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"Why Harper Hee's 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is still valued in modern times" - feedback

HadouKenny 1 / -  
May 1, 2011   #1
May someone please look over my essay? I'm not very confident in my essay writing, and so need feedback. All criticism is welcome.
The essay is as follows:

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most revered novels in modern history. It is a story which makes use of powerful language and plot devices, as well as its use of highly detailed character development, to convey a variety of themes to readers, with the most prevalent ones including racial and social injustice, social life, class, discrimination, human nature and personal morals and beliefs. The titular quote, "... it's a sin to kill a mockingbird", also presents a significant theme in the novel: innocence and morality. These themes were the embodiments of problems and errors in society during the period in which To Kill a Mockingbird was written and published, the 1960's, and this also applies to modern society, which makes the novel a valued piece of writing, even in modern times.

It is through the characters that the main themes are expressed. The characters of the novel are also a portrayal of certain characters that are commonly present in society, with examples including Mrs. Dubose, the 'cranky old lady across the street', Tom Robinson, the man who is abused by the rest of society for being of Negro descent, and Atticus Finch, who is commonly thought by readers and critics to be the ideal father figure and lawyer, as well as an ideal citizen in society. These characters, as well as the plot devices linked to them, bring up the main themes of the novel: Tom Robinson and racial discrimination; Mrs. Dubose and the idea of personal morals and beliefs; and Arthur "Boo" Radley and human nature. The way Lee develops the various characters of the novel focuses on building background stories of the characters, as well as presenting a point on morality for each minor plot in the novel. A notable example is Mrs. Dubose and her unwavering will to wean herself from her morphine addiction before she dies, which Atticus describes as someone who has "true courage", who instead of being "a man with a gun in his hand", is a person who is "licked before you begin but you begin anyway and see [your goals] through no matter what". In this example, the idea of the true meaning of courage is brought up, as well as personal morals and beliefs, in which Mrs. Dubose stuck to her beliefs which involved extreme racism and a completely one sided view of society.

Lee's use of symbolism also portrays many themes in the novel. The most prevalent example of this is Lee's use of the mockingbird, which is described as a bird that "[doesn't] do one thing but make music for us to enjoy". In the novel, one of the most prevalent themes is racial and social injustice, which complements the previously stated idea of innocence and morality, which in turn is represented by the idea of the mockingbird. The two "mockingbirds" of the novel are Tom Robinson and Arthur "Boo" Radley, who each are victims of racial and social discrimination, respectively. Tom Robinson and the court case also represent the theme of racial injustice, when Tom was found guilty despite Atticus, his lawyer, effectively proving his innocence, which is essentially 'killing the mockingbird'. This part of the novel also puts forward a point about human nature, when Atticus states that all the injustices towards Tom in the court room were simply "facts of life", after Jem, Atticus' son, questions Maycomb's method of trial in the courtroom. It suggests that despite being immoral, the views of society generally have priority over morality, in this case, the racist view that a white man's word has greater precedence than a black man's word. In Arthur "Boo" Radley's case, the discrimination he experiences is not direct, and is based more around the acts of his family and rumours about him that resulted from these acts. Despite these rumours, most which describe Boo as a vicious, savage beast who "dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch", throughout the novel, it is suggested that he is in fact almost the complete opposite of how these rumours describe him. By the end of the novel, it is proven so, for it was he who killed Bob Ewell to protect Scout and Jem, who were the targets for Bob's murder attempt, as well as being the person who left the gifts in the hollowed tree for the children and the one who placed the blanket around Scout during the house fire in chapter 8. He is later spared from the publicity which generally follows someone's death by Heck Tate, who instead chooses to find another reason as to why Bob Ewell died, and so avoids 'killing the mockingbird', for it is suggested throughout the novel that Boo chose to live the way he did.

By using Scout, a young girl, to narrate the story, Lee expresses the purity and clarity of a child's point of view. Lee does this because throughout the novel, she suggests that children tend to see and react to the problems in society much easier than adults do, and therefore addresses these problems more effectively. In doing so, the themes and morals are conveyed in a manner that is not only easier to understand than if the story were told in an adult's voice, but the evident innocence of a child is also present in the way Scout tells the story, which is also presented in most of the novel. An example of children reacting to the problems in society is Dill during the court case, where he felt 'sick' due to the demeanour of Mr. Gilmer, the attorney for the alleged 'rape victim': "talking so hateful to him", calling him "boy", sneering at him, etc. It is explained that Dill cried due to "the simple hell people can give other people - without even thinking. Cry about the hell white people give coloured folks, without even stopping to think that they're people, too". This quote, coupled with Dill's reaction to Mr. Gilmer's attitude, suggest that children tend to react to the problems in society much more easily than adults do, as well as being able to understand and accept the reasons as to why people act and live the way they do, shown by the quote "Because you're children and you can understand it". This is further supported by Mr. Dolphus Raymond's way of living, which is described by society as 'sinful' and 'shameful', but is simply the way he wants to live. He explains to Scout, Jem and Dill that society will never understand that his way of living was his choice entirely, and that children are able to understand these reasons.

Many of the morals conveyed in the novel not only apply to the period in which it was written and published, the 1960's, but also to modern day society. The most prevalent example of this is racial discrimination. In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr., an American activist and leader of the African American civil right movement, delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech, one of the most well known speeches in modern times. The speech focused on a demand for equal rights and an end to discrimination. The speech may have been a major inspiration for Lee to write the novel, and because the themes of the speech are similar to the themes of the novel, it can be said that the themes apply to the period in which the novel was written. Also, themes such as gender roles and class apply to the 1960's, when there was still a distinct difference between the working class and the middle class, and females had fewer rights than men did. These themes are present in the novel in the form of the absence of females in the jury during the court case and the evident difference in living habits between the Cunningham and the Finch families, respectively. Even in modern day society, some of these themes apply, such as individual morals and beliefs. Everyone has their own beliefs and morals, but even they can be affected by the majority opinion of society.

From the above paragraphs to support my statement, I can conclude that To Kill a Mockingbird is still valued in modern times and has many qualities that allow the novel to be considered a classic novel. The themes of the novel are applicable to both the time period in which the novel was published and in modern day society, the language devices are used effectively to tell the story, and the morals are expressed in an easy to understand manner, but most importantly, the novel is very entertaining to read, and for these reasons, To Kill a Mockingbird still valued in modern times.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
May 4, 2011   #2
Hey, you write very well! I'm excited about your potential, and I think I know what you need to do next. You write clearly and give good examples, so now you need to sharpen the premise. Draw a deep meaning from all this. Right now, the essay has a lot of potential, but all that it amounts to is this assertion: The story is still valued in modern times.

But I want you to draw a better conclusion. Look at what made it so timelessly valuable, and ask yourself what that means about human nature. Why is something like this always going to be valuable?

Try to make it so that you are making a point that is more meaningful than: "these things make it timelessly valuable." You can uncover a very meaningful truth if you ask yourself "why?"

Even though I am giving you that idea, the truth is that this is a solid academic essay already -- high quality stuff!

***Whenever you give a direct quote, put the page number where you found the quote in parentheses at the end of the sentence:
vicious, savage beast who "dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch" (83), throughout the novel it is suggested...


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