Aristotle’s View on To Kill a Mockingbird

Annie Hajost

Reviewed by: Mackenzie Regen & Madison Tabler

https://infogram.com/aristotle-and-to-kill-a-mockingbird-1gj725dg6xwrp1l

In Harper Lee’s famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, the Finch family is placed in the town’s spotlight when the father, Atticus agrees to represent an African American man falsely accused of raping the daughter of Bob Ewell. In class we focused on the section of the story that depicts Jem Finch and Scout finch, Atticus’ children as they walk home at night after their Halloween pageant. While the two siblings walked home they hear noises coming from behind them. Jem was the first to notice the odd sound and tried to reassure himself that it was just his sisters costume from the show. Once he realized that it was not her costume they both started to fear the unknown in the darkness behind them. After walking a little bit slower, stopping periodically to see if the sound was still there, they noticed that the noises coming from behind them was no longer stopping as they stopped. As they started to run, the person behind them did too. Scout’s costume restricted her movements causing her to fall. Jem scrambled to help her up as they could sense the figure gaining on them. As they ran away, Jem loses grip of his sister and is pulled to the ground by their attacker who the audience later finds out is Bob Ewell. Jem lets out a loud scream which allows Scout follow his direction. She runs into a large man who grabs her and begins to choke her. Mr. Ewell was yanked off of her by Jem or so she thought, but the two of them were actually being saved by their mysterious neighbor, Boo Radley. Boo kills Mr. Ewell and carries Jem back to the house as Scout followed behind. While the town doctor examined the children, Mr. Tate, the sheriff, speaks to Scout and the rest of the group about what happened. The group came to the conclusion that Boo Radley was just trying to save the children and as a result, Mr. Ewell was killed. At the end of this section Scout says the famous quote, “Well, it would be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it” (Lee). This is the scene out of the To Kill a Mockingbird movie released in 1962.

Plato’s most famous student, Aristotle philosophized that their is a specific way for a man to live to achieve his purpose in life. According to Dr. Hoag, Aristotle believed that human life has one distinctive purpose that is set and concrete. Aristotle explains that this can be achieved by making rational decisions, which is a skill only humans possess. He also identified a set of virtues that if a person possessed these virtues it would lead them to fulfilling their ultimate purpose in life. Even though Boo Radley took on a mysterious, reclusive persona in the novel, he possessed many of the qualities Aristotle would argue made him a virtuous human. For starters Boo is a man. Aristotle did not recognize women, children or slaves as people that were able to flourish and fulfill their ultimate purpose and because of his sex he checked off one required box. Boo had many of the moral virtues that Aristotle commended including bravery and generosity. In this circumstance Boo sacrificed himself to save the Finch kids. It would have been easy for him to have ignored the situation without any blame, but instead he risked his own life and reputation that was already being questioned by the town because of his closed-off lifestyle to save their lives. This was brave of him but he truly showed generosity because he did not hesitate to assist them because of what it would do to his reputation in town. Many people might have thought that he killed Mr. Ewell on purpose out of his desire to eradicate a man that had done so much wrong. Aristotle, however, would argue that because Boo lived in almost complete solitude he is incapable of flourishing. Aristotle believed that for a man to flourish they must be attractive, born to a high status, is social and well liked and has friends that surround them. Even though Boo possessed important personality traits that make him an honorable man, his social standing does not fall inline with the standards Aristotle set. These “practical needs” set by Aristotle seem to be requirements that would dilute the actual ethics of the man in question. Even though Boo Radley kept to himself, his actions still show obvious bravery, selflessness, generosity. In the end, even though Boo did not meet the baseline practical needs Aristotle requires to be a virtuous man, his actions showed strong evidence that his character as a person satisfies the virtues necessary.

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I commented on Vix’s post discussing Kant’s views on To Kill a Mockingbird. After reading your analysis on Kant’s view on morality something that made me question a point that you made about Scout’s decision to refrain from fighting Cecil was when you stated that Kant, “believes that morality is the sum of actions, not who you were raised to be”. I agree that Kant believes that but I am not sure that I believe that Scout’s decision did not take how she was raised into consideration. You explained that she chose not to fight him because this would potentially hurt her family’s reputation. This seems to be a motive that is taken into account because of how her father raised her. However, I do agree that by not fighting Cecil, Scout avoided making an emotional decision and resisted the temptation that overwhelmed her. That aspect of her decision does seem to align with Kant’s views on morality. Do you agree that by thinking about her dad and what it would do to her family that might have been influenced by how she was raised? If not then do you think Kant is less interested about decisions having to do with how one is raised and more interested in the motive behind the decision?

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