Analyse how supposedly insignificant events or details revealed one or more significant themes.
In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee the significant theme of racism is revealed through three insignificant events: the killing and constant regrowth of the nut grass, the rabid dog that wanders down the main street before being shot by Atticus and Mrs Dubose’s camellia flowers that Jem attempts to destroy.
Racism paragraph? Toms trial (significant event)
Miss Maudie’s garden is her prized possession, she shows a lot of affection towards the plants, however the nut-grass is presented as a huge problem for her. This is stated in the lines: “She loved everything that grew in God’s earth, even the weeds. With one exception. If she found a blade of nut-grass in her yard it was like the Second Battle of the Marne.” This reference to the Second Battle of the Marne shows how significantly terrible the situation of having the nut-grass in her garden is, as was the Battle. We learn that the nut-grass is a dangerous plant; it can only be killed by a “poisonous substance she said was so powerful it’d kill us all if we didn’t stand out of the way”. By having to use a powerful “poisonous substance” to kill it, we know that the nut-grass must have a strong survival instinct and that it is not easy to destroy. Scout asks: “Why can’t you just pull it up?” to which Miss Maudie replies: “Pull it up, child, pull it up?”. Miss Maudie, shocked by the question, continues to explain: “Why, on sprig of nut-grass can ruin a whole yard…the wind blows it all over Maycomb County.” This durability and spreading of the nut-grass represents the significant theme of racism present in the novel, Maycomb County and the world. Racism is like the nut-grass, always reappearing and almost impossible to kill. It teaches us that to obliterate racism it is not enough to simply ignore it, instead you must directly tackle it with protests and changes inside the minds of many people. With the ability to spread so easily through its offspring, it is a direct reflexion of how the Maycomb community maintains racism by teaching the young people unjust racist morals and habits. As the young people of Maycomb County grow up they are taught prejudice; white people are better than black. These ideas are engrained into their young minds and the racism continues, an unbroken culture even decades after the illegalisation of black slaves in 1868. This teaches us that as long as we feed the racism it will continue to grow with the generations. We can see ideas and beliefs being passed down through generations today such as homophobia. Until recently, homosexuality was thought of as wrong and was not accepted in society. This homophobia lasted a long time due to young children being brought up following the beliefs of their parents. Only now acceptance is being given to the homosexuals due to campaigns and famous people normailising homosexulity. The LGBT community has been protesting for equal rights and marriage for these people to bring light to the issue of homophobia. Because of this, younger generations are growing up with the acceptance of homosexuality and are more likely to challenge the negative ideas of the older generations. This proves that homophobia, like the nut-grass can not be tackled by ignoring it and instead there must be a huge protest to fully obliterate it like the poison Miss Maudie used on the weed. Racism needed poison to kill it in Maycomb county and Atticus began doing this by fighting for Tom’s rights and life in court.
The rabid dog that appears walking down the main street also shows the theme of racism. We first learn of the dog when Jem and Scout see it making it’s way down the street, shaking and frothing at the mouth. Not knowing what is wrong with it, they go back inside and tell Calpurnia, their nanny, who then warns the others on the street. Calpurnia then identifies the disease as rabies before calling for Atticus to shoot it. The rabies represents racism as it is fatal, all-consuming, takes over the nervous system and mental and physical capacity, is easily spreadable and almost incurable as is racism. Racism changes people’s attitudes and behaviours and can even cause death as so with Tom after his trial. It is ironic that Calpurnia is the only one that can identify the rabies as she is also the only person who deals with racism on the street full of white people. The dog must be shot in order to protect the town from the deadly rabies. This correlates to the racism present in Maycomb County; the only way to rid the town of the disease is to kill it at its source as to not spread it any further. Atticus fires the fatal bullet, representing him taking a stand against the town’s prejudice beliefs by taking on Tom’s trail at court and defending the black man. Atticus teaches us that to make a change, one must stand by himself instead of following the group. No one else in Maycomb County is brave enough to stand alone and face the backlash of standing against racism in their town for the greater good. The quote: “The world suffers a lot. Not because of the violence of bad people, but of the silence of good people” from Napoleon Bonaparte, teaches us that being silent against an issue will not make it go away, instead, us good people must stand up and make our voices heard in order to drown the negative actions in the world. As Atticus stands for Tom in court, he is beginning to drown the racism in Maycomb County.
Mrs Dubose’s white camelia flowers are insignificant throughout the text, however also represent and strengthen the theme of racism. Mrs Dubose is a grumpy, cantankerous old lady that lives on the main street next to Jem and Scout. She was born in the 1850’s and grew up with segregation and therefore shows racism throughout the novel. She is known to yell racist comments from the safety of her front porch and becomes an entity that the children avoid. Because of the negative comments she constantly yells to Jem, he decides to destroy her beloved white camelia flowers by thrashing the heads off with a golf club. The flowers promote the white supremacy group: The Knights of the White Camelia. By Jem destroying them, he is trying to demolish the racism and segregation that is present in Mrs Dubose’s personality and Maycomb County.