The Everlasting Power of Words
Words. Words can have a profound effect on people. They could even change fates, thoughts, and actions. Words hold this power over everyone. And their influence may even last forever in the minds of men. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird illustrates this through the examples of Scout, the jury, and Atticus.
Early in the book Atticus tells Scout, "If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (33). Scout, being a young child at the time, doesn't really apply this to her life for a while. Throughout the book however, she matures and begins to see that Atticus was right. In fact, standing on the porch of the Radley place she narrates, "Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough" (321). Clearly, she really took Atticus's words to heart, and she will probably remember them for the rest of her life.
The jury that presides over Tom Robinson's trial is all white. So, they are already prejudiced against Tom even if it's subconsciously done. As we later learn, Atticus's closing statement deeply affected the jury. Miss Maudie remarks, "…and as I waited I thought, Atticus Finch won't win, he can't win, but he's the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that. And I thought to myself, well, we're making a step – it's just a baby-step, but it's a step" (246).When the jury returns from deliberation, Scout notices, " A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted, and when this jury came in, not one of them looked at Tom Robinson" (240). But at least one juror wanted to free Tom and certainly if one juror spoke up, then several others would have been unknowingly thinking along the same lines.
When Sheriff Heck Tate comes to tell Atticus of Bob Ewell's death; Atticus, being an overwhelmed and tired man, read too far into the situation. He falsely assumed that Jem killed Bob Ewell. The sheriff explains to Atticus, that Bob Ewell fell on his knife and killed himself, yet also implying that Boo killed him. But, Atticus refuses to believe him. Eventually, the sheriff says to Atticus, "It ain't your decision, Mr. Finch, it's all mine. It's my decision and my responsibility…there's not much you can do about it. If you wanta try, I'll call you a liar to your face. Your boy never stabbed Bob Ewell" (316). When the sheriff puts his foot down (metaphorically and literally) he finally convinces Atticus of Jem's innocence. And now Atticus understands that the sheriff did this to protect a "mockingbird" from the attention he doesn't want. Atticus also learns that he owes Boo Radley the lives of his two children.
Words. Words can be spoken in many languages, dialects, tones, and voices. But words have and always will have a profound effect of people. Their power can shape minds, move nations, ignite feuds, and mend relationships. And their influence may last for all time. The words that Atticus, Heck Tate and so many others use when they speak in this novel help Scout to mature, help the jury to question the world that they have known for so long, and help Atticus to see the enormous debt that he owes his neighbor, but can never pay adequately.