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Scottsboro through Harper Lee's Eyes

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Macey Sutherland

on 5 February 2011

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Transcript of Scottsboro through Harper Lee's Eyes

Scottsboro through Harper Lee's Eyes When Harper Lee was five years old, the tragedy of the Scottsboro trials began. She shared her childhood with with "the struggles of nine innocent young men for their lives" (Scottsboro). Growing up in this difficult time, the very young Lee was forced to see a magnified version of the corruption that our society offers. These surroundings shaped Lee in numerous ways, but perhaps most significant was her unbiased manner. Illustrated in her arguably autobiographic To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee concentrates into one book how bias is a human downfall that is far too accepted. Harper Lee is Scout. Victoria Price is Bob Ewell. Ruby Bates is Mayella Ewell. The Scottsboro boys are Tom Robinson. Lee grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, a small town that suffered from racism like the rest of the south. She was primarily raised by her father because her mother "suffered from mental illness, rarely leaving the house" (Harper Lee Biography). Scout was also raised by her father because her mother died when she was two years old. The family backgrounds and high intelligence levels of both Lee and Scout contributed to their being known as "tomboy[s] and...precocious reader[s]," much like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird (Biography - Harper Lee). When the Scottsboro trials began, Harper Lee was five years old. Young children are often the first to spot a wrong; whether small or large, children, who have not learned what is to be accepted and ignored, are very observant of the corruption. Because of this, Harper Lee likely noticed the wrong-doings of the Scottsboro trials. At such a young age, she would not have seen the superficial details, the rape, the defendents, the accustations, but she did see the abstract foundations of the cases, the racism, the lies, the lack of justice. Most children don't have such an experience. All children are eventually exposed to the accepted corruption of our society, but most don't see it in such a concentrated manner nor at such a young age. This experience followed Lee throughout her life; this is evident in her writing of To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout is the narrator of Mockingbird. The story begins when she is "almost six," very close to Lee's five years of age (Lee 7). Lee's experience at this age led her to write Mockingbird. She wrote the book from Scout's point of view because that is how she saw it. Like Lee's perspective of the Scottsboro trials, Scout's point of view affected every aspect of her opinion of Tom Robinson's trial. With her lawyer of a father's information, older brother's insight, and youthfulness's obervance, Scout was able to quickly form her opinion; she knew that the trial was wrong because Robinson was not guilty. Harper Lee structured Scout's family this way because, when she was a child, her family looked much like this. Ruby Bates lived in "a poor neighborhood of Huntsville" where blacks and whites coexisted (People & Events Ruby Bates). Working in the mills, Bates had little many and stayed at the bottom of the social hiearchy. Likewise, the Ewells lived "like animals" behind the town dump (Lee 33). Both Bates and Mayella Ewell had grown up in close quarters with blacks, which was socially unacceptable at the time; they had both had troubles with black men that led them to court. Works Cited
The parallels between Lee's experience with the Scottsboro trials and Scout's experience with Tom Robinson's trial are evident markers of Scottsboro's influence on Lee. She based To Kill a Mockingbird on the Scottsboro trials, and the similarities are obvious. Every major aspect from the Scottsboro trials is represented in To Kill a Mockingbird. From a child's perspective, Bates would seem like a bad guy. She was one of the two women accusing the Scottsboro boys of rape. However, Ruby Bates was simply following in her partner's footsteps, much like Mayella Ewell. After her father fabricated the rape story, Mayella did not object or deny the story; nor did she add any intricate details. But to a child, none of this is extremely eye-catching. Harper Lee saw that Ruby Bates was falsely accusing nine boys of a rape that never happened and was thus labeled a bad guy. As Lee matured, she gained the whole story and was able to mirror this in To Kill a Mockingbird. Mayella's character, like Bates, was meek and quiet; she did not stand out. She was as much a victim as Tom Robinson. Victoria Price dominated Ruby Bates; she was the opposite of the typical Southern woman. She was a "hard-talking, tobacco-chewing" woman that was afraid to neither lie or cheat to win (Scottsboro). Like Bob Ewell, Price was the main talker of the trials. Both accusers were able to manipulate their stories in their favor. Because Price lacked the compassion to regret her choices, she held on to her story throughout the trials. Similarly, Bob Ewell never let go of his story, even after Atticus had proven that it was false. From Harper Lee's perspective as a child, Victoria Price was the enemy. She was tough and insensible to the pleas of the nine boys. Lee's negative reaction to this is evident in To Kill a Mockingbird because of every aspect of Bob Ewell. He is a poor white man, that has "never worked a day in [his] life;" his poor standards of living and hygiene left him at the lowest social standing (Lee 33). Scottsboro's influence on Lee is that much more obvious by the mirroring choices the Price and Ewell made. It only took a moment for Victoria Price and Ruby Bates to decide to accuse another for their faults. In that moment, both had fabricated a story that would attract the attention of both blacks and whites; Price and Ewell knew when the created their stories that someone would be hurt. However, this was the least of their worries. All that mattered was that the innocent were punished. When word of the black gang reached Paint Rock, an "armed posse" stopped the train (Scottsboro). This lynch mob was armed with "guns...and rope," much like the lynch mob that surrounded Atticus outside the jail (Scottsboro). Both of these mobs created a fuss, however, neither of them actually did anything. They were assembled in response to two different trials: the Scottsboro trials and Tom Robinson's trial. When the nine boys were accused of rape, they, of course, denied it. After vainly trying to prove their innocence, the boys settled with just trying to get out of their punishment. As Harper Lee grew up seeing nine boys in a fight for their lives, she was impacted emotionally more than anything. In response, she wrote created Tom Robinson's character as an ideal combination of all nine Scottsboro boys: a hard worker, determined, and honest. (Harper Lee Biography) Harper Lee expressed her view of the Scottsboro trials by creating a similar situation in To Kill a Mockingbird. (Trials of Scottsboro) The Scottsboro boys' were essentially framed by Price and Bates. Lee's disapproval of this is evident in the parallels between Scottsboro and To Kill a Mockingbird. She created a situation like the Scottsboro one in order to show the injustice involved in false accusations. (Alabama) Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, though friends, had a very different relationship. Price's tough personality dominated Bates's meek one to the point that Bates simply said what Price said. (Seeing Seersucker) Tom Robinson's trial illustrated the same injustice and racism that the Scottsboro trials did. (TKAM) Bob Ewell's hard character overpowered Mayella's quiet one like Price overpowered Bates. Negative often has a bigger influence on someone than positive. Negative can influence us to change or create a change. Harper Lee tries to create a change in To Kill a Mockingbird. She shows the lasting effects that injustice and lies can have on someone, particularly a child. The influence that the Scottsboro trials had on Harper Lee is most noticeable in her writing of To Kill a Mockingbird. By creating the parallels, Lee was able to condense the years of trials into a book to show the injustice of our society. "Biography of Harper Lee | List of Works, Study Guides & Essays | GradeSaver." Study Guides & Essay Editing | GradeSaver. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.gradesaver.com/author/harper-lee/>.

Cloke, Chris. "TKAM Soph." TKAM Soph. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://whs.wsd.wednet.edu/Faculty/Cloke/TKAMSoph..html>.

"Harper Lee Biography - Biography.com." Harper Lee Biography. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.biography.com/articles/Harper-Lee-9377021>.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.

Scottsboro: An American Tragedy. WGBH, 1999. DVD.

"The Scottsboro Boys - Thatsalabama.com." That's Alabama. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.thatsalabama.com/civilwrongs/scottsboro/>.

"Seeing Seersucker: Atticus, Lester, and Danville." Daily Yonder. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.dailyyonder.com/seeing-seersucker-atticus-lester-and-danville>.

"The Trials of The Scottsboro Boys." UMKC School of Law. Web. 18 May 2010. <http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scottsboro/scottsb.htm>.
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