Lecture 2 harper lee s to kill a mockingbird
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Lecture 2: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. What is a theme?. a common thread or repeated idea incorporated throughout a literary work an author’s idea or message that may be deep, difficult to understand or even moralistic

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Lecture 2: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

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Lecture 2 harper lee s to kill a mockingbird

Lecture 2: Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird

What is a theme

What is a theme?

  • a common thread or repeated idea incorporated throughout a literary work

  • an author’s idea or message that may be deep, difficult to understand or even moralistic

  • must be extracted as the reader explores the passages of a work because the author utilizes plot, characters, dialogue, figurative language, images and other literary devices to develop theme

  • full impact of the theme is slowly realized as the reader processes the text

  • essentially, the whole point of why the author wrote the book and why you are reading it

Logic of literary analysis

Logic of Literary Analysis

  • Literary analysis = interpretive analysis

  • Interpret (v) – the act of explaining the meaning of something. Examples:

    • C6H12O6

    • “I’m fine.”

  • Literary interpretation: examining important moments in the texts and how they are related to each other in order to articulate the connections you see between those moments and ultimately how they work together to present greater meaning. Examples:

    • Romeo & Juliet is a play about couples. 

    • Romeo & Juliet is a play about love.

    • Romeo & Juliet is a play demonstrating the destructive force of passionate love overcoming human reason.

When does the story start

When does the story start?

  • History of the Finch family mirrors US history

    • Conquering of land and natives by settlers

    • Ideal versus reality of freedom

    • Civil War and end of slavery

  • To analyze the theme or message of this novel, we have to understand its relationship to history.

  • MaycombCounty = sleepy Southern town in the 1930s

    • Great Depression

    • Pre-WWII

    • The time of Jim Crow

What is jim crow

What is Jim Crow?

“Jim Crow” = character from blackface minstrel shows

  • Blackface minstrelsy  white actors dressing up as black characters and performing racist caricatures

  • “The black mask offered a way to play with the collective fears of a degraded and threatening—and male—Other while at the same time maintaining some symbolic control over them." (Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy

Jim crow laws

Jim Crow Laws

  • Post-emancipation denial of voting rights through poll taxes, literacy tests and residency restrictions

  • Local and state governments increasingly segregate public spaces – schools, transportation, restrooms, etc

  • 1896 – Plessy v Ferguson – “separate but equal”

  • WWII – segregation of military services

  • 1954 – Brown v Board of Education

  • 1955 – Montgomery Bus Boycott

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964

  • Voting Rights Act of 1965



  • Lynching – the practice of killing people through extrajudicial mob violence primarily by hanging, torture and mutilation (including castration)

  • Roughly beginning in late 18th c. until 1960s

    • At its peak in the South between 1890s and early 1900s

    • Estimated # of people killed is anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000

  • Lynching as extrajudicial spectacle

Aug. 6, 1930. Two black men, Abram Smith and Thomas Ship, were lynched on suspicion of armed robbery, murder and rape. A third man, James Cameron, escaped.

The myth of the black rapist

The Myth of the Black Rapist

“And shall such a creature … appeal to the law? Shall men cold-bloodedly stand up and demand for him the right to have a fair trial and be punished in the regular course of justice? So far as I am concerned he has put himself outside of the pale of the law, human and divine… Civilization peels off us, any and all of us who are men, and we revert to the original savage type whose impulses under any and all circumstances has always been to ‘kill! kill! kill!”

(1907, Sen. Tillman (IN), quoted in Gunning, Race, Rape & Literature, 5)

The idea of the black rapist who threatened white women expressed turn of the century anxieties about changes in US society:

  • the end of slavery and black claims to national participation

  • the issue of northern and southern unity

  • changing gender roles as women became to circulate more in the public sphere and demand suffrage

  • the increased immigration of ethnic whites from Europe

  • increased industrialization and labor unrest



  • Read first half of part 2: pgs115-199 (Chs 12-19)

  • Questions to think about:

    • How does Jem, Dill and Scout change and/or grow from part 1 of the novel to part 2?

    • How would you characterize the children’s relationship to Atticus? What about their relationship to Calpurnia?

    • Atticus is the one who tells the children not to kill mockingbirds. What do you think is the greater significance of that lesson? How is that lesson a greater metaphor for the theme of the novel?

    • How do you think part 1 of the novel with the children’s adventures with Boo Radley is connected to part 2 of the novel and Tom Robinson’s trial?

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