The Slowly Growing Seed. Essay on Hypocrisy
What’s the most innocent thing in our world? Naturally, one of the first things that comes to mind is babies. With their eyes full of wonder and light, it’s not difficult to see that there is something different compared to the majority of our population: grownups. But why is that? Why are they so happy at the time, but as they get older, they slowly lose that glow? What do they have that the rest of the population doesn’t? The answer is that babies are truly just because of their innocence and not being exposed to the corrupting forces of this world. Mankind is naturally just, but outside influences make true justice unattainable because of the arrogance, hypocrisy, and tendency of acceptance that are associated with being a human. And nowhere is this more apparent than in Harper Lee’s novel: To Kill a Mockingbird: a story of how injustice creeps into our lives, one sin at a time.
Arrogance is the seed that plants injustice into the heart of man. For instance, when the ladies are having their missionary meeting over at the Finch’s household, Mrs. Perkins makes the comment that the Northerners are hypocrites because they release the blacks but don’t associate with them at all, and she continues by saying, “’At least we don’t have that sin on our shoulders down here’” (Lee 234). Clearly, the statement is ironic in itself because Maycomb County is still trying to hold on to the old ways by setting the blacks free but paying them very little and limiting their rights.
So, in fact, they aren’t free. But, why would Mrs. Perkins say this? The reason is because she, and her Christian companions, pride themselves in being good people. They tell themselves that they almost never do anything wrong; therefore, they have the right to call out others on their faults. People will almost always try to rationalize their actions by speaking. To elaborate, when Scout, Jem, and Dill leave the courtroom and bump into Dolphus Raymond, Dolphus explains why he acts the way he does. He explains, “’…folks can say Dolphus Raymond’s in the clutches of whiskey – that’s why he won’t change his ways’” (Lee 200).
In this statement, Dolphus explains that he is helping others in their quest to find a reason for their actions. “Oh, Mr. Raymond is just a drunk old man. At least I don’t drink. If only everyone were as righteous as me.” This statement is one that many are familiar with and use daily. People need clear consciences to function. It’s extremely difficult to concentrate when one knows that they aren’t worthy of their position in society.
People always want to think good about themselves. As the wise Atticus put it, “’The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority is a person’s conscience’” (Lee 105). One can surround him or herself with people that praise his or her name, but the mind will never be at peace until it’s in agreement with the soul. People want to uphold their honor, and in some cases, their arrogance. So, the best way to do this is by utilizing the power of hypocrisy. Scout is introduced to this concept when she asks Jem, “’Jem, how can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about folks right at home – ‘” (Lee 247). Jem quickly responds, “’I never wanta hear about that courthouse again, ever, ever, you hear me? You hear me?’” (Lee 247).
While a seemingly normal comment at first, with Jem being sensitive to the issue of Tom Robinson being wrongly convicted of rape, what really expresses Jem’s feelings is the tone instead of the message. Rather than being sensitive to the injustice of Tom Robinson, he is reflecting upon his own hypocrisy. But, why would this cause him to lash out at Scout for such a simple question? The reason is because memory is the enemy of hypocrisy. When someone is hypocritical, they are literally lying to themselves and believing that lie in order to clear their conscience.
When someone reminds the mind of a mistake he or she made in the past, neural connections are made which brings back the bad memories associated with that mistake. Including the emotions, as with Jem when he realizes that he has been prejudice towards Boo Radley. Jem, now becoming a man, certainly doesn’t want to cry like a child again! Just as the good Christian ladies when they say, “’I tell you there are some good but misguided people in this town. Good, but misguided’” (Lee 232). Jem doesn’t want to feel misguided or unjust as it goes against his future career of being a lawyer, and many people will rely on him to do the right thing because they are too lazy to do it themselves.
Now, anyone can be arrogant or hypocritical. But, this only becomes an issue in society when that person is in a leadership position. At first glance, it seems that this wouldn’t be a problem because the leader would be taken down from office if he committed a serious crime, right? Wrong. Corruption only occurs because many people are too lazy or too scared to defend their beliefs. As a result, they “go with the flow” and accept any new idea or law that falls into their laps. On the other hand, what if that leader is a genuinely good person? Like Atticus? For instance, the following is said of Atticus, “’Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we’re paying the highest tribute we can pay a man. We trust him to do right. It’s that simple’” (Lee 236).
In To Kill a Mockingbird, it is established repeatedly that Atticus is a very righteous man. But, hypothetically, what if Atticus was secretly evil? With the trust he has gained over the years, he would almost certainly not be questioned for his actions, allowing him to uproot morals from the inside. Once someone sets their opinion on a topic, it’s almost impossible to change their mind because they’re too arrogant to admit a change of opinion and because they’ll be seen as hypocritical. They get locked into this pit in which they cannot escape unless they admit they’re wrong. And that’s impossible for most of the world.
Moving forward, like arrogance and hypocrisy, influenced trust can play a major role in injustice. To illustrate, when Scout finds gum in the knothole from Boo Radley, Jem says, “’Spit it out right now!’” On the other hand, after Jem and Scout have received all the other gits from Boo Radley and they find some more gum, Scout informs us that, “’…the fact that everything on the Radley Place was poison having slipped Jem’s mind.’” The previous quote is an example of how bribery can be used to alter a person’s beliefs or morals. Everyone is susceptible to bribery, whether it be in physical or emotional form, including Jem, the son of a lawyer. Instead of changing out of ignorance, change is now occurring for personal gain. Bribery is ten times more corrupt than ignorance, but that may change in the coming days.
The seed of injustice is one that grows gradually over a long period of time. The seed is watered by arrogance, nurtured by hypocrisy, and then grows uncontrollably because of the tendency to accept. Every man and woman that has come to this earth was born innocent and pure. They are just and have the right to judge. But, that stage of “perfection” is short-lived and we soon all succumb to the driving forces of evil. Perhaps the one thing Atticus is trying to teach the kids is to be different. Don’t be common. Don’t accept something you don’t believe in. Fight for your beliefs. Don’t let anyone change what you believe in or who you are. If Scout and Jem could only learn this, every other childhood lesson taught by Atticus would be unnecessary as fighting against injustice encompasses all of it. It not only applies to Jem and Scout, it can apply to the world today. If we’re willing to admit that we’re wrong, clear our conscience the right way, and think before we act, we’ll be a truly just people. We’ll be the people no other generation could be.