Compare and Contrast The Two Novels, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Withered Arm’

At first, the two texts, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘The Withered Arm’, didn’t seem to have much in common, but after close study, the similarities became clearer. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ was written by Harper Lee and is set in 1930’s Alabama. ‘The Withered Arm’ was written by Thomas Hardy and was set in 19th Century rural England. It was part of a book of short stories called ‘The Wessex Tales.’

The two stories both deal with the issue of prejudice. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ Tom Robinson suffers attacks of racism from the court when he is convicted of raping Mayella Ewell. The story is told through the eyes of a young girl, Scout, growing up in a small county called Maycomb. Their father, a lawyer, has the job of defending a black man, Tom Robinson, when he is charged with raping Mayella Ewell, a 19 year old white girl. To the reader it is obvious that Tom is innocent but, as Atticus says:

“In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins.”

The story shows the racism in society at this period in history and by telling it through a child’s perspective it shows just how wrong the attitude towards the black people was. The fact that Scout can see that their views were extremely prejudice and unfair shows how narrow minded and intolerant the white people were at that time.

Also in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, we can see that people held prejudice views towards women. They were seen as inferior and people thought that they should stay at home and look after the family. Aunt Alexandra tries to teach scout how to be a ‘lady’ and she dresses her in women’s clothes. Women at that time would have thought it improper for a girl to dress in ‘men’s’ clothes. For example, in chapter 24, we see how Aunt Alexandra tells Scout to put on her pink Sunday dress and a petticoat. This was, of course, how women at that time would have dressed. When Scout tells the women:

“I just want to be a lady.”

Miss Stephanie replies, “Well you wont get very far until you start wearing dresses more often.”

This shows us that at that time, both men and women felt that appearances were very important and that women should dress in feminine, dainty clothes. Also, women were thought to be afraid of the men:

“Ladies seem to live in faint horror of men.”

However, Scout does not feel this way. This is another technique by which Harper Lee has used a child’s perspective to show us that sexist views were wrong, and Scout cannot understand why all people could not be treated equally. She says:

“But I liked them.”

‘The Withered Arm’ tells the story of Rhoda Brooks, a single mother to an illegitimate child, who befriends the new wife of her child’s father, Gertrude Lodge. The two women are from very different backgrounds. Rhoda is very poor and she works as a milkmaid, whereas Gertrude is wealthy and young. She could possibly be called a trophy wife. At that time men treated women as their possessions and they were thought to be inferior. The story shows the different attitudes towards women in the 19th century and it also shows how people believed in witchcraft and superstition at that time.

There are many differences between ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘The Withered Arm.’ The first main difference is the setting. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is set in 1930’s Alabama during the depression when racism was simply accepted in society. Also, some people did not like the fact that Atticus was defending a black man, especially Bob Ewell who says:

“Too proud to fight, you nigger-lovin’ bastard?”

On the other hand, ‘The Withered Arm’ is set in late 19th century Victorian rural England when sexism was a major issue and women were treated as inferior. There was no racial discrimination in this novel, but the people were socially divided. It was also not seen as natural for Farmer Lodge to be married to someone as young as Gertrude. The villagers talk about this age gap:

“Years younger than he, they say.”

Another major difference between the two novels is the perspective through which they are written. ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is written in first person narrative. It is a thinly veiled autobiography and this means that the author probably lived through these conditions. It is told from a young child’s point of view, which helps us understand how wrong some attitudes at that time were. Also, writing in this way is very effective because it means that we can almost get inside the readers head and find out their innermost feelings. For example, at the beginning of the story, she tells us (referring to Jem’s broken arm):

“I maintain that the Ewell’s started it.”

‘The Withered Arm’ is written in third person narrative but the perspective changes throughout the story. At the beginning, it is seen from Rhoda’s point of view, but as the novel develops, we see it from Gertrude’s viewpoint. This is a very clever technique to use because it makes the reader feel sorry for both women for different reasons which shows us that society at that time was wrong. We feel sorry for Rhoda at the beginning of the story because she and her son have been ostracised in the town because she was an illegitimate mother. This shows us how small minded people were because Farmer Lodge was not made an outsider simply because he was male. By the end of the story, we feel sorry for Gertrude because her husband, Farmer Lodge seems to love her less as her arm deteriorates. This shows that Farmer Lodge was not really in love with her as a person but he was in love with her beauty. Gertrude tells Rhoda:

“It makes my husband – dislike me – no love me less. Men think so much of personal appearance.”

The supernatural element is also different in the two stories. In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, there is no mention of witchcraft or the supernatural because by that time in history it was probably no longer believed in.

On the other hand, in ‘The Withered Arm’ the mystical element drives the plot. Gertrude believes that Rhoda has cast a spell on her to make her arm deteriorate. Also, the people believe that a man, named Conjuror Trendle, has special powers. Rhoda tells Gertrude:

“They say he was a – he had powers other folk have not.”

This was because in those days, people would have believed in sorcery so it was suitable for Hardy to include it in the plot.

Although ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘The Withered Arm’ have a large number or differences, they also have many similarities. For a start, they both deal with a form of injustice in society. In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, race is a major concern. The blacks are considered to be inferior and the whites use them like their slaves. The black people living in Maycomb have probably been brought into the country as part of the slave trade when they were traded for goods with other countries. Slavery was abolished in the 19th century, however some people were very set in their ways. They were not thought of as people, they were considered to be possessions belonging to the upper class white people. This would never be allowed to happen today but at that time in history, it was normal living conditions. Atticus discusses this issue with Uncle Jack:

“Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up.”

Even though most people in the county assumed racism was acceptable, Atticus Finch believed in equal rights for everyone, no matter what race they are. Scout also believes in her father’s ideas but she feels confused when all the people around her consider defending a black man to be wrong. After Scout and Cecil Jacobs have a fight, Scout asks Atticus:

“Do you defend niggers?”

Atticus himself owns a black slave, Calpurnia, but he treats her with respect and he expects his children to grow up with broad-minded views. The only other person to believe in Atticus’ outlook is Dolphus Raymond. He too thinks that blacks are treated appallingly and he tells Jem and Scout:

“Cry about the hell white people give coloured folks, without even stopping to think that they’re people too.”

Tom Robinson was clearly not responsible for the rape of Mayella, but because it was a white’s word against a black’s, he is found guilty. This was very discriminating and an innocent man should not have been sentenced to death without more solid evidence.

In ‘The Withered Arm’, the men are very sexist towards the women because in the 19th century, the men dominated over the women and they were believed to be superior. Both of the main women in this story are affected by sexism. Rhoda Brooks is made an outsider because she had an illegitimate child with Farmer Lodge but he was still one of the most respected men in the village. This shows that people believed that it was a sin for women to have children before marriage but it was reasonable for men to walk away from their own responsibilities. One of Rhoda’s fellow milkmaids says:

“He ha’n’t spoken to Rhoda Brook for years.”

Gertrude was a beautiful, young woman when she married Farmer Lodge, and he likes to boast about her in the village, until her arm weakens and he appears to love her less. Gertrude tells Rhoda:

“He was very proud of mine [beauty], at first.”

This shows how men in those days did not really love their wives but women were seen to be prizes given away to the wealthy men. This is extremely sexist because the women did not love their husbands’ less as they got older because they believed highly in true love.

Another similarity is that both stories involve characters who were outsiders. In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, there were quite a few outsiders. The main outsider is Atticus. He was rejected from society because he was defending a black man against a white woman. At that time, it would be thought of as an offence to go against your own race because people had very narrow-minded views. Although the whites cast him off, he was greatly respected by the blacks because he showed them respect and he did not look down on them as others at the time did. This is shown, for example, when the black people sitting with Scout and Jem in the court stand as Atticus walks in and out of the room.

“All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet.”

The other main outsider is Arthur Radley, nicknamed Boo. Boo lived in the house next door to the Finches and since early childhood the children, including Dill were fascinated by him. He had been made an outsider because when he was young he got into trouble, and his father punished him by forcing him to stay in the house for his whole life. Because the children have never seen Arthur, they paint vivid pictures of a hideous monster in their minds, and they are scared of him, but none the less curious. Dill says:

“Let’s try to make him come out.”

However, by the end of the story, the children realise he is just a normal man. Eventually, he saves them from Bob Ewell when he attacks them on their way home from the school pageant. When Scout finally meets her fantasy man, she is excited and she tries to help him live in the real world after being locked up inside for many years. She tells him:

“Come along, Mr Arthur, you don’t know the house real well.”

There are other outsiders in this novel, including Miss Caroline, Scout’s schoolteacher. She is not from Maycomb, she is originally from Winston County, and so she does not know the lifestyles and backgrounds of the people living there. When Walter Cunningham goes to school with no lunch, she offers him money, which to the Cunningham’s is very insulting because they won’t take money from anyone. Scout tells Miss Caroline:

“The Cunningham’s never took anything they can’t pay back.”

Also, when she sees a cootie in Walter’s hair she screams because she has never seen one before. However, the other children remain calm because they are familiar with cooties. Little Chuck tells her:

“There ain’t no need to fear a cootie, ma’am.”

The main outsider in ‘The Withered Arm’ is Rhoda Brooks. She has been made an outsider because she had an affair with Farmer Lodge, and she gave birth to an illegitimate child. He was the most respected man in the village so he was not ostracised, which shows how sexist society was. Neither Rhoda, nor her son, mix with the villagers because they all know about the affair. Rhoda still loves Farmer Lodge and she hopes they can rekindle their past romance, but it would be a morganatic marriage, because both the people come from different backgrounds, so it would be an unequal marriage. Rhoda sends her son, to see what the new wife looks like. He returns, telling her:

“She is not tall. She is rather short.”

“But she’s very pretty – very. In fact, she’s lovely.”

The other main outsider is Gertrude Lodge. She is ostracised because she is from a different community and she cannot mix with the other villagers because she is wealthier than them and at that time, different classes didn’t mix. She feels sorry for Rhoda and her son because she knows they are very poor, so she buys him some new boots and befriends Rhoda. Her son tells Rhoda:

“She said ‘Are you the poor boy who had to bring the heavy load from market?'”

“I’ll come and bring you some better boots and see your mother.”

The stories both include execution of innocent people. In ‘The Withered Arm’, Rhoda Brook’s son is hanged for arson at the end of the story. In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, the reader knows Tom Robinson is an innocent man, but because he is black, he is sentenced to death. Ultimately, he does not get the chance to fulfil his punishment because he tries to escape during his exercise time and is shot seventeen times. He probably knew he would be killed if he did this but he wanted everything to end quickly.

Another main similarity is the significance of the arm. In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, the court finds out that Tom Robinson has a useless right arm and could not possibly have hit Mayella on her left eye. Also, she had finger marks all around her neck, which would have needed two hands. This should have refuted Mayella’s statement and Tom should not have been found guilty but of course, the white person would always win.

“His left arm was fully twelve inches shorter than his right, and hung dead at his side.”

In ‘The Withered Arm’, the plot is driven by Gertrude’s arm. After Rhoda has a vivid dream of Gertrude attacking her, she has a visit from Gertrude who has a strange bruise on her arm. It turns out that the mark is in the same position as where Rhoda had grabbed her in the dream. Gertrude tells Rhoda about the bruise:

“I have one little ailment which puzzles me.”

From then on, Gertrude’s arm worsens and she believes that Rhoda hexed her to make her feel pain.

One other, small similarity is revenge. In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, Bob Ewell seeks revenge on Atticus after he is shown up in court. Atticus attempts to blame Bob for raping and beating up his daughter Mayella, and Bob is furious. He spits In Atticus’ face after the trial and tells him:

“I’ll get you if it’s the last thing I do.”

Also, he attacks the Finch children when they are on their way home from the Halloween pageant. He chases them and tries to stab them with a kitchen knife but thankfully, Scout’s costume saves her and Bob Ewell himself ends up with the knife stuck under his ribs.

In ‘The Withered Arm’, the revenge is less obvious. Firstly, Rhoda is very jealous of Gertrude because she is married to the father of her child. She seeks revenge on Gertrude unintentionally through a dream, which appears to have come true. She did not deliberately cause harm to Gertrude but her wishes were made reality. Finally, Gertrude also gets her revenge when Rhoda’s son is hanged for a crime he didn’t commit.

The language in both novels conveys a sense of time and place… In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, the syntax was very simple because it was supposedly written from a child’s perspective and the sentences are short. This makes it easier for the reader to understand. For example, she says:

“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”

This is very simple English and is very easy to understand. However, sometimes Harper Lee uses complex language to let the reader know that it is a serious issue she is dealing with.

“His sermon was a forthright denunciation of sin, an austere declaration of the motto on the wall behind him.”

The dialect in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is very different to ours today. It varies from one character to another because at that time the different social groups also spoke differently to each other. The Finches speak modern American English because they are the wealthy white people. For example, when Scout talks to Arthur Radley, she is polite and speaks grammatically correct:

“Won’t you have a seat Mr Radley? The rocking-chair’s nice and comfortable.”

Tom Robinson, the poor black man, talks in black speak, and he has his own lower class accent. Even so, he tries to speak appropriately in court by trying to speak more like the white people. This shows a sign of respect and politeness for the people of the jury. He tells Atticus:

“Mr Finch, if you were a nigger like me, you’d be scared, too.”

Some of the characters in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ use some unusual vocabulary. For example, there are references to ‘bangs’ which people today know as a fringe, ‘car house’ which was the name for a garage, and ‘schoolyard’ which today is known as a school playground.

In ‘The Withered Arm’, the syntax is more complex. Hardy mainly uses long sentences, which shows that this is from an adult’s perspective and the sentence structure is typical of the place and time in history. This is a lot more difficult for the reader to understand. For example, on page 67, the sentence begins:

“Few people travelled this way, for it was not a main road,…”

and ends:

“…if not the reason of, his dilatoriness.”

This is just one example of the sentence length, which lasts six and a half lines. Hardy also uses short sentences for speeches such as when Rhoda and Gertrude discuss Conjuror Trendle:

“Trendle – yes. Is he alive?”

“I believe so.”

The dialect in this story is also very different. The characters live in the countryside, and at this period in history, they would have strong rural accents. For example, when the milkmaids describe Farmer Lodge’s new wife, they say:

“She’s a rosy-cheeked, tisty-tosty little body enough.”

They were basically saying that she was good-looking. Also, they say:

“Tis hard for she.”

The word ‘she’ would now be replaced by ‘her’ because over the years, sentence structuring has changed.

Again, the characters in ‘The Withered Arm’ use some strange vocabulary. For example, ‘twain’ meaning both, ‘gig’ meaning cart, ‘vermilion’ meaning stubble, and ‘grog’ meaning alcohol.

I enjoyed both ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘The Withered Arm’ but I enjoyed ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ the most. I think that this is because the language was easier to understand and it was more realistic. I liked the way Harper Lee wrote from a young child’s point of view because this makes the reader understand how badly certain groups of people were treated in some periods of history. However, I do think that Thomas Hardy used a very clever technique of changing the perspective during the story, because it let us see both points of view and we sympathise with both women, which once again shows the reader that society was wrong.

Thankfully, most of the events in these novels no longer occur but unfortunately, racism is still a major issue in some parts of the world. Some people are still discriminated against because of the colour of their skin or their accent. Similarly, sexism is still a part of everyday life, not as intensely as it was in years gone by, but still some things are acceptable for men but not for women. Also, illegitimacy is still seen as a sin for woman yet many men get away with it. People today, in all parts of the world, still suffer from unfair discrimination. This shows that some things never change and some people will not change their views no matter what.

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