The following essay is based on the theme of “Expectations” in the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. The novel set during the 1930’s depression in Maycomb south Alabama is based upon the ignorance and prejudice present in society. The theme of ‘expectations’ is an imperative motif which affects the events that occur throughout the novel. Social expectations were rigidly upheld in Southern Alabama in the 1930’s. These expectations determined what behaviours were acceptable for men and women, Caucasians and Negros and different economic classes in society.
The social setting in Maycomb County has a profound effect on the expectations in the novel. Initially, all individuals of Maycomb know about each other’s background and upbringing for instance the expectations from families like the Ewells and Cunninghams. An example of this in the novel is when Scout attends her first day of school; Scout’s teacher Miss Caroline, offers Walter Cunningham a quarter when he doesn’t bring any lunch. However, Walter does not take the quarter as he’s a Cunningham and they do not take what they cannot pay back; instead getting along with what they have.
Scout tries to explain this to Miss Caroline who was not familiar with certain Maycombian ways. A rigid social stratification of Maycomb County based on race, background and gender also has a profound effect on events in the novel. Because of the background, upbringing, attitudes and behaviours of different individuals in Maycomb; it is expected that they would belong to a certain social class. ‘You know something Scout? I’ve got all figured out, now. I’ve thought about it a lot lately and I’ve got it figured out. There’s four kinds of folks in the world.
There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbours, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes. ’ (Chapter 23, 249) Different social classes in Maycomb had different expectations, for instance it was expected that a jury would convict a Negro of being guilty when his word went against a Caucasians, even if that Caucasian was of the lowest class in society – trash. During Tom Robinson’s trial, the strong prejudice of Maycomb County and the negative effects of its social stratification were clearly demonstrated.
Whilst Tom Robinson is innocent of the crime of rape, he gave the Caucasians more reason to convict him on the basis of daring to feel sorry for a Caucasian – it is not expected that a negro (considered as being a part of the lowest class of society, event lower than the ‘white trash’) could feel sorry for a Caucasian and the Caucasians could not accept such a presumption. […] ‘You’re a might good fellow, it seems – did all this for not one penny? ’ ‘Yes suh. I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more’n the rest of ‘em -’ ‘You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her? ‘Mr Gilmer seemed ready to rise to the ceiling. The witness realized his mistake and shifted uncomfortably in the chair. But the damage was done. Below us, nobody liked Tom Robinson’s answer. Mr Gilmer paused for a long time to let it sink in. ’ (Chapter 19, page 218) Although there were doubts regarding Bob Ewell’s testimony and Atticus pleads the jury to give Tom equal standing under the eyes of the law, the jury still convicts Tom as being guilty to rape of Mayella Ewell.
This lead to Jem’s mistrust in the legal system as Jem was old enough to understand the events that were occurring, but he wasn’t old enough to understand the reasoning behind Tom’s conviction as nothing has yet interfered with Jem’s reasoning process – in other words Jem was still ‘innocent’. ‘I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it – seems that only children weep. ’ (Chapter 22, page 235) […] ‘If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys like you, Tom would be a free man,’ said Atticus. So far nothing in your life has interfered with your reasoning process. Those are twelve reasonable men in everyday life, Tom’s jury but you saw something come between them and reason…’ (Chapter 23, page 243) The actuality that a Caucasian was willing to defend a Negro whilst pleading for tolerance lead to displeasure amongst the citizens of Maycomb as they saw Atticus as being non-conformist which was not expected from the uppermost Caucasian class of society.
Because of an outrage toward Tom Robinson’s defence the events that occurred through the novel as a result involved the behaviour of the lynch mob which attempted to cause harm to Tom Robinson at Maycomb County jail and latter involved the maliciously callous attack on Scout and Jem by the malevolent character Bob Ewell. Gender roles are also associated with expectations, for instance Aunt Alexandra constantly expected Scout to behave in the traditional role of a ‘proper Southern lady’.
Aunt Alexandra expected Scout to engage in ladylike activities, which involved playing with small stoves, tea sets and adorning herself in jewellery and that she should be a ray of sunshine in her father’s lonesome life. Aunt Alexandra does not approve of Scout’s attire comprising of pants and breeches, and instead expects Scout to dress in lady like manner. In the novel Scout explains her frustration at being expected to wear cumbersome skirts rather than pants and bridges because of social expectations.
This highlights the way that at this time, expectations of men and women remained much divided, with women’s roles being restricted to being graceful and elegant in manner. The roles of women in Maycomb were defined by tradition such as a lack of women with a professional status and women serving on a jury in the novel. Scout has difficulty with the expectation of fitting into the mould of a proper Southern lady.
According to Aunt Alexandra Scout had to behave like a sunbeam in order to be a ray of sunshine implying that Scout had to behave in a lady like manner, and that she was born ‘good’ but had grown progressively worse every year. Unlike Aunt Alexandra, Miss Maudie is an ideal role model for Scout as she also defies some of their society’s expectations and maintains her individuality as a Southern woman.
In contrast to Aunt Alexandra, Atticus did not have the same expectation that Scout behave in a ladylike manner although both Atticus and Aunt Alexandra grew up with the same values instilled in them on Finches Landing; Atticus didn’t mind Scout the way she was. To conclude, the theme of ‘expectations’, outlines the aspects of powerful themes such as racism, prejudice, inequality, growing up, perspectives, class divide/ structure, raising children and gender roles which are depicted through the events that occur in the novel.
The expectations of men and women, Caucasians and Negros and different economic classes in Maycomb, significantly contribute to the events that occur throughout the novel. Harper Lee effectively portrays the theme of ‘expectations’ in the novel which positions the reader to see the affect of this theme on the plot and characters, predominantly during Tom Robinson’s trial and the maturation of Scout and Jem.