Essay on ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird:’ Franklin Delano Roosevelt
People often discuss To Kill a Mockingbird as a treatise on the sinful demise of humanity’s innocence. The famous titular quote of the book and the definitive guiding principle of the story [colloquially paraphrased] is, “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird…the mockingbird hasn’t hurt anyone” (Lee). The context of this quote within the text is when Scout is speaking with her father and aunt about the unnecessary or unjust harm a human can cause another being.
THESIS: Making a slight shift in the political morality lens of our analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird, we can examine the similarities between Atticus Finch, a hardworking, small-town attorney, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who formally studied law also, to find a new political morality theme that lauds the practice of diplomatic radicalism in our society during the time period this text was written, the 1960s, as well as the period in which the story takes place: the 1930s.
Roosevelt and Finch are both diplomatic radicals (Brands). Both men are well-known and respected socially in their communities. Atticus Finch is a middle-class attorney and journalist for his small town’s community newspaper. Roosevelt was born to a wealthy upper-class family whose wealthy social networks (and inherent social capital) have existed across generations and stretch beyond national boundaries. Both men believe in their radical vision to effect change and uphold a sense of integrity for all mankind through their skillful use of the American legal and political systems. Both men are convicted with the belief that all men are inherently good and generally want to do what is good for everyone in their communities. One of Atticus’s most famous quotes is, “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” (Lee).
Roosevelt’s diplomatic radicalism is evidenced in his radical and expedient implementation of the “New Deal,” a series of populist and progressive social welfare programs, during the Great Depression. The politically astute approach defining Roosevelt’s radical leadership lies in his commitment to activating his socio-political capital to serve and capture the approval of a broad base of constituents who, in many cases, strongly advocated for competing interests and political agenda. Jews, Catholics, and Southern Whites, labor unions and intellectuals, small farmers, the elderly, poor, sick, and political liberals were some of the demographic groups who benefited from Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives (Leuchtenburg). Atticus’s decision to defend an African American in an interracial rape trial challenged some community members’ opinions on what was good for everyone in their community. One of Atticus’s most cited quotes is proclaiming that a courageous life is rarely winning but fighting anyway because sometimes you win. Atticus garnered the respect of his family and others in the community.
In conclusion, it is a necessary exercise to utilize a political morality lens to explore a critical analysis of classic American stories such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In doing so, we are able to understand societies’ values and how to shape our legal policies to effect change in the everyday life experiences of the people in our nation.
Brands, H. W. Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co, 1960.
Leuchtenburg, William. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal: 1932-1940. New York: HarperCollins, 2009.
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