Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest literary works to come out of the American South because of its take on societal problems and expectations. In the book, it starts out with the main character Scout, who is five years old when it begins and eight when it ends. We also meet Jem, Scout’s brother who is ten when it begins and thirteen when it ends and Dill, Jem and Scout’s friend. After a while of waiting for something in Maycomb to happen Dill comes up with the idea to somehow lure out the local crazy/recluse, Arthur “Boo” Radley. Arthur Radley has lived in the Radley house for long time. He stays there because he is under house arrest for causing trouble as a teenager. Arthur’s father then worked out a deal with the police so that Arthur wouldn’t have to go to reform school and would be under house arrest for a while. After being stuck in the house for a while, Arthur stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors and was then put in the courthouse basement instead of the county jail because the police chief didn’t want him to be surrounded by black people in the jail.
Mr. Radley is described as the “meanest man ever God blew breath into” by Calpurnia, the family’s cook. When Arthur’s father, Mr. Radley died, people thought that he would come out and try to live in society once more but his older brother, Nathan Radley came to town from his home in Florida to keep him in the house. Nathan Radley is compared to his father “The only difference between him and his father was their ages”, implying that Nathan is as mean as his father.
Because of his time living in the Radley home and not really having any human interaction with anyone other than his mean older brother, there is enough evidence to suggest that Arthur “Boo” Radley had mental illness like an anger disorder that could have made him stab his father in the leg with a pair of scissors or have a fear of going out in public because of possible mental abuse from his father or just fear of being scrutinized. This raises questions about how people with mental illness were and are treated in the past and the present.Another issue that is briefly explored in the book is the expectation or pressure put upon Scout by Aunt Alexandra (and to an extent, society) to “become a lady”. What this basically entails is that Scout will wear dresses and attend meetings of the local women with Aunt Alexandra. Scout’s neighbor, Mrs. Dubose the local irritable old lady and morphine addict also would yell at Scout that she “should be in a dress and camisole” instead of wearing overalls and a shirt.
And finally, arguably the most important theme of the entire book is that children are sometimes more intelligent than their parents or parents colleagues. This is most exemplified by this passage in Chapter 19,”For some reason Dill had started crying and couldn’t stop; quietly at first, then his sobs were heard by several people in the balcony.”. It is later revealed that the reason that Dill was crying was because he hated the way that the prosecutor in Tom Robinson’s case was being unkind in the manner he was speaking to Tom, presumably because he is black. Two chapters later it is stated that Tom is found guilty by the court for a crime he did not commit because he is black. The next chapter has Jem crying and saying “It ain’t right” because he knows that there is enough evidence to clear Tom’s name.Overall, To Kill a Mockingbird is a great example of a book that examines societal problems and expectations in a meaningful and easy to understand way.