Childhood Presented in To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Childhood should be a time of great learning, curiosity, joy,
playfulness and guiltlessness. The reality is that it can be a time of
extreme vulnerability and dependency. The innocence and fragility of a
child is easily manipulated and abused if not nurtured and developed.
Family relationships are crucial in the flourishing of young minds,
but other childhood associations are important too. These include
school life, friends, play and peer-group. Both novels portray these
factors and their effects on the character formation of their
subjects, to some extent and, show that growing up can be a painful
process greatly accelerated by the events that the children encounter.
Scout and Jem are the daughter and son of Atticus Finch, a widowed
lawyer based in Maycomb, twenty miles from Finch's Landing the family
plot. They are a white, middle class family who have a black
cook/housekeeper. Their story is written in To Kill a Mocking Bird,
which was published in 1960. It's author, Harper Lee, was a white
woman who incorporated many of her own childhood experiences into the
book. She too came from a small, sleepy town in Alabama, her own
father was a lawyer and her childhood friend was Trueman Capote, from
whom she drew inspiration for Scout and Jem's friend Dill. Perhaps the
most influential of the events that occurred during Lee's childhood
was the Scottsboro Trials, where nine innocent young black men were
accused of raping two white women. This was undoubtedly the
inspiration for the climax of the novel, the rape trial of Tom
Robinson. Lee wrote the novel in the late 1950's at the beginning of
the Civil Rights Movement in America. It was a time of great racial
tension and trouble.
Over a decade later Toni Morrison, a black woman, published her novel
The Bluest Eye. By this time the Civil Rights movement had affected
great advances in the freedom granted to black people, but
discrimination was still widespread. The popular culture of the time
was seen to uphold a standard for female beauty, which was white,
blond haired, and blue eyed. This of course precluded all black women
and was the cause of the formation of the Black Pride movement.
Morrison remembered an incident from her childhood, when one of her
school friends said she wanted blue eyes. She couldn't, at the time,
understand why her friend did not see herself as beautiful, but when
she had grown up it became clear. Her friend had learnt racial
self-loathing from an early age. This was to be the major theme of
It has a similar small town setting to that of To Kill a Mocking Bird.
Lorain, Ohio (Morrison's hometown), still struggled at the end of the
depression, when money and jobs were scarce. In contrast to Lee's
novel though, it's main protagonists the MacTeer and Breedlove
families are poor and black and are trying to survive in...