Identity in American Film Essay #1

Working on my first essay for Identity in American Film on To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorite movies of all time, and definitely an American Classic.

Adapted from the classic novel, written by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of America’s classic movies. Starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, a southern lawyer is the prime example of America’s dominant hero identity, the white heterosexual man. However, unlike the rest of white men who live in Maycomb, he opposes the then popular prejudice discrimination of blacks. Atticus has a unique ideology of equality and takes a case defending Tom Robinson played by Brock Peters, a black field worker accused of attacking a white woman, Mayella Ewell.

On the surface To Kill a Mockingbird explores the opposition of race in the United States during the 1930s and 40s. The events that took place against the equality of all have shaped the identity of America today, and who its citizens are. Movies that give a face to the times that have shaped America, whether fictional or true, are some of the stories that hold special significance for Americans, making it an instant classic.

It also plays on the popular American theme of “Rooting for the Underdog.” Perhaps, the reason why Americans identify with this theme is because the United States were once considered the Underdog against Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. Most would categorize this movie as a Dramatic Thriller, or Political Drama. However, on closer examination, one might put it into the Western genre. In this western, our protagonist Atticus Finch is the epitome of the lone hero, who is taking an unwavering stand against the antagonist. In this case prejudice, injustice, and the loss of innocence is the guy wearing the black cowboy hat. Atticus stands courageously, alone defending and believing in Robinson, facing a white jury with the odds stacked against him, but he stands strong, nevertheless. A theme American audiences love to watch.

On a deeper level, To Kill a Mockingbird also contains a deeper theme, the transition of Jem and Scout Finch from a perspective of childhood innocence to that more of an adult perspective. At the beginning of the story both assume that people are inherently good because they have never seen evil. However, as the story unfolds both witness evil and this changes their lives and thus their understanding of the world.  We can also see this theme play out in the threat that hatred, prejudice, and ignorance pose to people who are innocent specifically, Tom Robinson and Boo Radley. Both are not prepared for the evil that they encounter, and as a direct result both they are destroyed. This symbol or metaphor is conveyed as Atticus discusses with his children about a mockingbird being shot and killed. Even Jem is victimized to an extent by his personal experience with the evil of racism during and after the trial. Although Scout appears to maintain her basic belief and innocence despite the outcome of a guilty verdict for Tom Robinson, but Jem’s faith in justice and in humanity is damaged.

To Kill a Mockingbird puts a face to the events before Civil Rights took place in a new light, through the eyes of a child. Jem, Scout, and even Boo Radley are analogies of the USA, because when compared to other countries we are much younger, innocent, and learning from mistakes for the first time. As one of my favorite novels as a child, and adaptation to film, I feel like To Kill a Mockingbird exemplifies America throughout the years. It brings to life the injustice that people experienced daily in the south.

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