Law and Literature: The Legal and Moral Issues of Our Time
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Racial Injustice
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With regard to racial injustice, Tom Robinson is charged with the rape of a young white girl, a crime that he did not commit. Through the legal expertise of his seasoned attorney, Atticus Finch, the evidence slowly begins to point away from Tom Robinson, and the audience slowly becomes aware that he is, in fact, an innocent man. Despite this revelation, the jury, after deliberating for quite some time, chooses to convict Tom.

Both the reader and the characters in the novel know very well that Robinson’s conviction rests entirely on the fact that he is an African-American man. In the Deep South, and in an era where the color of your skin meant everything, this was not uncommon.

Although the days of slavery were long gone, the biases and prejudices against individuals like Tom were still very real obstacles that they faced throughout the course of their lives. It is in this moment that Harper Lee is able to convey a strong message to the reader: not even the law itself can save every innocent person. The outcome of a defendant’s case can depend entirely upon factors such as the personal biases of the jury members, the expertise of your attorney, and even the color of your skin.

Today, racial injustice is still an issue with which society must deal. If you walk into any courtroom in which the purpose is to determine the guilt or innocence of a person, whether it be a traffic violation or a murder, the majority of people sitting in those courtrooms are not Caucasian.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s tale with regard to the Tom Robinson trial serves as a warning to future generations: when the legal system is flawed because it is interpreted through the biases of the current generation, then justice will not always prevail. Innocent people will be stripped of their God-given right to life and liberty, and guilty people will be permitted to roam the streets freely, never being held accountable for the wrongs that they committed. This allows crime to continue, like a vicious cycle.

This novel should be used as a lesson—a useful tool, if you will. We cannot allow an immutable characteristic such as race to seep into the legal system and destroy the foundation on which our country rests. If society allows this to happen, then we will cause the downfall and demise of our own selves.

Next, let’s look at the loss of innocence in both the legal system and in young people today.