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Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" And John Howard Griffin's "Black Like Me"

710 words - 3 pages

Throughout the history of mankind racism has been a dominating factor in society, building barriers of discrimination and prejudice against those of differentiating races. Dating back to the 17th century, racism towards African Americans began through the form of slavery. Despite George Washington's abolition of slavery in 1863, racism still continued to haunt "Negroes" in their day to day lives. Two authors, Harper Lee and John Howard Griffin, recognized this injustice towards African Americans and were inspired to make a difference through literature.

Published in 1960, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird gave readers a small glimpse into South American life during the 1930's. The setting of the book, Maycomb County, depicted real issues such as poverty, uneducated children and racism. These problems were illustrated through the day to day lives of the Finch family who invited poverty stricken Walter Cunningham to ...view middle of the document...

167]. These facts indicated Tom's innocence yet the jury disregarded them, choosing to believe the false testimony of Mayella over the overwhelming evidence. This trial mirrored real life racism throughout the 60's and left readers deeply affected.

A year after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird John Howard Griffin published Black Like Me. In the book John transformed himself into a Negro and documented his experiences living in South America. Starting in Louisiana, going through Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, Griffin was subject to constant racism. He was not only denied simply dignities such as the right to go into stores and restaurants [pg.105] and the use of washroom [pg.22] but was also harassed by whites on buses [pg.47,64], walking through town at night [pg.38], etc. John's first encounter with governmental racism came when he learned of the Mississippi courts dismissal of the "Mack Parker kidnap-lynch murder". In this case a charged black man, who hadn't received a fair trial, was kidnapped and murdered by a racist mob. Very similar to Tom Robinson's case, in To Kill a Mockingbird, the jury was given a massive pile of evidence from the FBI but chose to ignored the information and not charge the murderers [pg.50]. This experience, along with the other personal acts of racism, gave John a greater understanding of what the African American population was subject to in the 1950's.

When comparing both books a similar pattern of aggression occurs, striking out towards the white protagonists. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus, Jem and Scout are subjected to verbal abuse from fellow students; Cecil Jacobs [pg.74], adults; Mrs.Dubose [pg.101] and even family; Francis [pg.83]. In Black Like Me Griffin the town hang an effigy of him on the main street [pg.166], a cross is burnt at a Negro School near his home and he is given a threatening phone call [pg.170]. Despite all of the attacks and harassment Atticus and Griffin both continue with their work to do greater good.

In conclusion Harper Lee and John Howard Griffin both spoke out against racism through their literary works and helped educate readers about the equality of each and every person despite skin colour.

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