In the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” there were a number of characters whose strengths and weaknesses reinforce the message of how important a good upbringing is. Atticus Finch, Bob Ewell and Nathan Radley all provide different upbringings for their children, Scout, Mayella and Boo. Atticus has particular strengths that influence the upbringing he provides for Scout. Bob has had a bad upbringing himself, and his weaknesses provide a bad environment for Mayella and her siblings to grow up in. Nathan keeps Boo hidden from society altogether, hindering Boo’s ability to grow and mature with others.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is about the racism in the Southern States of America in the 1930’s. The author Harper Lee uses a young child Scout Finch to narrate the novel. Her father Atticus Finch is appointed to defend a Negro man Tom Robinson, as Tom is convicted of raping a white lady called Mayella Ewell. The novel explores the racial segregation of the Maycomb community and the beliefs that the people have towards negroes. There is contrast shown between the parents and how they raise their children, especially the Finch and the Ewell families.
Atticus Finch is one of the main characters of the novel. He is the father of two young children, Jem and Scout. Atticus’s strengths reinforce a message of the importance of a good upbringing. Atticus is a good and respected member of society and is not racist even though his family holds racist beliefs. The strengths that Atticus has, influence the upbringing he provides for Jem and Scout. Atticus’s strength is that he is a pioneer and a leader. He strives to bring change to the Maycomb community and abolish racism, even when others including his own family oppose him. He always leads Jem and Scout onto the right path to the truth. When Scout or Jem have any questions that they naturally ask as children, Atticus uses parables, metaphors and clues to place them on the way to the right answer. An example of this is when Scout and Miss Caroline clash at school. Miss Caroline tells Scout off when she tries to inform her of Walter’s family ways. Miss Caroline sees this as disrespectful to her as a teacher; she is the one that tells the children what to do, not the other way round. Scout talks to Atticus about this when she gets home and Atticus tells Scout “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”. By doing this Atticus teaches her the truth indirectly, which is that Miss Caroline is in a new environment so she feels vulnerable and doesn’t know much about the community. Scout makes the connection by herself.
Atticus also has a strength of using his mind and words to solve problems rather than using violence which contrasts to Bob Ewell. Bob uses violence to make a point and solve problems. An example of how Atticus’s strength helps him provide a good upbringing for Scout and also teaches us (as the reader) a lesson, is when she defends herself on the playground using her fists. Atticus being a non – violent and peaceful man does not punish her in any way. He instead uses it as a lesson and says “You just hold your head down and keep those fists down….Try fighting with your head for a change”. This shows that Atticus is not inclined to use violence and passes on his strength to use your head to solve problems – ‘think before you act’. This lesson is important for all children to learn because violence usually makes things worse and is not the answer to solving problems.
Bob Ewell is a significant character in the novel. He has many weaknesses which influence the upbringing he provides for his children, especially Mayella. From the moment Bob was born, he was abandoned and grew up with no education. The only thing that elevates Bob and his family is that he is white. He is a racist man and always puts himself first. An example of Bob’s arrogant personality is when he confronts Atticus after the trial. He says “Too proud to fight, you nigger – lovin’ bastard?”, which tells the reader he is dangerous and violent. Mayella has had to deal with his abusive behaviour all her life and mask her pain. Throughout these situations, she grew angry and sick of being abused verbally and physically. The idea of having an affair with Tom Robinson (a negro) exited her. It was her way of secretly escaping her father’s pain. Bob provided an unhealthy environment for Mayella. She yearns for an education she can’t have and a loving family Bob doesn’t give her. If Bob provided a more positive upbringing for Mayella, she could’ve had the chance to study an education and not have to use Tom as an escape and later frame him – giving an innocent man a death sentence. Mayella framing Tom is no better than Bob’s actions towards the people of Maycomb. Children learn from their parents and they follow their actions. A good upbringing surrounded by positive and supportive people is vital for a child to mature and grow, which made me think about the effect that parental abuse has on children in reality. Being abused from a young age shatters self-worth/esteem, as they grow older they have lowered expectations of themselves. In some cases, the children can adopt their parent’s abuse and use it to manipulate others. A 35 year long study by the Cambridge University in the UK shows that if a child had a convicted criminal as a parent by the time they were 10 was the ‘best predictor’ of the child becoming a criminal themselves. Bob and Mayella show this, Mayella has a higher chance than Scout of becoming a criminal due to their parents. Bob is more dangerous than Atticus. She already shows warning signs by framing Tom Robinson for rape. Mayella has no self-esteem and doesn’t feel any worth in Maycomb, showing me how Bob’s weaknesses affect her in a very negative way. The cycle of parental abuse does not stop – it will affect the child like it did Mayella and then the child will most likely subject their children to maltreatment like they experienced.
Boo Radley is another example of how important a good upbringing is. Boo has the weakness of having no social skills because his brother Nathan Radley had kept his brother locked up for years in his own home. This is proven by Nathan cementing the knothole in the tree, implying he knew somehow Boo could possibly be trying to initiate contact with the children. It is not clear why Nathan keeps Boo hidden from society, but it is revealed that their father died. Nathan could feel bitter about his role in life, or very overprotective of his siblings. He perhaps does not want Boo to experience the harsh reality of the real world. However, these combined factors created a strange environment for Boo. Boo was kept as a prisoner in his own home, he therefore didn’t have the chance to mature with others in society, or even know what goes on outside the house. Nathan has allowed rumours to go around Maycomb about Boo stating he is dangerous, alone and a threat to societal peace. People of Maycomb fear if they fail to follow societal rules or act strangely, they will end up like Boo – alone and a ‘monster’. Nathan has let fear inhabit the Maycomb community and in Boo himself. This upbringing that Boo has had has shaped him as a scared, frightened person who only sees the fear in the world. An example of Boo being socially deprived is when he is finally revealed to Jem, Scout, Atticus and Sheriff Tate. Atticus hesitates to let Scout walk towards and talk to Boo. He states “Ah-ah, don’t touch him”. Atticus has preconceived ideas about Boo which aren’t true. Perhaps if Boo grew up in a more social environment he wouldn’t be feared by the Maycomb community, and could be more confident and feel a sense of belonging.
By reading “To Kill a Mockingbird” I have learned that parents play an incredible role in how a child turns out and what their characteristics will be. This idea definitely was shown in Scout and Mayella as their actions throughout the novel reflect those of their parents. Parent’s strengths and weaknesses influence the upbringing they provide for their children. It is important that a child grows in a loving, caring environment where they can thrive. Atticus provides this for Jem and Scout, whereas Bob provides the opposite for Mayella. To Kill a Mockingbird contrasts these as well as Boo Radley who is locked up in his own home. Parents are the ultimate guidance a child can have, the people who can teach life lessons and give advice. There can be consequences when the parent does not provide this. A study completed by Newshub and published in 17/01/12 shows that children brought up in poor families are a lot more likely to be poor, drug – addicted and benefit dependent. This reinforces the importance of a good upbringing. A good upbringing necessarily doesn’t mean the parents have to be rich, but if they are working and earning income for the families they have better access to resources to help their kids succeed. Bob doesn’t have the attitude to hold a job for long, therefore his financial problems will most likely pass onto Mayella and her siblings. Again this cycle continues for Mayella and if she has children. Children adapt this as the way of living and continue the use of it, depriving them of the opportunities that could pursue if they had a good upbringing.