Racism in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee

Racism is one theme which is hugely illustrated in “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Harper Lee has been very successful in being able to elicit racism. The most unique and significant approach she uses to reveal racism is that she tells the story through the point of view of a child. This helps her very much to bring out this important theme as she shows Scout being in a learning process and just being able to learn the differences between right and wrong. Scout is a very strong character as she is only a child when she has to show her maturity about a very significant social issue. She has to face prejudice herself for making the right choice of going against society and not being racist. Lee has also used Atticus who has been portrayed as a guiding and supporting character. She has portrayed him to morals and courage to do the right thing. Atticus always treats Scout as a mature lady rather than a child, and has very well put the differences in her mind between right and wrong and given her power to deal with society.

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Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” is set in Maycomb, in the southern state of Alabama during 1933-35. This was the time of the Great Economic Depression. Racial prejudice was particularly strong in the Southern States though there had been an abolishment of slavery. Blacks were still considered as slaves to whites. The white people couldn’t go against the racist ideas, superstitions and the general state of injustice that they had been practicing for their whole lives. Racism was at its peak during the years of “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Rather than the abolishment of slavery causing harmony between whites and blacks it had worsened the divisions between them. Maycomb could be considered as the paramount example of a town containing much prejudice, discrimination and injustice.
The beginning itself, consists of a quote that portrays racism as being “against ones dictum” and “not for the glory of god”. This is done very subtly to leave the idea of negativity toward racism.

“Simon made a pile practicing medicine, but in this pursuit he was unhappy lest he be tempted into doing what he knew was not for the glory of God, as the putting on of gold and costly apparel. So Simon, having forgotten his teacher’s dictum on the possession of human chattels, bought three slaves and with their aid established a homestead on the banks of the Alabama River.”

This quote shows that the book starts off with negativity towards acts of racism. Racism is considered to be unholy and against the morals of people. This is the case even in the time of Simon Finch (Scouts grandfather). Even this is narrated by eight year old Scout she has a wholesome view of the society. By the end of the book we can perceive that Scout has had a change in perspective about society and whether she chooses to be racist or not.
The racism element is notoriously brought across by Lee. Lee merely indicates that race was an issue people faced in America at that time. It is introduced very slowly and subtlety. The book is written so that every once in a while the issue of race and the characters views on it are brought out. For example, on page 94 of the novel the main character, Atticus refers to racism as “Maycomb’s usual disease”. This comment reveals to the reader that Atticus is against racism. The scene and characters are just being introduced. From that one comment you are introduced to Atticus’s views on race and racism. He refers to it as a disease because it is very hard to get cured from being racist; he also wants to compare how racism spreads like a disease.
Another quote that indicates that Atticus is a very strong multidimensional character is located on page 35 of the book. “First of all, if you can learn a single 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” This quote is not only important because it shows the reader how Atticus understands everyone’s perspective and what they are going through, but also it shows how he is a guiding force for his daughter Scout and teaching her to be able to perceive the society in a better manner. He gives her a level of maturity in thought that not all the children of her age have.
Lee has shown this novel to be about human dignity and the right to be left alone to live as you please. It’s also the story of growing up and learning some very harsh truths about life. One of the “much needed lessons” in this book is about the acceptance and equality of everyone in a society, the acceptance of race and how to deal with racism. Harper Lee has been very successful in portraying this.
Harper Lee concentrates on bringing across these points and characteristics, and introduces and illustrates the townspeople’s personalities, history and attributes. The main plot of the novel is not brought out till the later parts of the novel, when the reader feels they know the characters. Harper Lee might have attempted to make the reader feel like they are part of Maycomb’s society. As mentioned, everyone in Maycomb knew each other, and the reader knows almost all the citizens (characters) of Maycomb, and begins to feel like he is part of the society. This would result in the reader becoming more involved and ‘wrapped up in the story’.
In the novel, the black community is portrayed very positively, as they are shown as reacting in an absolutely non-violent way to the racist abuse that they suffer, behaving passively and even still helping white people. In this way, they are portrayed as ‘heroes’. Despite some dispute over just how realistic this view was, this was undoubtedly Harper Lee’s intention as to what we are meant to think of the black community. The novel is about a white man defending a black man in court, something considered “wrong” at the time and something that would have made the lawyer a public enemy. It is narrated by a little girl and this gives the novel an interesting take on racism, as she does not understand why the black people are being ostracized.
Maycomb society has been presented as two split communities, attempting to join together, but failing. Every aspect of the book somehow comes down to the society of Maycomb. Also, class and family history is an important part of tradition to many of the people in Maycomb. When Aunt Alexandra comes to visit, she feels it her duty to put upon Scout the importance of her roots. Aunt Alexandra forces Atticus to explain to Scout that she is “not from run-of-the-mill people, but the product of several generations’ gentle breeding”. Aunt Alexandra feels that people are born into a certain class, and should, therefore, behave accordingly. If you are born into a high class, you will always be considered high class, and if you are born into a low class, there is no use to strive for anything higher. The result is that families are repeated in each generation with similar attitudes and character shadings. The objective is obviously to refine the classes and keep them pure. Aunt Alexandra and many other men and women in Maycomb praise the distinction of class. To them, having high blood is seen as sacred and there is no way to obtain it but by birth.
Harper Lee also presents Maycomb society as a place of gossip. As there was not much to do, in terms of amusements, people would talk and spread rumors about other Maycomb residents. Characters similar to Miss Rachel, the town gossip queen, appear to have nothing better to do than to live through the people that they talk about. The ladies in the Missionary Society would like others to consider that they care about them, but in reality, their meetings soon turn towards the most recent story going around town. This is one aspect that spreads prejudice throughout the society. Gossips and rumors change the point of view of people and this is not always in the good way as sometimes it turns people against one another and people become more prejudiced.
In the beginning parts of the book you read about how Calpurnia looks after Jem and Scout whilst their father Atticus is at work. You read about how Atticus is very busy during that summer. You do not realize why until later. As I have said the early parts of the book are spent introducing you to Maycomb and its inhabitants. You later discover that Atticus is defending a Negro in court, you soon realise he is willing to risk his reputation and friendship of many to get justice. Many in Maycomb think that Atticus is putting shame on the white community by defending a black man. They are totally against black people, and are willing to see an innocent black man suffer and die in his struggle for equality and justice. Despite the majority in Maycomb discriminating against the blacks there are a few people who can see that the colour of their skin doesn’t change anything. However, apart from Atticus, no one is willing to put their reputation and friendship with many white people on the line. The majority over power and pressure the minority of un-racist people into not speaking out for the black community. The anti-black movement seems to overpower and intimidate the people who want equality in their society; everyone apart from Atticus is prepared to make a stand. Atticus felt it is duty to protect and serve Tom Robinson; this is brought out in a conversation with Scout, on page 111.

“This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that foes to the essence of a man’s conscious- Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man”

This shows the reader that Atticus would feel tremendous guilt if he does not defend Tom Robinson. He would be going against his conscience if he were to not go with what he thought was the right thing to do, and it didn’t matter how much prejudice he would have faced for doing the right thing. He may be able to live with the comments and unfriendliness of the white people in Macomb but he would not be able to live with himself if he did not defend that man.
Scout goes on to say, “Well most folks seem to think that they’re right and you’re wrong”
Harper Lee uses this line to show that the majority of Maycomb’s population doesn’t think a white man should protect a black man. That line brings across and portrays as a racist society. When I say the majority I mean nearly all of Maycomb, even the school children are racist. This is because most, if not all are brought up in a racist household. Thus resulting in the children saying such things as “my ma says that your dads a nigger lover”
Although Harper Lee has also mentioned this comment because she wants to illustrate the relationship that Scout and Atticus have, where Scout being confused in her thought as she is a only a child when she has to show maturity and make a decision of not being prejudiced and Atticus having to channel her into doing and thinking what’s right.
Even the children in Maycomb are racist towards the black people. This is because they are brought up in a racist society and since the beginning itself racism is engraved within them so deep that it becomes extremely hard to follow ones conscience. Few are not, and even fewer are willing to speak out and do something about it (Dolphus Raymond for example). Many are not willing to risk everything to make the black people’s life a better one. It is an example of the majority over powering the minority, forcing many to deny their beliefs and support with the blacks, in order to be accepted a part of Maycomb’s society, Maycomb’s racist society, only Atticus in the beginning part who is willing to follow and carry out their beliefs and support for the black people. He will go against the racist society of Maycomb in search of justice and equality.
Although in his own family he has racist members. Aunt Alexandra is prejudiced towards Calpurnia, the housemaid of the Finch family, because she is a Negro. She believes that Calpurnia is a bad influence to young Scout and Jem, taking into no account that Calpurnia has been a mother figure to the children since their early childhood. When Aunt Alexandra holds her missionary tea party, the ladies talk about the black community:
“the only reason I keep her is because this depression’s on and she needs her and a quarter every week she can get it.” comments one of the ladies. She pities her piteous Negro maid: “I tell you there’s nothing more distracting than a sulky darky.”
Thus criticized Mrs. Merriweather, one of the ladies at Aunt Alexandra’s missionary tea party. The term “sulky darky” is used in a racist tone as they feel that the Negroes degrade them.
Here we can also see the social status brought into the picture. As illustrated if the ladies are racist or are presented in a manner where they show dominance over certain people they are considered to be well accepted in society and are given respect for doing so.
Mrs. Merriweather is racist, following stereotypes and tradition. The reason for her racism is that it is inbred. She has been brought up believing in a narrow-minded view and cannot, or will not, see the innocence of the Blacks. Mrs Merriweather will believe what she wants to believe, and refuses to take in others’ views. This is a substantial schism between the two races.
Certain incidents depict how racism affects the characters and brings conflicts in their perception of society. Such as when Mr. Cunningham and a few other resident of Maycomb come to kill Tom Robinson but Atticus doesn’t let them and they would harm Atticus as well.

“I was playing with a spoon. That was enough.”(1)

The theme racism is very prominent throughout the plot from the beginning to the end. Since this plot is depicted through the perspective of a child racism is presented in its starkest and most honest face. By doing this the author has been able to give a unique perspective to racism.
This incident is a very good example of racism because it shows that Scout has difficulty in understanding the changed nature of Mr. Cunningham. She always perceived that he was a man who had always been nice to the Finch family and he was in Atticus’s debt, not because he owed Atticus money, but because Atticus had been merciful to him and saved his dignity. She failed to comprehend the change in his character.
Mr. Cunningham was facing conflict in his persona. He couldn’t decide whether or not to flow with the tide or go against it and face discrimination himself. He chose the easier path for that night, not the right one but a simple human act of friendship and acceptance brought him back to his principles and he left with the mob. It only took an act of acceptance from a little girl. Thus Atticus brought to Scout’s notice that Mr. Cunningham was only a part of a mob that night not an individual logical thinker. Scout was the one who transformed him into thinking logically as an individual. A mob is not a human and thus cannot have the logic or understanding that an individual can. The mob of the white community abandoned its individuality to look down on the black community.
In the same way the black community is guilty for being discriminatory toward the white community.
This is well depicted in the incident where Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to the black church.
Blacks had always been regarded as lower class due to tradition and the fact that they were unimportant according to the whites; they were sold and bought as objects. The Whites’ attitude to the Blacks has put up a barrier between the two races. However the prejudice works both ways. The Black community also feels prejudice towards the Whites. This is experienced when Calpurnia takes the children, Scout and Jem, to her local church:
“You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here – they got their church, we got our’n.” rattles Lula, a Black lady part of the church community. Not only the Whites, but also the Blacks can reinforce the strong racial barrier, clearly shown by Lula. They both even have their own, separate, place of worship. Because the Whites have and are treating the Blacks in this unsatisfactory manner, the Blacks have built up hatred for the Whites. I feel that these two impressions lead to a self-reinforcing circle where either side believes the other race is completely different in attitude and behavior.
Another event that shows that the racial prejudice is so extreme is in the courthouse. The Negroes had to allow the Whites to enter the courthouse before them as if the Whites were royalty. And, in the courthouse, they have a different seating area, away from the Whites. This is a physical barrier that also reinforces the non-physical barriers, and causes the Whites and Blacks to be separate.
The case with Atticus defending Tom Robinson also shows the prejudice that is so prevalent in Maycomb at the time. Atticus’s argument had proven Mayella wrong and had the jury out for a long time. But despite the evidence shown and the logic, Tom Robinson was still sentenced guilty.

“I ain’t ever seen any jury decide in favour of a coloured man over a white man”

It went against the nation’s zeitgeist to have a Negro sentenced innocent over a White. During the 1930’s, the time in which ‘To Kill a Mocking-Bird’ is set, it was always the Whites that came first; Black Americans were automatically seen as the lowest of human beings. However, Dolphus Raymond is also considered as of a lower rank. He is a character in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ that is married to a coloured woman. Dolphus Raymond is a white man and has mixed race children with his wife. The whole of Maycomb does not accept his family:

“once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black.”

This is the reason why Whites, including Scout and Jem, do not accept his children, let alone his wife.

“They don’t belong anywhere. Coloured folks won’t have ’em because they’re half white; white folks won’t have ’em ’cause they’re coloured, so they’re just in-betweens, don’t belong anywhere.”

This shows how distinct the divisions are. You either have to be one or the other. Because the two races, Whites and Blacks, will not accept each other, they will not accept anyone if they have the smallest interest in the opposite race. This is one reason why nobody even fathoms about having interracial relations. It is such an unapproachable condition that even when someone wants to be unprejudiced they are forced not to fallow that path. And this is what gives strength to the racial barriers.
Racism was an open and obvious issue in Maycomb society; overall the white community hated Negroes, because they were not able to accept the cultural and traditional background the Negroes hailed from. The white community judged the black community by the skin color, not by the content of their character. ‘They did manage to go to schools; the standard of education was very limited, and above all they were treated with contempt by most of their white neighbors, frequently being referred as ‘niggers’ and ‘trash’. It was this lack of education, knowledge and qualification was what that suppressed the blacks from the whites, making the whites dominant and the blacks vulnerable. The blacks found it hard to get jobs because of their lack of education so they had to have menial jobs under the whites. The whites took advantage of their innocence.
Throughout the novel, the black community earns our respect in many ways. Their unfailing passive stance to the racism they faced in their everyday lives provides a great admiration for them, as not many people could take abuse such as “Come here, nigger, and bust up this chiffarobe for me, I gotta nickel for you.” Or “I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!” These cusses were the kind of language a black person there and in those times could expect when talking to a white person. They simply accepted this and did not complain. They were of course also driven to this civility by the knowledge that, should one of them put so much as a toe out of line, they would be taken to court and sentenced to death, or lynched on the spot.
This is where Lee shows the significance of language in the depiction of racism. The black people being referred to as ‘negro’ or ‘nigger’ in day to day dialect, was a part of the southern vernacular. This demonstrates how subtly racism was engraved within everyone’s subconscious, while the black people having to meekly tolerate this without refute.
As well as that, they even willingly helped white members of the community, for example, Tom Robinson helped Mayella Ewell daily without once refusing or even complaining. He didn’t mind being helpful in this way, even when he did not have to be. This was highly commendable because the character of Tom demonstrated that he reacted to the racism of the whites in a positive manner, by lending a friendly hand. He was just being nice; though the Ewell’s had done nothing to earn this good treatment, they had always been nasty and racist towards Tom and the rest of the black community.
Atticus, one of the main characters in the novel, can also be known as an outsider, or a loner of some sort. This is because he is going against the recognized way of life in Maycomb and everyone else. It was unjust to defend a Negro against a White; to say that a Negro is innocent and that a White is guilty. Not many people supported Atticus and his beliefs that everyone is equal. Many people referred to him as a ‘nigger lover’. We can say that he is an individual who is tolerant, kind, fair-minded, and courageous for defending a Negro: he isn’t biased. Even though he is a man of goodness it is not recognized by his sister, Aunt Alexandra, and her fellow friends:
“Mr. Finch, there ain’t nothin’ you can do now, so there ain’t no use tryin’.” comments one of the ladies, implying that there would be no point in even trying to prove the Negro wrong as the White race will be put in first position.
We have seen that these prejudices and divisions are very much due to tradition and stereotypes. The black community isn’t treated with respect because they were known as slaves and this novel portrays the unfairness between the two races. Reading ‘To Kill A Mocking-Bird’ may make one feel that there is a lot of prejudice and separation during the 1930’s. Even though the Blacks were thought to be unfriendly and inhuman, Harper Lee makes them out to be very warm and loving indeed. We see Calpurnia to be knowledgeable by the way she has brought up Atticus’s children, showing that she is loving; she has brought up the children in such a way that Scout recognises as a mother figure. She is definitely not a bad influence on them and does not show signs of racial discrimination, to the children or Atticus.
Harper Lee has also made us see that Tom Robinson is not guilty of the rape charge and that he too is innocent and also caring. It was highly unlikely at the time for the Blacks to pity the Whites as the Whites treated the Blacks so badly that they despised the Whites. However Tom Robinson did feel sorry for Mayella Ewell. Even though he was being accused of a crime that he didn’t commit and was deemed guilty, Tom Robinson felt sympathy for Mayella. Harper Lee has used this novel and the fact that there was prejudice to give out a positive effect. It has made us see that the Negroes aren’t what the Whites had thought they are. In fact we see a more caring and gentle side to the Black community.
In the trial, Tom Robinson had so much evidence pointing out that he was innocent but he was still charge guilty. Why? Because he was black, it was as simple as that. There was nothing that Atticus could have done. Even if there had been a mountain of evidence against Bob Ewell, Tom would still have been found guilty. In the world back then, in Maycomb county, people were racist and they didn’t think it was wrong because they didn’t know any better. You even see Scout slowly become one. She says things like, ‘He’s just a nigger.’. Racism isn’t even rebelled against in Maycomb by the blacks because they too, don’t know any better. They live their lives in appalling conditions but they don’t realise that as they have never lived any other way. Unfortunately, people took advantage of them not caring what happened to them because they were just ‘niggers’. Unfortunately, in some parts of the world today, things haven’t changed.
In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, there are a lot of racial inequalities, however the author has cleverly used this fact to give out a positive effect. The White race was thought to be at the top of the hierarchy and that they were superior in all cases. Theoretically this is true, however the Ewell family was portrayed to be no different to the Negroes. And as we read through this novel, we sense that each character holds the potential in a playing a part to break down these barriers. As stated, baby steps are the paths of having hope.
Throughout the story, people that are unlike the majority, get hurt. They are given obstacles that they have to overcome in order to survive. Some people in the world can survive these obstacles, and there are some that just give up. By fighting for your rights, people start to realize that character is the important attribute to a person. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee showed me that the people with differences are not always doing things the wrong way. It is the majority that may be going at it all wrong. She also encourages the theme “Appearances may not lead to reality” and gives some good examples for it.

Prejudice and Innocence in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Destructive Thought

Prejudice is simply a thought, yet has the ability to do more damage to a society and its citizens than any other force. The novel To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee follows the story of young Scout Finch and her growing understanding of the prejudice in the small southern town of Maycomb in which her brother Jem and her come of age. Lee’s use of symbols illustrates how societies prejudice has the ability to sabotage innocence, childhood, and friendship, and despite it being involuntary, prejudice destructs the lives of everyone who is exposed to the unjust reality it creates.

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Innocence is all some people have, yet prejudice is able to take this innocence away from them, destructing their lives. From the beginning, prejudice surrounds one of the most innocent figures in the novel, Boo Radley. With no knowledge of the truth about Boo, Scout describes him in detail by saying “he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, […] what teeth he had were yellow and rotten” (Lee, 16). Later, Lee uses the gifts that Boo leaves in the tree for Scout and Jem to symbolize the innocence of Boo and how Scout’s prejudice towards him is far from the truth. This prejudice built around Boo destroys his innocence by making people assume he has none, forcing Boo to live a lonely life. The Cunningham family is another symbol of innocence sabotaged by Maycomb’s prejudice. Despite their ability to see Tom Robinson’s innocence at the trial, Aunt Alexandra still deems that “you can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, […] but he’ll never be like Jem” (300). Aunt Alexandra, along with the rest of Maycomb, is incapable of putting aside prejudice and only judges the Cunninghams based off of their poorness. The Cunninghams are proven innocent by being able to put prejudice of Tom aside, but their innocence goes unnoticed due to the prejudice others have of them. Tom Robinson’s innocence also goes unnoticed due to prejudice. A symbol of Tom Robinson’s innocence is Tim Johnson, the rabid dog. Tim Johnson is labelled as a dangerous dog, yet is only “lookin’ for a place to die” (126), and is not causing any harm. This is similar to Tom Robinson because he is also falsely prejudiced in a dangerous manner. The unjust prejudice against Tim and Tom are both the destructive forces that kill them. The use of symbolism emphasizes how prejudice can take away innocence and alter innocent people’s lives.

The theme that prejudice causes is loss of childhood innocence which is seen as Scout, Jem and Dill slowly realize how much the prejudice of the town affects lower class citizens. This loss of childhood innocence is much like the symbol of killing a mockingbird, since innocence is destroyed in both cases. Scouts childhood innocence is lost when she realizes the unjust prejudice that many whites have of Tom Robinson. After the incident with the lynch mob outside of Tom’s jail cell, Scout declares that “the full meaning of the night’s events hit [her] and [she] began crying” (208). When the unjust prejudice against Tom Robinson struck Scout, a piece of her childhood innocence is lost, making her cry. Likewise, Jem loses childhood innocence when he sees cement in the Radley tree, where Boo would leave them gifts. After Jem sees the cement in the knot-hole, Scout claims that “[she] saw he had been crying” (84). Jem is more mature than Scout, allowing Boo’s kindness to make him realize that the prejudice of Boo is not true. This makes Jem sympathetic towards Boo because the tree symbolizes his connection to the world, which is now destroyed. Jem’s realization that Boo is wrongly prejudiced causes him to lose childhood innocence. On the other hand, Dill is the least mature and symbolizes childhood through his daintiness. When Dill cries at the trial, childhood innocence is lost not only within him, but the entire novel. After Mr. Gilmer’s cross-examination, Dill begins sobbing and has to step outside. Outside Scout and him talk to Mr. Link Deas and Dill takes a sip of his cola thinking it is alcohol. This sip proves Dill’s desperation to feel better after realizing the unjust prejudice in the courtroom. Dill’s childhood innocence is lost in this scene, symbolizing the loss of childhood innocence as a whole, and therefore the killing of a mockingbird. Childhood innocence within Scout, Jem and Dill is lost throughout the novel because of their realization of the effect of prejudice on other people.

Lee uses several symbols to emphasize how Boo symbolizes friendship and how societies unjust prejudice of him makes it a struggle to have friendship. Boo has little form of communication, yet is able to leave gifts in the knot-hole for Scout and Jem as an act of friendship. When Scout informs Jem that she ate the gum from the tree on the Radley lot, prejudice forms Jems response of “spit it out right now!” (45), since Jem is still naive and thinks anything on Boo’s property is poisoned. The gum symbolizes Boo’s attempt at friendship, and when shot down by Jem, one of his only possibilities of friendship is sabotaged because of prejudice. Later, Boo does another selfless act of friendship as he wraps a blanket around Scout when he sees she is cold. When Scout and Jem realize that Boo put the blanket on Scout, she feels sick. Lee uses the blanket to symbolize the warmth and goodness in Boo, and how he tries to give warmth to Scout. Scout and Jem are unable to acknowledge this due to the prejudice of Boo scaring them away, leaving Boo’s friendliness unnoticed. Only when Scout can form her own opinions and overrule prejudice, can she allow a friendship with Boo. After Boo heroically risks his life to save Scout and Jem, Scout reflects on all of the things Boo did for her and says that “[she] had given him nothing, and it made [her] sad” (373). This proves that Scout no longer fears Boo and can finally have a friendship with him since she has overruled prejudice. The friendship that Boo symbolizes struggles to exist due to prejudice and therefore creates a lonely life for Boo.

In conclusion, throughout the use of symbols, Lee argues the ability that prejudice has to sabotage many of the themes throughout the novel, and explains how  this involuntary assumption destructs the lives of everyone who is exposed to the unjust reality it creates. This is seen as prejudice sabotages peoples innocence, childhood, and friendships. This evidence lacking opinion that we call prejudice, is the most destructive thought.

Works Cited

Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird New york: Grand Central Publishing, 1982. Print.

Case Study of Rosa Lee Cunningham

Rosa Lee Cunningham is a Black American woman who has lived a pathetic life being a victim of extreme poverty, child abuse and deprivation of love and nurturance from her mother. The traumatic experiences in her life has led to her addiction to a lifestyle that further degrades her as a person instead of rising from her unfortunate situation.
From childhood, she has learned the harsh reality that black girls needed to be “trained” to care for the family and household while black boys are pampered. Rosa Lee underwent hard labor for the family under the watchful eye of her severely harsh mother, Rosetta.
Education was not given a priority in Rosa Lee’s growing years. Her mother would prefer that work and chores were done well and schooling was not as important, as she inculcated to Rosa Lee that she would never amount to something more than engaging in domestic work. Rosa Lee felt deprived of play in her childhood, as she needed to chop wood, carry heavy things, scrub a room spotless and cater to her family’s every need. As an adult, being overly clean with the house became her way of coping with stress.

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Rosa Lee craved for her mother’s approval. Her attempts to be close to her mother were often met with hostility. When she learned to shoplift nice things to offer her mother, she would be reprimanded, but later, as her mother would inspect the merchandize, would throw her arms around her with appreciation. Such acts of intimacy were short-lived, as Rosetta did not hesitate to inflict physical harm at Rosa Lee whenever she displeased her. On the other hand, her father, Earl Wright, an alcoholic had better regard for her and indulged her with whatever coins he can spare for her whenever he was drunk.
In school, Rosa Lee felt that her poverty was holding her back from becoming what she was destined to be. In her puberty, she noticed that other children had nice clothes while she wore rags. At this age, the need to belong and be noticed by other children becomes very strong. Her first shoplifting episode was borne out of this desire to be upgraded in terms of fashion. From then on, stealing became a way of life, and she became better and better at it until such time when she managed to subtly slip merchandize in her waiting bag or under her skirt.
Rosa Lee fared poorly in school, not realizing that she was a slow learner until she had the unfortunate episode of being thrown out of a class with a teacher she admired. With Mrs. Whitehead, she felt that she was learning, and enjoyed her teaching strategies. However, when she was caught in her class, she was instructed to join another class which Rosa Lee wanted to escape from in the first place. This prompted her to become truant in school. Since she never took school seriously after Mrs. Whitehead, she did not develop her literacy skills to the fullest. This lack of reading skills proved to be disadvantageous to her.
Her misdemeanors have brought her to troublesome situations, leading to an early pregnancy at age thirteen. She had to stop schooling to have her first born which her mother cared for. Soon after, she found herself pregnant again, and again and again, making her a mother of multiple children before she reached her twentieth birthday. Her promiscuous behavior is a desperate call for help to be released from her mother’s clutches. Once, she succeeded in having a man marry her only because he was threatened by Rosetta, but a few months later, Rosa Lee found herself back in her mother’s house as she had no other way to go because her husband beat her.
To feed her children, she had to resort to prostitution and selling illegal drugs. She always justified such ways of generating income as means of “survival” for her eight children. Her steady income came in the way of welfare checks which her mother had full control of.
Rosetta’s idea of child-rearing was to Rosa Lee, inappropriate. The noble cause of setting the children on the straight path (ex. that stealing is bad) is often implemented by violent acts. Such beatings or harsh cursing became a staple situation in Rosa Lee’s household. The traumatic events and painful feelings that come of it made Rosa Lee vow that she would never do harm to her own children.
Because Rosa Lee had no credible role model for morality, she set her own standards, which unfortunately were easily bent. She herself taught her children to steal clothes so they had something nice to wear or other things so they had something to sell to buy food. Later on, she would involve her children and grandchildren in the drug trade because policemen don’t usually go after young children. She never expected that they would get hurt in the process, but failed to consider that she was putting them at high risk.
When Rosa Lee eventually became a drug addict herself, it became so natural to her and her children to share the illegal drug use. Their joint drug sessions impressed upon the children her tolerance of such a habit, making it convenient for them to justify it and even depend on their mother to supply it or money to get it from their drug dealers. This series of substance abuse shared by Rosa Lee and her six children merited them jail sentences and even acquiring the HIV virus for Rosa Lee and her two children she shared needles with.
It is pathetic that Rosa Lee and her children do not learn from the consequences of engaging in their drug habit, since upon release from jail, they are soon at it again. Even the threat of the AIDS disease did not deter them from continued pursuit of the next high.
Waking up to a painful reality of poverty and hopelessness after the high has worn off, her children merely exist. They do not have the drive to go out and make something of themselves to live normal lives. Instead of being employed in a decent job, they would rather depend on Rosa Lee who pushes herself to do what she does best – selling drugs and shoplifting just so her children are fed, housed and even given money to get their drugs. For Rosa Lee, this is her way of showing love for them.
Prolonged use of dangerous drugs, and her high level of stress have resulted in some physical illnesses in Rosa Lee as manifested by seizures, memory lapses and stomach pain. To manage it, she has been receiving her daily dose of Methadone at the community clinic. However, at times, such symptoms become too much to bear and she ends up confined in the hospital.
This paper attempts to analyze Rosa Lee’s psychological profile and diagnose her psychological situation using a multiaxial evaluation from the data gathered from her life story by Leon Dash and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).
Axis I: Substance Abuse/ Dependence
Rosa Lee’s manifested symptoms may be diagnosed as Substance Abuse/Dependence. Under DSM-IV-TR (text revision of 2002). Following are the usual behaviors exhibited by substance abusers/ dependents:
Manifests one or more of the following behavior:

Failure to fulfill major obligations: Rosa Lee has been habitually tardy in settling her bills, resulting in cut-off of services. She is unable to manage her finances, as she misappropriates her budget to her and her children’s drug supply instead of food for everybody or payment of utilities.
Use when physically hazardous: In spite of the threat of her HIV virus turning into a full-blast AIDS disease, or simply when she knows that her physical condition makes drug use lethal for her, Rosa Lee continues to indulge in drugs.
Recurrent legal problems: Rosa Lee has been arrested several times for shoplifting or busted for selling or using drugs.
Recurrent social or interpersonal problems: Rosa Lee is unable to control her children’s addictive behavior. She continually supports their drug habit by handing them the money to buy drugs and then tries to save them whenever they get in trouble associated with their drug use. Personally, she is frustrated with how they treat her but she seems helpless as she keeps her feelings usually bottled up inside and occasionally pushed to the limit. Since she has vowed never to be like her abusive mother to her children, she instead indulges their whims even if it brings disastrous results for them.

“With SUBSTANCE ABUSE the user has a choice: he/she uses in spite of illegal, unsafe consequences, or inappropriateness of the drinking/drugging experience.” (DSM-IV-TR, 2002).

With Rosa Lee’s history of drug use, she continues to use drugs despite her awareness of its consequences to herself or her family.
Manifests three or more of the following behavior:

Tolerance: Rosa Lee tolerates the consequences that follow her drug use – pain, inability to function normally, even her children’s seemingly abusive behavior towards her.
Withdrawal: Rosa Lee’s body responses to drug use withdrawal are usually associated to how she takes medication to control the accumulated and related symptoms that the use of dangerous drugs have caused. Since her reading skills are inadequate, she is not accurate in following the dosage of the prescribed medication, causing her body to react with seizures, memory lapses, etc.
Large amounts over a long period: Rosa Lee’s intake of drugs/ illegal substances depends on its availability. The more drugs available for the taking, the more she can consume. This has gone on for most of her adult life.
Unsuccessful efforts to cut down: Despite her numerous attempts/ announcements to stop and reform her life by avoiding drugs, she would usually fall back into the drug habit.
Time spent in obtaining the substance replaces social, occupational or recreational activities: Rosa Lee’s numerous commitments have usually been missed due to her drug problem.

Continued use despite adverse consequences: Rosa Lee has gotten herself in dire circumstances because of her substance abuse/ dependency. Her repetitive confinements in the hospital, the threat of AIDS, the risk of being hurt by drug dealers may force her to stop using drugs, but when a stressful event comes to her life, or when her defenses are down, she would weakly give in to the temptation of taking drugs when it presents itself.
Axis II: Developmental Disorders/ Personality Disorders
From the data gathered, Rosa Lee seems to present a number of developmental disorders. From childhood, it was shown that she was a slow learner and her inadequate literacy skills has led her to troublesome consequences (e.g. misreading prescribed dosages of medication has caused her aggravated physical illnesses; her lack of understanding of simple systems such as billing or legal consequences has pushed her further in deeper problems).
Her poverty and feelings of deprivation has pushed Rosa Lee to impulsively steal from stores. Gaining approval from her family members due to the merchandise she has stolen has become the reward for this inappropriate behavior. Her usual excuse for it is “just trying to survive”, a rationalization she has passed on to her children and grandchildren.
Rosa Lee shows some obsessive-compulsive behaviors when she is stressed. She cleans her house in earnest to the point that it is spotless.
Axis III: Physical Conditions
Rosa Lee’s prolonged substance abuse/ dependency has caused her a lot of physical illnesses such as memory loss, body pains, seizures, general malaise and most of all, HIV from sharing needles when injecting dangerous substances to the body. Such illnesses has made Rosa Lee progressively weaker physically confining her to her bed whenever these attack.
Axis IV: Severity of Psychosocial Stressors
The prominence of her mother’s role in her life has greatly affected the formation of her character and personality. Rosa Lee was terribly afraid of her exploitative and cruel mother who forced her to do things against her will. She was physically and verbally abused. In spite of this, Rosa craved for her love and affection. When she already felt suffocated of her mother’s hold on her and her life, she found ways to get away from her such as getting pregnant and marrying early, which backfired and led her back to her mother.
Being a breadwinner of the family (both her own children and her mother and siblings) pushed Rosa Lee to work harder at acquiring income to support them all. In spite of this, she felt unappreciated and taken advantage of, but she passively accepted her fate.
Continuously supporting her children even in their adulthood was also a strong psychosocial stressor for Rosa Lee, as they were very much dependent on her that they even expect her to save them from the detrimental consequences such as bailing them out of jail, covering for their transgressions and taking their place to suffer the consequences of their own misdemeanors. Rosa Lee’s idea of maternal love is just to give and to give, as her selfish and inconsiderate children continually take and take, giving their mother nothing in return.
The environment where she lives in is another source of stress for Rosa Lee, as it eggs on her continuous engagement in the drug trade. If she or any of her children is guilty of crossing anyone, the threat of harm becomes prevalent.
Axis V: Highest Level of Functioning
Upon the thorough and keen reporting of Leon Dash, Rosa Lee has been portrayed as a street-smart woman who is truly a survivor in the context of her personal situation. She knows how to manipulate the sentiments of judges or other people who easily fall for her deceptive demeanor. She manages to acquire the necessary income for her family to survive in dire circumstances. When things are carefully explained to her and made sure that she understood the consequences of her behavior, Rosa Lee does the necessary action to normalize her life and become drug-free for a certain period of time. Her weak will may be made stronger with careful scaffolding of reminders and even threats to her safety. She also needs to be prodded to assert herself when it comes to her children who control her emotionally by pushing the right buttons.
Proposed Treatment Plan
In coming up with an appropriate treatment plan for Rosa Lee, many factors are to be considered. Like in most cases, treatment needs to combine psychological therapy with the treatment of the physical addiction.
Before any treatment plan is attempted, Rosa Lee’s intrinsic desire to be reformed must be expressed. The decision to be healed of her addiction should help her commit to being cooperative with the concrete vision that she will indeed be free from the bondage of the addiction.
To cleanse her body of the chemicals she has ingested, Rosa Lee needs to go through medical detoxification. “While detoxification alone is rarely sufficient to help addicts achieve long-term abstinence, for some individuals it is a strongly indicated precursor to effective drug addiction treatment.” (National Institute on Drug Abuse, n.d.). As it is, Rosa Lee has been taking her doses of Methadone, a drug that helps her in stabilizing her life and reducing her illicit drug use. Her treatment plan must likewise include treatment and management of her HIV positive state to prevent it from becoming a full-blast AIDS disease. Priority should be helping Rosa Lee regain her physical vigor and feisty spirit.
Since her immediate environment is one factor that encourages her addiction, she must be moved to a less threatening environment that promotes well-being. Being in a stress-free environment greatly helps in achieving peace. A conducive environment also facilitates deep introspection and coming up with an action plan to pursue a drug-free and positive lifestyle after the treatment process.
The most important element in the treatment plan is Rosa Lee’s psychological therapy. Managing the effects of her trauma from childhood entails getting to the root of it. Therapy must include her revisiting of the past and steps to achieve closure from the psychological pain inflicted by her overpowering mother and the prejudicial socio-cultural environment that exploited her dignity as a person.
Family therapy is essential in the healing of Rosa Lee’s affliction. Since the dysfunctional members are likewise culprits in encouraging Rosa Lee’s addiction, they themselves must undergo psychological therapy not only for her but also for their own good. In doing so, an empowered sense of self and responsibility is hoped to be developed.
Psychotherapy will help in treating Rosa Lee’s emotional wounds. The need to understand why things turned out the way they are should be met so the individual is equipped to resolve the situation and move on. One example is for Rosa Lee to understand the dynamics she shared with her mother and how she should manage the strong feelings her painful relationship still brings about. Being able to manage it will help her in dealing with stressful situations associated with her mother.
Rosa Lee’s strengths should be used in the treatment plan. Among these are her deep love for her family and her creative and critical thinking abilities. In helping her understand how her dysfunctional behavior puts her children and grandchildren at risk may help her shift her paradigm on love. Encouraging her to be strong in denying her children the whims which may bring them harm by using “tough love” may be effective in likewise strengthening her character. She may find it very difficult at first considering giving in to all her children’s whims has been her parenting style for a long time and her way of showing love for them, but eventually, as she reaps the fruits of her sacrifice, she will eventually be accustomed to it.
Her creative and critical thinking skills may be called upon whenever she feels tempted to relapse into her addiction after treatment. She may find ways and means to avoid anything that would trigger her urges to take illicit drugs like old co-drug dependent friends, drug dealers, or even places she associates with her former life in the drug trade.
In the book, there were frequent references to the power of religion over her. This may mean that Rosa Lee finds it important. Being exposed to the teachings of her chosen religion may help her acquire proper understanding of moral values. It would be ideal if religion and spirituality would be her substitute for the ultimate “high” she is perennially in search of.
Even at a late age, she may still be given tutorial sessions on developing literacy skills. Not only will she learn to read and write, but her confidence and self-esteem will be improved, giving her hope for a better future. Vocational rehabilitation such as engaging in arts and crafts, gardening, cooking, etc. will not only keep her mind off her addiction but also equip her with more skills. Such skills will help her find appropriate, decent and gainful employment to start her off in her reformed life.
Rosa Lee is also recommended to get into assertiveness training to enable her to non-defensively express her emotions. This will help her not to be easily taken advantage of people, especially her family members who are always out to get a cut of her welfare checks. She will likewise be empowered to think of herself positively, and even contest the societal norms and beliefs she grew up on, which were partly responsible in lowering her self-esteem.
An effective treatment plan attempts to administer to her medical, psychological, vocational, social, and even legal needs. Rosa Lee had left a lot of pending legal cases, and these need to be resolved or if need be, she should be amenable to face the verdict responsibly.
As Rosa Lee gets better in her treatment plan, consistent monitoring of her progress must be assessed continually and modified as necessary to ensure that the plan meets her changing needs.

“Recovery from drug addiction can be a long-term process and frequently requires multiple episodes of treatment. As with other chronic illnesses, relapses to drug use can occur during or after successful treatment episodes. Addicted individuals may require prolonged treatment and multiple episodes of treatment to achieve long-term abstinence and fully restored functioning. Participation in self-help support programs during and following treatment often is helpful in maintaining abstinence.” (National Institute on Drug Abuse).

The complications in Rosa Lee’s life have contributed to the state she is currently in. Like a pack of a wrongly- knitted ball of yarn, her treatment plan should carefully release the knots to unravel the strands so a more accurate weave may be started and completed before she finally expires.
No matter how unfortunate one lives his life, there is always hope for change. In Rosa Lee’s case, if she is determined to turn her life around, no one can stop her from achieving the happiness and fulfillment a “clean” life and amend her ways and teachings she has previously imparted to her children and grandchildren. She will continue to carry the burden of being responsible for her family being the matriarch, but change needs to begin with her. Hopefully, positive change will rub off on her children and grandchildren. Only then could a trans-generational woundedness begin to heal, as she may be the first real credible role-model they can ever have.

Analysis Edward Lee Thorndike’s Behaviour Experiments

Prior to Edward Lee Thorndike’s landmark “experimental analysis of behaviour” in 1898, the study of the psychology of learning lacked a clear, defined research methodology. Research findings were very much subjective, lacking the quantitative evidence that would give them scientific credence and avoiding impreciseness and ambiguities in their interpretation. People were asked to “look inside their minds and describe what they were thinking.” (Ormrod, 2008). This method was called introspection, which by its very nature, is devoid of objectiveness.

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Thus emerged Thorndike’s groundbreaking “puzzle box” experiments with cats, dogs, and chicks, culminating in his doctoral dissertation on animal intelligence in 1898. Through his experiments, the study of learning took on a more objective approach, where the emphasis was on the observables rather than the non-observables. The basis of his experiments was that “behaviour” is an observable phenomenon and thus is measurable. It led to the birth of the behaviourist movement where research looked primarily at behaviour rather than cognition, given that mental processes (like insight or introspection) cannot be objectively measured with any level of reliability.
Thorndike’s Experiments
To circumvent the subjective nature of research then, Thorndike developed some experiments on the “learning” phenomenon whose results were beyond subjective interpretations. The idea behind them was to observe the behaviour of a hungry animal trapped in puzzle boxes in its attempt to escape. He conducted the experiments using three animals, viz. cats, dogs, and chicks. Food, functioning as the “temptation” factor (stimulus), was placed outside the box in full view of the animal.
He started with a cat. For it to escape, the cat had to manipulate a device that would open the door in order to get at the food. There were altogether 15 of these boxes, each with different escape mechanisms, ranging from a wire loop, lever, and a treadle which had to be depressed for it to escape. The variety of mechanisms was (presumably) to observe any consistency in behavioural mode despite the variables presented by the escape devices.
In its attempts to escape, Thorndike closely observed the cat initiating numerous, apparently random movements, seemingly driven by impulse rather than reasoning. Through the cat’s struggles, it would eventually trigger the release mechanism. This was achieved more by chance through “trial and error” rather than by any reasoned action of the cat.
The cat was repeatedly put into the box. Thorndike observed that what was initially random and chaotic behaviour became relatively more orderly and efficient. In other words, he noticed gross changes in behaviour when the same set situation was repeated. In addition, he recorded the time it took for the cat to escape from its confinement. He then plotted a “time-curve” graph which enabled him to not only analyse the animal’s speed of learning, but also the rate of learning.
Thorndike repeated the same puzzle box experiment with dogs and chicks, with minor practical adjustments to the procedure. Again, time-curves were plotted and compared to those exhibited by the cats.
However, in some experiments, Thorndike varied the escape mode. Instead of the animal physically manipulating a release device, he would, for example, remove a chick from a box whenever it preened its feathers; or he would open the door when a cat licked or scratched itself. He observed that the chick started preening itself when it was re-placed into the box, indicating the animal’s instinctive desire to be let out of the box. Time curves were plotted and compared to the curves obtained by the escape device mode.
There were also certain other variations in the way the experiments were conducted. One such variation was placing the same cat that was used in a particular box into another differently designed box. He then observed how the cat reacted to the changed environment. In another variation, Thorndike allowed the animal to observe another member of its species in its attempt to escape. He wanted to find out if animals could learn by imitation.
Summary of Main Findings
The overarching finding of Thorndike’s experiments was that there are responses (explicit behavioural changes) when there is a stimulus (food). In that sense, there is a stimulus-response (S-R) connection in how animals “learn”. How well the animals learnt is determined by the experience it gained from the same experiment conducted repeatedly. In effect, this perspective of learning (connectionism) emphasized the role of experience in the strengthening and weakening of the S-R connections. In general, it could be said that the essence of intellectual development depends on how strong this S-R connection is.
The main findings from Thorndike’s experiments in animal intelligence would form the basis for his formulation of theories related to learning. They led to further research into the more complex intellectual abilities of humans, eventually leading to the development of modern era comparative psychology.
Findings from the Experiments
The main findings from Thorndike’s puzzle box experiments can be summarized below:
Gross changes in behaviour
When presented with a stimulus (S), the animal displayed an overt response (R), i.e. food (the stimulus) elicited a reaction in a hungry animal. In other words, Thorndike noted explicitly observable behavioural changes when an S-R setting is presented to the animal. The “gross changes” described by Thorndike manifested itself by the animal’s impulsive actions in what he described as trial-and-error learning in order to escape from the box.
Learning is gradual
Time curves were plotted in all of Thorndike’s experiments involving cats, dogs and chicks. The curves were a measurement of the time required for the animal to escape over repeated number of trials ranging from 24 to 117. The graphs allowed Thorndike to not only obtain the escape times, but also the rate of learning, which was represented by the slope of the curves.
The time curves presented by all the animals showed remarkably similar patterns of behaviour. Analyses of the curves proved that learning took place gradually, i.e. in incremental steps rather than huge jumps. This was seen in the gradual reduction of escape times over the total number of trials. In one of the experiments, for instance, escape times for a cat varied from a high of 160 seconds to a low of 6 seconds over 24 trials, indicating that it had been steadily more efficient in its attempts to escape. Thorndike alluded to this when he described its initially random, chaotic demeanour gradually becoming more orderly and deliberate. It also proved that in some innate way, the animal had “learnt” from past experience.
Effective behaviour diminishes ineffective behaviour
By analysing the time curves, Thorndike concluded that effective behaviour, i.e. actions that could lead to a satisfactory end, persisted. Conversely, ineffective behaviour diminished. In effect, there was a “stamping in” of some behaviours and a ‘stamping out” of others (Ormrod, 2008). This phenomenon was demonstrated in the way the animals became more efficiently adept in their escape attempts as proven by the quicker escape times. For example, in the experiment with a chick, the initial escape attempt was arbitrary and disorderly. But after many repetitions, the chick “learnt” to escape quickly with little of the initial chaos. As Chance (1999) puts it: “Eventually … the bird performed the act required for escape as soon as it was placed in the enclosure.” In short, ineffective behaviour petered out. It could also be said that generally, other than through experiential learning, positive learning generates further positive learning.
Generalization of behaviour
Thorndike also found that an animal that had learnt to escape via a particular means, e.g. by clawing, tended to employ the same means when placed in a different box with a different escape device. It could be inferred that animals generalize when first put in circumstances different than what they are familiar with, with their immediate prior experience influencing how they subsequently behave. It is only after they have adapted to the new environment that they adopt a new learning approach.
Discriminatory behaviour
Another aspect of learning that Thorndike noted from his experiments was that an animal is capable of being discriminatory. This was evident, in one of his experiments, when (i) he made a statement to feed it and indeed fed it, and (ii) he made a statement to feed it, but he did NOT feed it. There far fewer errors in situation (i) than there were in (ii). This illustrated yet another perspective about the learning process that Thorndike delved into.
Learning by observation
Thorndike asserted that animals, at least other than primates, do not learn by imitation, even after observing the successful behaviour of other members of their species. He effectively concluded that imitation could be discounted as an aspect of an animal’s successful behaviour.
Theories propounded by Thorndike
Thorndike’s experiments on animal intelligence resulted in the formation of a body of theories related to the learning process and laid the scientific foundation for educational psychology. These learning theories were bound together by the theory of connectionism. The principal credo of Thorndike’s connectionism is that “learning is the result of associations forming between stimuli (S) and responses (R)” (http://tip.psychology.org/thorn.html).
Connectionism debunked the dominant view held by psychologists before Thorndike that animals learnt by the association of ideas, i.e. they could logically relate events and reason out solutions to a problem. Rather, through his experiments, Thorndike established that animals are equipped with “action impulses”. It was these impulses, responding to the stimulus (S), that activated the trial-and-error behaviour of the animals trapped in the puzzle boxes. Their eventual successful escape was the result of the gradual learning they experienced arising from actually performing the act. It derived from an innate understanding that the correct actions (affirmative response) produce the desired effect (getting to the food). In short, Thorndike believed that learning requires no ideas in the head of the animal; only the performance of the act itself was essential for a satisfactory consequence.
The learning theories propounded by Thorndike, being subsets of connectionism, can be summarised as follows:
The Law of Effect
“Responses to a situation that are followed by satisfaction are strengthened; responses that are followed by discomfort are weakened” (Ormrod, 2008).
This theory basically emphasizes the role of responsive actions and their consequences. In the act of responding, the impulse that produced the successful act would be “stamped in” (strengthened), whilst all other non-successful impulses would be “stamped out” (weakened). Eventually the “stamping in” would become habitual responses to that same situation.
In the puzzle box experiments, the S-R connection was established because the response resulted in a satisfying consequence (escape from box). This response was strengthened, as seen when the animal reduced its vain actions (e.g. clawing and scurrying aimlessly) in the repeated experiments, as shown by the much faster escape times.
Applied to human learning, this law implies that positive stimuli breed correspondingly positive responses. In practical terms, in schools or any learning institution, students should be provided with an environment that is conducive to learning. Libraries, for example, in general provide this conduciveness. As Ormrod (2008) puts it: “Students should experience academic tasks in contexts that elicit pleasant emotions … rather than in contexts that elicit anxiety, disappointment, or anger.” This statement is consistent with the premise of Thorndike’s Law of Effect that satisfactory consequences strengthen the response.
The Law of Readiness

“A series of responses can be chained together to satisfy some goal which will result in annoyance if blocked.” (http://tip.psychology.org/thorn.html)

This theory arose in an experiment where a chick had to execute a sequence of actions to trigger a series of release devices for it to escape confinement. This sequence of acts is today known as “a response chain”.
Extending the aspect of “satisfying some goal” to humans, it could be surmised that optimal learning takes place only when someone is ready to act; in so doing, the consequences are satisfying. On the other hand, forcing someone to act when he is not ready will be annoying. “Forcing” can be interpreted as interfering in someone’s goal-directed behaviour. Interference that leads to unwilling behaviour causes frustration.
An analogy could be made of a child who is force-fed to eat vegetables. He may grow up to hate eating vegetables if it is forced upon him. However, if he himself is ready to eat them, the act will more likely lead to satisfaction. In the long run, vegetables are a must in his meals; not having them may lead to annoyance.
On a broader perspective, the level of readiness could be linked to a major factor in the efficacy of learning, viz. motivation. At its basic level, motivation is “some kind of internal drive which pushes someone to do things in order to achieve something.” (Harmer, 2007). When a person is sufficiently motivated to learn, the aforesaid “internal drive” should ready him/her to learn. In the context of the classroom, a conducive learning environment (S) can also motivate (R) students (the S-R connection in the Law of Effect). Hence it can be said that the stimulus (S) breeds a response (R) (of readiness to learn); in turn the response (R) breeds another positive response (motivation). Here, there is a chain of positive responses in the learning process.
The Law of Exercise

“Stimulus-response associations are strengthened through repetition.” (Wikipedia, 2009)

There are two sub-laws arising from the theory:-

The Law of Use: “The S-R connections are strengthened as they are used.”
The Law of Disuse: “The S-R connections are weakened as they are not used.”

In effect, this theory stresses the importance of repetition in the learning process. This was how the animals strengthened the S-R response progressively in Thorndike’s experiments, resulting in the faster escape times evident in the time-curves. The “exercise” in the law refers to practice, as in the commonly-held adage “Practice makes perfect”. This is especially true, not only cognitively, but also in skills where psychomotor and kinaesthetic abilities are critical to the learning. For instance, the more successful golfers are more likely to be the ones who hone their skills through longer periods of repetitive drills, all other factors being equal. Motor mechanics achieve a higher level of competency through constant and repetitive work.
The importance of repetitive practice in learning cannot be overemphasized. A student can achieve a greater mathematical proficiency through tireless repetitive practice. In language learning, repetition has always played a part … to provoke the structuring and re-structuring of ‘noticed’ language (Harmer, 2007). Hence teachers in language classrooms put their students through choral drilling for them to internalise not only grammatical structures, but also the sentence intonation.
The three laws of learning above are interestingly linked to each other. Connections are strengthened because S-R pairings occur many times (Law of exercise) and then rewarded (Law of effect) as well as forming a single sequence of actions (Law of readiness). Re-stating the link in another way, it can be said that in learning, motivation (readiness) is driven by incentives (effect). Both motivation and incentives can drive the learner towards practice (exercise) until ultimate success is achieved.
Thorndike’s perspective of animal learning
The MacMillan English Dictionary (2002) defines “reasoning” as: “the process of thinking about something in an intelligent and sensible way in order to make a decision”. The Concise Oxford English (2002) dictionary defines “thinking” as: “using thought or rational judgement; intelligent”. But are both these definitions applicable universally, i.e. applicable to humans and animals?
In a general sense, it may appear so. After all a process of ‘thinking’, in whatever way, has to take place before an animal acts. But does an animal “think” by using rational judgement? On the premise that animals do not rationalise, it follows then that animals do not “think”, at least not in the way that we humans do. Barrow and Woods (2006) declared that rationality is inextricably tied up with the notion of thinking. So it begs the question: How do animals ‘think’? Given that thinking is needed for learning, how do animals learn?
Thorndike, in his doctoral dissertation, asserted that “animal learning has nothing to do with reasoning or the association of ideas”. Rather, he declared that “it (learning) occurs as a result of ‘trial and accidental success’.” He concluded this based on his puzzle box experiments where success (of escape) was due to the animal’s trial-and-error actions rather than a reasoned, logical, i.e. “thinking”, approach to the problem. According to Thorndike, the outwardly random, chaotic behaviour of the animal was due to the activation of its innate “action impulses” responding to the stimulus. There was no evident “association of ideas” in the solution. In layman’s terms, animals do not “put two and two together” (as humans do) in a rational, logical way when they act, i.e. there is no reasoning. If animals could reason, then learning should be abrupt, NOT gradual as proven in Thorndike’s time curves.
What Thorndike offered, on the other hand, was that instead of the “association of ideas”, animals learnt through the “association of sensations”. This perspective was diametrically opposed to the views subscribed by comparative psychologists before him. They had contended that animals had cognitive insight, they being able to establish ideas and employ reasoning in their actions. Thorndike’s experiments effectively debunked that long held contention. He said that “there was no solid evidence that animals grasped ideas or learned through reasoning” (Chance, 1999).
In summary, Thorndike put forth four arguments in support of his beliefs. These arguments were empirically backed by the main findings of his puzzle box experiments. Chance (1999) expressed them thus:

The behaviour of animals … is impulsive and apparently random, not systematic and logical. As enunciated above (and in other sections), when presented with a stimulus, the response of a trapped animal is chaotic; it follows that there is no contemplation or thoughtfulness, therefore no insight. “Impulse” rather than “thought” drives its actions.
The change in an animal’s behaviour is gradual, not abrupt. This assertion was validated by the time curves. The curves established that animals learn in incremental steps, not in sudden surges. This implies that there is an “absence of reasoning” (Chance, 1999).
The animals show no sign of understanding between action and consequence even after they have learnt to escape from the box. This arose from an experiment when a cat, which had escaped by pulling a loop, would repeat the same action, even when the loop was absent in the repeated trials. It shows that the cat’s response had been strengthened due to earlier successes (The Law of effect). It again confirms Thorndike’s view that animal learning does not involve reasoning.
Animals learnt only if they performed the necessary act themselves. As described in 3.2.6 – Learning by observation, animals do not learn by observing and imitating models. Neither would they learn if they are prompted to perform the act, as Thorndike discovered when he repeatedly assisted the cat to pull the release device. When left on its own, the cat could not associate the loop as a means of escape. This indicates that, unless the animal acted on its own volition, learning would not take place (the Law of readiness). It stands that animals cannot reason their way through a problem.

It has been over 100 years now since Thorndike’s pioneering work in the study and psychology of learning, resulting in a learning perspective referred to as connectionism, emphasizing on behaviour as opposed to cognition. It laid the foundation for latter day psychologists to conduct a more objective, scientific research into the process of human and animal learning.
Thorndike’s puzzle box experiments primarily focussed on the S-R relationship that provided the catalytic impetus to learning. It led to the development of Thorndike’s theories, which expounds how learning takes place. Through his experiments, Thorndike also disproved the views held by other psychologists that animals possess “insight” in their learning process. All in all, Thorndike’s research provided a fresh perspective of the learning process which led to further research by others. In a way, this scenario is an instance of the S-R environment.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Harper Lee’s only novel to date is To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960 but set in the 1930s in America’s deep-south. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize and was quickly made into a successful film starring Gregory Peck. The popularity that the novel immediately attracted endures to modern times.
The semi-autobiographical story concerns the trial of an innocent black man, Tom Robinson for the rape of a white woman, Mayella Ewell and around this central drama the novelist has woven a tale which reveals the appalling nature of prejudice in many forms, not just that of colour, as her ‘mocking birds’ which must not be harmed because they do none, suffer from the cruelty and ignorance of those around them.

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The story is told through the eyes of the child narrator, Scout, who lives, along with her brother, Jem, with their father, Atticus, the town lawyer and destined to represent the ill-fated Tom Robinson, and their cook/housekeeper and friend, Calpurnia. In his attitude to Calpurnia, as to much in his life, Atticus challenges the contemporary view because though Calpurnia is black, she is treated as a member of the family, much to the annoyance of his sister, Alexandra. Atticus is in fact the means by which Lee examines much that is wrong with Maycomb society, from his lack of prejudice, to his defence of Mrs. Dubose and Boo Radley and his skilful means of challenging the education system which denies Scout the freedom to read by simply ignoring it. The motto by which he lives is that, ‘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’ and this he passes on to his children. However, Lee is keen to avoid making Atticus appear patently and self-consciously heroic, as in the mad-dog incident and, indeed, his defence of Tom Robinson, he only acts ‘heroically’ when he is compelled to do so.
Lee treats the reader to a succession of humorous, sympathetic and engaging characters as the story develops, none more so than the pivotal and mysterious Boo Radley and the quaintly eccentric Dill (the latter is thought to have been based on the author Truman Capote, with whom Lee grew up). Boo is in a sense both the greatest victim and the ultimate hero in the book and in many ways Dill is the ‘comic-relief’ as well as being the representative of what we would now call a dysfunctional family as much as is Boo.
By using the device of the child narrator, Lee invites both advantages and disadvantages. She gains the innocence and naivety of Scout together with her ingenuous curiosity and her ability to diffuse tense situations by her inherent innocence but she also has the commensurate disadvantage of having to get round the problems that necessarily attach to a child being the principal means by which a trial for rape is discussed. Lee solves this in the main by having Scout overhear conversations which she does not fully understand but which the reader, of course, does. This dual narrative relationship with the reader is one of the reasons why Lee’s narrative technique has been so highly praised.
However, the main reason why the novel has achieved such a seminal place in the development of the American novel is that it was published at a time when racial tension was at its height in America and being challenged as never before by the Civil Rights Movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. Thus, by showing the injustices which black Americans continued to suffer via a narrative set nearly thirty years before, Lee addresses a contemporary problem by means of the historical resonance with which the book is permeated. Emblematic of this is the trial of Tom Robinson which had a contemporary connective in a similar trial in the 1930s. Tom, one of Lee’s principal ‘mocking birds’, is manifestly innocent and proven to be physically incapable of having committed the crime by Atticus: ‘Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand’, he declares and the reader shares his lack of comprehension, making prejudice manifestly against reason.  The fact that this does not and cannot save Tom in an atmosphere which seethes with racial hatred adds to the imperative of the narrative;
In the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.
However, Lee is even-handed in her depiction of racial tension, since when Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to the church where the black residents of Maycomb worship, they are not universally welcomed and certainly Tom is not the only victim of prejudice in the story. Boo Radley, imprisoned by his well-meaning but misguided father after a teenage misdemeanour, has become the subject of much gossip and conjecture. Indeed, the children, Scout, Jem and Dill, make him the subject of their daily dramatics, supplanting the ‘Dracula’ stories with which they have become bored. Atticus stops this as soon as it starts and the irony is that a friendship blossoms secretly between Boo and the children, of which the culmination is Boo’s saving the lives of Scout and Jem when they are attacked by the vicious Bob Ewell. Scout reiterates the idea, slightly altered, that Atticus uttered early in the novel, that ‘you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them’ and by now the reader fully understands the meaning of those words, just as the child does.
In conclusion, perhaps it is true to say that the enduring achievement of Harper Lee’s novel is to portray racial hatred and a multiplicity of tensions motivated by misapprehension and prejudice via the microcosm of small-town America which is Maycomb. Indeed, perhaps readers continue to respond to To Kill a Mockingbord precisely because of the prejudices which sadly remain.

Jerilyn Fisher and Ellen S.Silber, Women in Literature: Reading through the Lens of Gender, (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 2003).
Wayne Flynt, Poor but Proud: Alabama’s Poor Whites, (University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, AL, 1989).
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockinbird, (Arrow, London, 1989).
Claudia Durst Johnson, Understanding to Kill a Mockingbird: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historic Documents, (Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, 1994).
Annie Kasper, ‘General Semantics in to Kill a Mockingbird’, ETC.: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 63, 2006.
Dean Shackelford, ‘The Female Voice in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’: Narrative Strategies in Film and Novel’, The Mississippi Quarterly, Vol. 50, 1996.
Renee Swanson, ‘The Living Dead: What the Dickens Are College Students Reading?’, Policy Review, No. 67, 1994.