Jason FanMr. ZenJunior English16 February 2017Individuals and Society in To Kill a Mockingbird The controversy around individual ideals against societal ideals has been the premise for nearly all political debate in the past three centuries. From John Locke and Thomas Paine to our current President Donald Trump, politicians have been obsessed over whether a person’s liberties should be favored over the needs of the community. This dispute has sprouted on countless occasions throughout American history: subordination or revolution, imperialism or isolation, integration or segregation. This incongruity has also inadvertently appeared in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Through the narration and juxtaposition of key scenes, Lee argues that the ideals of the individual and the ideals of society should be, but rarely are, the same. The scenes in the book concerning this topic are the Bob Ewell v. Tom Robinson court case and the killing of Bob Ewell later in the book. They both are near the end of the book, thus serving as the climax of interpersonal conflicts as well as a turning point of individual beliefs. Firstly, the courtroom scene has a black man named Tom Robinson accused of raping Bob Ewell’s daughter, a white Anglo-Saxon. Atticus, the narrator’s father and Tom Robinson’s lawyer, blatantly disproves the plaintiff’s claim. However, the jury still accuses Tom Robinson of the crime, showing the extent that prejudices can sway people’s judgement, even in the “impartial” environment of a courtroom. In order to fully appreciate the significance of this moment however, an analysis of preceding and succeeding events is needed.The theme of man against society is first introduced early in the book when Atticus is talking to the Scout, the narrator, on the sensitive topic of race. When Atticus says that the Tom Robinson case goes directly to the “essence of man’s conscience,” Scout argues that he is wrong because “most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong” (139). Scout, as a child, feels that the opinion of the majority is right, likely due to influence from school. On the other hand, Atticus does not need the community’s opinion because he believes his personal conscience is a better guide to follow. Atticus is much older than Scout, and therefore sees the distorted justice that defined early 20th century America. The reality he is able to see, along with being very open minded on the topic of race, allows Atticus to act justly on this issue despite not being in the liking of his peers. From this conversation, the audience gets their first taste of what the Maycomb community believes in, and how it may very easily clash with the values that Atticus holds dear. After being antagonized by his peers, and lasting through a heated courtroom battle, Atticus gives his final testimony. He calls upon the innate good nature of the jury to rule Tom Robinson not guilty.”I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality. Gentlemen, a court is no better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.” (274) This is Atticus’ final stand against the nefarious bigotry white men and women have against other races. After delivering all the evidence he has, disproving all the claims by the plaintiff, Atticus still believes that what he has done isn’t enough. At the end of the speech, Atticus walks off feeling distraught and hopeless. Despite sparking debate among the jury and even among the public who are watching the trial, Atticus knows he will lose. As a lone individual, he is powerless against social norms. Through this powerful speech, Lee shows the influential power of prejudices, especially ones that are so deeply ingrained into a community. More importantly though, Lee shows us that the beliefs of a person are constantly at odds with those of the community. Regardless of who is right, dispute breaks out, and people are hurt.Later on, Jem questions Atticus on the outcome of the trial. When asked why Tom Robinson was convicted on insufficient evidence, Atticus says “the one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom… but when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life” (295). Atticus acknowledges the controversy of race among the white community, and succumbs to the “fact” that these prejudices corrupt even the pure realm of law. Atticus, being the father figure of the book, is usually the character offering hope and advocating change, but here he is beaten. Harper Lee shows how the flaws in societal beliefs are harmful and unjust to many people, this case being African Americans. Here, she also illustrates how a person’s beliefs are minute when compared to the ideals of the majority. However, just as Atticus is left in dismay and concerned about the nature of society, Harper Lee calls for change among the ruling class. The courtroom scene, and the events preceding and succeeding it, show the impotence of a single person when faced against society. In this case the ideals of the individual are not aligned with those of society and therefore have unfavorable consequences. But however disconcerting this event is, there is yet another scene later in To Kill a Mockingbird that further shows the incongruity of social beliefs when compared to individual morals. When juxtaposed, these two key scene show the muddled area of justice and morals when man and majority are at odds.After being humiliated in the courtroom, Bob Ewell wanted revenge. He found this not in a confrontation with Atticus, but with Atticus’ children, Jem and Scout. In the black of night, Ewell attacked the children, who were later saved by their mysterious neighbor: Boo Radley. The clash injured Jem and fatally wounded Bob Ewell. The reader and characters alike are left in confusion as to who committed the crime: County sheriff Heck Tate stating that Bob Ewell killed himself while Atticus arguing that Jem killed him. Atticus first assumes Tate is covering up the incident “from that good heart of his” (368), and thus quickly refuting how he would never be able to live with himself if it were covered up. Atticus’ strong moral compass dictates him to do the right thing. In order to abide by the law and face people with dignity, Atticus would go as far as to send his own son to prison. His clear cut view of the law defines the ultimate individual conscience, yet as seen, this is frequently rejected by the masses. In the courtroom, the societal bias against people of color trumps Atticus’ morals. Here, Atticus’ conscience is clashing with what might really be just. In the end, Heck Tate concluded that they shouldn’t accuse an innocent boy of crime, but rather let the sinful bury themselves: “I’m not a very good man, sir, but I am sheriff of Maycomb County. Lived in this town all my life an’ I’m goin’ on forty-three years old. Know everything that’s happened here since before I was born. There’s a black boy dead for no reason, and the man responsible for it’s dead. Let the dead bury the dead this time, Mr. Finch. Let the dead bury the dead.” (369)Atticus’ black and white judgement may well be superior to all his peers, but sometimes the just thing is not always the right thing. Here, Harper Lee shows a moment when the righteousness of a group leads to appropriate action. Therefore despite having seen the terrible unfairness in society, one should not assume that the individual opinion is right. In this scene for example, Atticus Finch let his stubborn judgement get the best of him while other characters saw through the clear cut lines of justice and injustice. As Scout puts it, “it’d be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird” (370). In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee analyzes the inconsistencies between an individual’s morals and those of a community. Through the narration and juxtaposition of the final scenes in the novel, the author shows that these inconsistencies are prevalent and should be reduced. She believes when there is clash between man and majority, destructive consequences will surely ensue. Although Lee wrote this novel in the mid-20th century, this theme of the individual versus the whole is still very important today. It encapsulates the issue of how governments should work, how leaders should act, and how humanity should cooperate going forward. The only problem is that no one knows the answer. Works CitedLee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central, 1982. Print.