Law and Literature: The Legal and Moral Issues of Our Time
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The Loss of Innocence
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Another important theme in To Kill a Mockingbird that transcends the test of time is the loss of innocence. The loss of innocence is apparent in both the wrongful conviction of Tom, and in the loss of the pure and unassuming thoughts and beliefs of Atticus’ children, Jem and Scout. Through the trial the children first see how a characteristic such as race can be the determining factor is how society views and judges a person. Race alone can determine your innocence, and this discovery shakes the children (particularly Jem) to their core.

At the conclusion of the trial, Jem asks his father how the jury could convict, knowing that Tom was innocent. Atticus replies, "I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep" (243). This statement stands as a symbol of the loss of innocence. Not only does Tom lose his innocence from a legal standpoint, but Jem loses the innocence of his childhood and of his pure, untainted thoughts and beliefs. Both Atticus and Jem realize that innocence is not an uncontaminated concept. It is tainted by the biases and prejudices of society.

In Atticus’ statement to Jem, he states that the jury will do it again. And juries have done it again. Not only will juries do it again, but we allow such tainted beliefs to control how people measure up in the community today.

In our modern day society, we need to recognize that past beliefs will affect how we operate in the present. For example, although segregation and the right to discriminate on the basis of race are legally long gone, they are still very real issues that we deal with today. Crime is high in the inner-cities because they are mainly populated by minorities who cannot afford to live elsewhere. Young children who are raised in such places lose their innocence at an early age. They become exposed to evils such as crime and drug use, and their view of the world and of the law becomes tainted. Yet, they know no differently. To them, this type of lifestyle is normal, and it is usually the only lifestyle that they will ever know. Innocence, in a nut shell, is completely dependent on both the era and location in which you live. A different time frame and a new zip code could change the definition of "innocence."

Next, we’ll explore the difficulties in building and maintaining a moral foundation, especially in the legal profession.