1. How do racism, prejudice, bigotry, and/or violence show up as a theme in the novel?
2. How do the character traits of courage, heroism, integrity, and doing the “right” thing show up as a theme in the novel.\
Please help me figure out what to write my paper on!
While both prompts are very easy to support with a variety of quotes and specific moments from the novel, I would suggest that it would be more refreshing for you to look at the positive themes of the novel, and pick prompt #2.
Courage, heroism, integrity, and doing the right thing are represented by different characters, and you can provide examples of how those characters demonstrated their humanity even during a time when human rights were commonly violated.
For example, in chapter 15, think about the courage it took for Link Deas to speak up in the courtroom, although out of order, making sure to tell everyone that he was in full support of Tom Robinson. Even as the judge asks him to be quiet and yells at him, it shows that Link had the courage that many people lacked. He even rescues Helen, Tom’s wife, by creating a job for her. To top it all, he runs Bob Ewell away from his (Link’s) property and threatens to bring the law down on him if he dares to bully Helen again. He literally scares the feral Bob Ewell away.
In chapter 12, Calpurnia shows courage at her church when she brings Atticus’s children to service. She does this against the unwritten “policy” of the time that worship was segregated and this was a “colored” church. Even with Lula’s harassment, Calpurnia heads on to service and stays there with the children.
Calpurnia is a foil of Atticus as she also embodies the want and the principle of doing “the right thing”. Chapter 3 shows how Calpurnia, as well as Atticus, treat their lunch guest, little Cunningham, with utmost respect and hospitality.
Even though the young boy comes from extreme poverty, they can appreciate that the kid comes from a large, hardworking family that often goes hungry. When Scout feels a mean streak that causes her to mistreat the boy, Calpurnia immediately gets on to Scout.
There is some folks who don’t eat like us[…]but you ain’t called on to contradict ‘em at the table when they don’t. That boy’s yo’ company and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?”
If you want one character that represents all the themes in your prompt, look no further than the protagonist himself, Atticus Finch.
Atticus does not fear the society that is calling him names and saying that he is a n***lover for defending a black man. He did not fear Bob Ewell, even when the latter confronted Atticus and spat in his face. He did not fear the lynch mob that came to the jail to hurt Tom Robinson; he faced them straight on. He did not even fear the rabid dog. Atticus is a person with such a wholesomeness of character that it becomes his protection. He fears nothing and nobody.
His integrity is evident in the fact that he was determined to give Tom Robinson the best defense that every citizen deserves, regardless of whether he was going to win or lose the case in the end. The case, in Atticus’s mind, was never about Atticus;it was always about his client, Tom. Integrity is also evident in the way that Atticus treats everyone with the same degree of respect and politeness. Likewise, he successfully teaches Scout to do the same.
As far as heroism, think about the way that Calpurnia and many others look up to Atticus. People in general see him as a man of the people, to the point of voting him in the Alabama state legislature, making him the leading attorney at Maycomb as well.
So, in general, To Kill a Mockingbird is much more about keeping righteousness alive within a broken system, than about the broken system itself. The novel presents the themes of racism, discrimination, injustice, social division, and even intellectual bullying as the key problems of the plot. Yet, the characters who are the antitheses of these behaviors are also the strongest and the more influential, making the themes of integrity, courage and heroism all the more salient.