s perspective on life and the events around her remain relatively unchanged until the end of the story, unlike many around her including Jem, Dill, Sheriff Tate, and other members of the community, who all experience some change in view at some point. Scout’s revision of perspective occurs at the tail end of “Mockingbird” when she realizes that her neighbor, “Boo” Radley is not a monster after at all, but rather a caring and mentally handicapped individual. Scout’s realization signifies that she is starting to grow up, and the ending of the story can be seen as a way to preserve the child’s perspective before it becomes an adult perspective.
Just as the opening line is crucial to setting the stage for the perspective of the story, the closing line is just as important. Scout says of her father that “he would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.” This final remark, complete with improper grammar, is a final reminder that what we have read has been told through the eyes of a child: Jean Louise Finch.
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