American Civil Rights Movement
Despite the fact that To Kill a Mockingbird is not her autobiography, Harper Lee got the events and the characters of her work from her life and development. She and her family lived in the South and her father was a lawyer just like the father character of Atticus Finch. It is believed that the writer Truman Capote had relatives in the southern town of Harper Lee who were neighbors and that Capote used to spend summers with them and became friends with Harper Lee. This suggests the character of Dill in the novel.
The origins of this novel are believed to be a reflection of real life events. Harper Lee knitted the threads of the tale upon the real trial of Walter Lett in the 1930’s that took place in her town in the state of Alabama. The resemblances between the case of Tom Robinson and that of Walter Lett are that both convicted are black men accused of raping white women and sentenced for death. The real and the fictional cases are biased and prejudiced towards black people. Even though there were trials and courts claiming to judge fairly for the sake of a better society, that was all a façade. The jury were biased for the white people and the majority of the society refused to accept the truth only because it is against their discriminated beliefs. The atmosphere of the historical racial discrimination is reproduced in the novel through Atticus’s words: " It could not be worse... The only thing we've got is a black man's word against the Ewells. The evidence boils down to you-did---I didn't...."(Lee 117). Atticus underscores the fragility of a system that will condemn a person just for his skin color.
The American Civil Rights Movement was at its peak when Harper Lee published her book in 1960. Although the story takes place thirty years earlier, Lee paves the way for the unconsciousness of the audience of her community and the whole public opinion to grasp the issues related to equality and racism.
The main genre of this novel is historical fiction. The novel portrays the historical incidents of African American racism and segregation. Scholars have also categorized this novel as coming – of - age fiction or bildungsroman and Southern Gothic (Petry 132). Coming – of – age is defined as a time of shifting from childhood to adulthood which is marked by the necessity of making dynamic choices about the upcoming events of life and what to do with the surrounding and real life. It is often characterized by a short time frame in which such incidents occur, for example, “the summer” is the period that changed the wheel of the protagonists’ whole life (Benyahya, Gaffney and White 162).
Bildungsroman is a German term meaning the novel of formation. It is considered a sub-genre of coming – of – age fiction. It emphasizes the emotional and the ethical development of the main character/s from childhood up to adulthood. Such character faces societal problems and the story unfolds to outline the voyage of facing new morals of the real world (Hardin, 28). This type of novels aims at portraying and satirizing the iniquities of society. In this novel, Scout and Jem are highly moved by the whole process of the trial and the societal reaction. This reflects the psyche of the characters and how deeply was the impact as Scout herself narrates at the beginning of the novel.
Southern gothic is a specific genre associated with American literature. It is branded by grotesque images, gloominess, suspicion, and dismay. It is also featured by innocent sufferers and embroidered rogues (Lloyd-Smith 133). Bob Ewells is considered the villain among other persons. Not only had Tom Robinson suffered in this novel but also did Scout, Jem, Atticus, and Calpurnia. From the launch of the story, Lee draws certain images highlighting the gothic foundations. Through the tongue of Scout, Lee describes the Radley place with a ‘sharp curve’ that everyone alerts the kids not to get near it. Scout also pronounces the physical deterioration of the Radley house: ‘slate-grey’ and ‘rain rotted’. Even the character of Boo Radley plays a role in asserting the gothic element as well as MS DuBose.
The description of the courthouse gives a supporting clue to the gothic atmosphere. Scout describes the hideous disoriented façade of the building it has Roman concrete pillars on one side and Victorian design on the other. The dark hallways of the courtroom serve the Gothicity, Scout says: “…smelled of decaying record books mingled with old damp cement and stale urine" (Lee 217).