I decided to read To Kill a Mockingbird after finishing The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Since TKAM is considered an American classic that deals with race issues during the Great Depression, I thought it would provide an interesting comparison to the struggles that black people face in the US today.
Told from the perspective of Jean Louise Finch, or affectionately known as Scout, the story takes place in the small, fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama between 1933 and 1955, a time when prejudice against black people was the norm in the South. Through Scout’s experiences and her narration of various events that take place during those formative years of her life, we discover the diverse characters that inhabit the town, including the protagonist herself and her family members. Her dad, Atticus Finch, is appointed as the defense lawyer for Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of rape and assault by Mayella, a young white girl, and as a result, Scout is forced to face the harsh reality of racism among people she’s known all her life.
Sadly, reading both TKAM and THUG within the same month left me with an uneasy feeling. While outright racism and oppression like that in TKAM is (theoretically) no longer accepted in society, black people are still fighting prejudice and systemic racism until today, and many of the issues that they faced then, in one form or another, still persist.
Like Starr from THUG, Calpurnia, the family cook and housekeeper, doesn’t have the privilege of being able to be one person. Just like Starr, she has to live a double life to fit in, speaking differently when she’s at the Finch’s and at her church.
“That Calpurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me. The idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages.” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“I’ve taught myself to speak with two different voices and only say certain things around certain people. I’ve mastered it.” – Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
Everyone in Maycomb already assumed that Tom Robinson was guilty of rape. When he finally gave his version of the events, they couldn’t reconcile the stereotype in their minds with the compassionate person testifying in court. Even if he was innocent, the jury convicted him despite the evidence showing otherwise. Khalil, too, is the victim of prejudice based on his race. He was unarmed when he was pulled over during a routine traffic stop, yet he was shot by a trained police officer who assumed he was dangerous because he was a black teenager.
“Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“And at the end of the day, you don’t kill someone for opening a car door. If you do, you shouldn’t be a cop.” – Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give
Tom Robinson was convicted when the evidence showed he was innocent. Following the trial, he was put in jail while Atticus planned his appeal. Tom Robinson, out of desperation, tried to escape from prison. Although he didn’t have the use of one of his hands, he was shot by police while he tried to climb over the fence. Rather than inspire sympathy in the townspeople, this event further reinforced negatives stereotypes of black men, so even if an innocent person was convicted, then shot 17 times, the shooting was justified in their minds. Similarly, although Khalil was killed by a cop when he was unarmed, his case didn’t go to trial; there will be no consequences, no justice for the victim.
“I told him what I thought, but I couldn’t in truth say that we had more than a good chance. I guess Tom was tired of white men’s chances and preferred to take his own.“- Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
“People like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right. Maybe.” – Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give