In texts, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner and The Bell Jar, protagonists Esther, Smith, and Atticus challenge the hypocrisy of convention. Their perceptive accounts of confronting oppressive power and confinement are affected differently by the social climate and historical context they are written in. The setting and the conflict between each character’s dreams and obstacles is very closely tied to the development of their morals. In fact, their thoughts, ideas, and dialogues are intentional references to their morality as they confirm who they are to themselves and the world around them. Esther Greenwood, a young writer, spends a summer doing an internship as a guest editor for a fashion magazine in New York City. Although, her aspirations of becoming a journalist; speaking in the worldly tongues of foreign language have guided her to where she is- she feels out of place; trapped and confused by where her goals have lead her. Her narrative looks in on her daily encounters with her friends and her boss Jay Cee, who exist apart from her thoughts. Often she fails to make the connection between her conscious mind and her actions. Her setting is much of her conflict as it leaves her feeling lost, stunted, and discontent with several aspects of her life. She reflects, “Only I wasn’t steering anything, not even my life”. While, many girls would envy her for having to opportunity; the experience of spending a summer in New York, the clothes she has bought and the gifts she’s received, she does not desire the material items she possesses. She refers to a pair of patent leather shoes, a belt, and a purse which she buys with the money she is gifted, hoping to understand what it feels like to indulge. Finding little pleasure, she destroys all but the patent leather shoes which she brings with her to Boston. They lay in her closet, untouched resembling her escape from the conformity. Smith, a young boy who is sent to an institution for young offenders after stealing money from a bakery feels he has been bestialized. He is confronted with condemnation before reaching adulthood. When asking to live his life freely as a criminal he is rejected and punished. Suddenly, he has been thrown into an alternate world that forces him to develop into a “honest man” and trains him to become a professional runner. Every morning Smith is forced to run out into the winter air. He follows a winding course into the trees and forest and allows his mind to escape him. During those early morning runs he finds mental clarity and continues to analyze the difference between himself and those that have contained him there. He concludes that he is at war with authority- people who define qualities such as honesty and goodness without understanding the subjectivity of those standards. Smith, however understands perspective. He describes this as “finding where the knife of your enemy hides”. Similar to Esther, he is introspective. Their narratives are sensitive to how they are affected, particularly by the setting and the people that surround them. Their perspectives are comparable because of their wit which is often misunderstood or disregarded by society. Interestingly, the shrewd sensibilities of a criminal and the academically sound acuity of a journalist are parallel realities of feeling out of place in one’s surrounding.Atticus Finch is a moral man with wise ideas and strong opinions which he establishes in every aspect of his life. He is an only father, who strives to raise his children, Jem and Scout with the ability to form a fair judgement of what’s right, wrong, and just. Atticus formally takes on the role of hometown lawyer who has been asked to defend a black man, accused of raping a white woman. Living in southern Alabama in the 1930’s he faces the difficulties of defending a man who is criminalized and discriminated against because of the color of his skin. This sets him back in achieving his goal of winning the case for a man who is ordinarily disadvantaged by the law. Although, he gains great esteem from the black community he struggles to find the respect of his white neighbors and friends. He continues to teach his children about right and wrong and helps them draw parallels between themselves and people like Tom Robinson and Boo Radley who are oppressed in their daily lives by racial injustice. The racially charged setting presented in To KIll a Mockingbird motivates Atticus to fight for their justice. Each character in their journey to achieve their dreams encounter their first obstacle. They uncover the hypocrisy of convention which confines them. Esther Greenwood is first introduced to the hypocrisy of gender roles and the double standards that make it acceptable for men to transgress the sexual ideal of purity through her relationships and conversations with men. She observes that men have the power to make a woman feel lewd and impure by labeling them ‘sluts’ and ‘hoes’. Women have that same power to offend other women when they feed off of these stereotypes. However, in both circumstances she sees that women are condemned for their behavior, while men are granted freedom to adultery. “I couldn’t stand the idea of a woman having to have a single pure life and a man being able to have a double life, one pure, and one not.” she belts in her head as Buddy Willard advances with his pathetic apology.Smith shares a similar awareness to the people who confine him and the underlying hypocrisy in their intentions. The governor forces upon him the idea that by winning the race and obeying their rules he can become an honest man who is then accepted by society and no longer feared. They assert their assumptions about Smith- that he is like any other boy pleading for forgiveness, suffering in guilt, unsatisfied with who he is and the life he leads. Smith remembers the day he arrives at Borstal and is greeted by the governor who says, ” If you play ball with us, we’ll play ball with you…We want hard honest work and we want good athletes…And if you give us both of these things you can be sure we’ll do right by you…” Smith notices the governor’s’ use of the word us and we- He identifies this as a tactic the coppers used to belittle him. He resists being disillusioned by their power and the intimidation of Borstal as a dark and somber place to continue living his life. Instead, he assures himself that he is content with who he is as a criminal- cunning, observant, and conscious.Atticus is able to further teach his children about the hypocrisy of racial prejudice through Calpurnia. Often he listens in to conversations Calpurnia has with Scout about her perspective on life as a black woman. She encourages Scout’s intrigue- one day responding to her concern for her father being called a ‘nigger-lover’. “… white folks don’t like to have something around knowing more than they do. It aggravates them. Your not gonna change any of them by yourself and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language.” When she faces her father with the same question he starts, “nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything.- like snot nose. It’s hard to explain ignorant, trashy people who use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage a common, ugly term.” Again, he refers to his morals for guidance in raising his children and teaching them to objectify equality and justice. Atticus tries to demonstrate that labels such as ‘nigger-lover’ are used to conceal the insecurities of people who outwardly communicate their racist beliefs; exposing the hypocrisy of their hatred toward people of color. After each character has been introduced to these conventions and societal norms through setting, a conflict forms as he or she begins to challenge these ways through thought and dialogue.Apart from Esther’s internal conflict, which causes her to disorient herself to New York and the rich girls that suffocate her every where she goes, she also conflicts with gender roles that have so far shaped her relationship with men. Esther analizes her experiences with Buddy Willard, Constantin, and Eric as if a microcosm to a much bigger issue. Atticus is also able to pick apart a much bigger issue that surfaces the plot. In the courtroom he encounters ignorance and hatred as a result of racism. In contrast to his moral judgement he clashes with the views of the jury and fellow townsmen that have condemned him for defending a black man. Similarly, Smith feels justified for expressing his opposing views, specifically about authoritative power which govern the way he lives his life. In fact, he is very outward with his beliefs. His narrative which is composed of several dialogues (he has with himself) revolve around the idea of him rebelling against his confinement at Borstal- the governor and the concept of honesty and goodness. He reasons, “another thing people like the governor will never understand is that I am honest, that I’ve never been anything but honest and that i’ll always be honest. Sounds funny. But it’s true because I know what honest means according to me and he only knows what it means according to him. I think my honesty is the only sort in the world, and he thinks his is the only sort in the world as well. That’s why this dirty great walled-up and fenced-up manor house in the middle of nowhere has been used used to coop-up blokes like me. And if I had the whip-hand I wouldn’t even bother to build a place like this to put all the cops, governors, posh whores, penpushers, army officers, members of Parliament in…” Here, Smith refuses to accept the governor’s promise to make him a professional runner, honest and a socially accepted man in exchange for winning the race. He thinks their proposal is a way of asserting their “superior” morals, but cannot compare to his insight on the world. He says, “I can see more into the likes of him than he can see into the likes of me.” The characters develop as they form opinions and morals based on the hypocrisy they experience. This causes them to act on their thoughts and beliefs directly or indirectly. For example in chapter 18 Esther says, “I am climbing to my freedom, freedom from fear, freedom from marrying the wrong person like Buddy Willard, just because of sex, freedom from the Florence Crittenden Homes where all the poor girls go who should have been filtered out out like me because what they did, they would do anyway.” Here Esther ‘actively’ escapes all obligations; confined thoughts and experiences. She confirms, at least for herself that she is a free woman apart from the hypocrisy in her life. Atticus defends Tom Robinson in a public space (in court) by reasoning his morality. “You know the truth and the truth is this: Some negroes lie, some negroes are immoral, some negro men are not not to be trusted around women, black or white. But this applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not a person in this courtroom that has not told a lie and their is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire.” Atticus Finch discredits the jury and their sanctimonious efforts to punish Tom Robinson for a crime he did not commit. He effectively shares his morals with people who can benefit most from his intuition. From beginning to end Smith refuses to adapt to confinement and in various ways expresses that he is content with who he is. He defiantly declines everything Borstal has offered him by giving up on the race the governor has pressured him to win. Yards before the finish line, Smith stops and thinks about what it would mean if he continued and obeyed authority, ” I won’t go for that last hundred yards if I have to sit cross-legged on the grass and have the governor and his chinless wonders pick me up and carry me there, which is against their rules so you can bet they’d never do it because they’r not clever enough to break the rules- like I would be in their place…” All at once he is reaffirmed of who he is; a cunning criminal, the sly guy, a great friend.Collectively, the setting and the conflict of these three texts motivate the development and transformation of each character and their grasp on live in a world of hypocrisy. The setting offers the opportunity for Esther, Atticus, and Smith to mature their perspective and morals, while the conflict challenges them apply this new understanding of self and a mental and social awareness to their daily lives.
September 21, 2019 0 Comments