Responding to studied texts- Places I have encountered in my reading
The two novels that I have studied as part of the new junior cycle English course are ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee and ‘Noughts and Crosses’ by Malorie Blackman. The setting of ‘Noughts and Crosses’ shares many similarities with the world portrayed in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Both novels convey worlds wherein a group of people are treated in an oppressive manner because of the colour of their skin. They are subjugated by others who regard themselves as superior to them.
We are not given that much information about the physical location in ‘Noughts and Crosses’ although it does appear to be more urbanised than that of the Maycomb setting with reference to schools, shopping centres, a prison etc. Maycomb appears to be more rural in its location with its references to the cotton trade, plantations and the impact of the Great Depression on its farmers.
The atmosphere of both novels is quite tense because of the divisive nature of society. Both novels portray a world wherein it is completely acceptable to discriminate against people because of the colour of their skin. In ‘Noughts and Crosses’ the noughts are regarded as inferior to the superior crosses. The word ‘noughts’ has connotations of their non-existent status. They are derogatorily labelled ‘blankers’ by the Crosses who regard themselves as superior to the noughts. They are treat the noughts as subservient to them.
One incident that underscores the tense atmosphere in this society is the trial of Ryan MC Gregor. We are informed that Ryan McGregor has been falsely accused of involvement the Dundale bombing and is to face the death penalty. In a similar fashion to ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ where the whites turn out in huge crowds to witness the trial of Tom Robinson, regarding it as ‘a gala of occasion’, the crosses turn out to witness the spectacle of Ryan McGregor’s execution. The tense atmosphere is made palpable because we the readers are made aware of Ryan McGregor’s innocence: ‘Those bastard! They said they had him’. He tells his wife Meggie and Callum that ‘I had no choice,’
Likewise, the atmosphere is similarly tense in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in the scene of Tom Robinson’s trial. Tom Robinson is falsely accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell. Even though there is ample evidence to portray Robinson’s innocence, he is still found guilty because he is a black man who felt sorry for Mayella Ewell.
Both novels parallel with each other in terms of the social values of the societies that they convey. Both societies are predicated on ignorance, prejudice and racism. Both novels convey worlds wherein there is an unjust status quo. Both novels convey societies that are divisive in nature, one class viewing themselves to be superior to the other. In ‘Noughts and Crosses’, the noughts are subjugated by the Crosses, are given all of the menial jobs in society, with no hope of advancement. Likewise, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ Calpurnia is not regarded as a ‘feminine influence’ in Scout’ s life by aunt Alexandra.
Choose one important character from each of the two novels you have selected from above. Which one of your chosen characters was more influenced by the world that he or she lived in? Explain your answer giving examples. Refer to both of your chosen characters in your answer.
Both Sephy Hadley (Noughts and Crosses) and Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) are affected by the world that they live in. Both characters live in societies that are predicated on racist bigotry and prejudice. Both characters live in societies where it is acceptable to marginalise and exclude people on the basis of the colour of their skin. In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Scout is bullied at school because her father believes in defending Tom Robinson. As a result of this Scout is taunted in school with people saying that her father is a ‘nigger lover’. Even Scout’s Aunt Alexandra and Cousin Francis vilify Atticus and accuse him of ‘ruinin’ the family’. Scout must learn to transcend the parochialism and bigotry of her society. Scout’s safety and wellbeing are jeopardised when coming home from the Halloween pageant when both her and Jem are attacked because of Atticus’ decision to defend Tom Robinson. This is a society wherein people do not think that everyone should be treated equally with the right to a fair trial. Atticus tells his daughter that : ‘This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience- Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man’. It is Atticus’ fervent wish that his children do not assimilate their societies’ racist attitudes and values. He refers to racism as 'Maycomb's usual disease'.
Similarly, Sephy Hadley too must learn to transcend the prejudice and bigotry that her society is predicated on. Sephy defies her parents’ wishes in that she remains friends with Callum, a nought boy. Her parents do not want Sephy associating with Callum because they regard him as inferior. Sephy is forced to keep her friendship with Callum a secret, telling lies to her parents about her whereabouts. Sephy falls in love with Callum. When Sephy becomes pregnant with Callum’s child, her parents insist that Callum must of rape Sephy. It is totally incomprehensible to them that their daughter is in love with a nought boy. The society that Sephy lives in is very unappealing in its narrow-mindedness and intolerance.
Despite the many similarities between the two societies, I feel that Sephy is impacted in a more profound manner than Scout Finch is by the world that she inhabits. Sephy is completely opposed to the unjust status quo. Sephy’s father is completely intolerant to her relationship with Callum so much so that he tries to emotionally blackmail her into having an abortion. He physically assaults his daughter when she refuses. She regards Callum as her equal. Her father disowns he: ‘You are no longer my daughter’ and he derogatorily labels her a ‘blanker’s slut’. I feel that this harmful and oppressive cultural context has more of an impact on Sephy because she is abandoned by her family because of her decision to keep Callum’s baby.
Also, the impact of this parochial society is more profoundly felt by Sephy as a single mother bringing up a child of mix race. Sephy is left to bring up a baby in a world that is marred by prejudice and intolerance. While Scout grows in wisdom and discernment through her interaction with her world, Sephy’s prospects for the future are marred by the racist attitudes and values of her society.