A Comparison of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'The Withered Arm'

Thomas Hardy wrote in 1874, and Harper Lee wrote ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in 1960. In both texts ‘outsiders’ form the basis of the plot. The dictionary definition of an outcast, or outsider, is ‘a person who is rejected or excluded from a social group’. There are many causes that make people outcasts: class, colour, disability, or any difference from the majority of the social group in which they are supposedly meant to be included. In each text, outsiders are presented as people with obvious differences from the ‘norm’ – for example, in ‘The Withered Arm’, Rhoda is presented as an outsider by ‘Their course lay apart from the others, to a lonely spot’.

This immediately shows that other people see Rhoda and her illegitimate son as outsiders, or that they isolate themselves from society and this makes them outsiders.

This isolation from society is also shown by the Radley family in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Both Rhoda and the Radley family choose to separate themselves from other people, but for different reasons.

Rhoda does it because of her son and the rumours that surround her, whereas the Radley family stays away from Maycomb life for religious reasons ‘so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one’. In the later stages of the book, Scout is seen as an outsider by Jem and Dill – this is shown by the quote ‘He was now positively allergic to my presence in public’. The role outsiders play in each of the texts varies.

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They can provide valuable insights into the attitudes and opinions of other characters; they can highlight prejudice; they increase tension and interest and help develop the storylines.

For example, the abuse aimed at Tom Robinson shows us how prejudiced the majority of Maycomb’s society is. In ‘The Withered Arm’, the townsfolk are quite sympathetic towards Rhoda ”Tis hard for she’, which shows us that Farmer Lodge is seen as a ‘bad’ character in the book. Both these factors add to Gertrude’s plight. Gertrude is isolated by her class and her disability. This heightens Rhoda’s guilt and adds tension to the text. Also, it strengthens the relationship between Gertrude and Rhoda, making it even more dramatic when Gertrude realizes that it was Rhoda that cast the curse on her arm.

The Withered Arm’ is set in the early 19th century, whereas ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is set in the 1930s. Class has a big effect on how characters in the texts behave, think and say. The classes in ‘The Withered Arm’ are defined by material wealth and status, and could almost be compared to a caste system. In ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, the class distinctions are defined by colour or gender. This generally aims to make the readers feel sympathy towards the outsiders, because (hypothetically) all men and women are equal in our multicultural society.

These differences also shock and sometimes anger the reader – for example, the verdict in Tom Robinson’s trial, although expected, still evokes anger because of the injustice and prejudice towards the outsider. Harper Lee aims to shock and increase tension for the reader, but Thomas Hardy shows less of this. I think this because of the time differences between the texts. Harper Lee purposely set the novel in the 1930s for this reason, whereas Thomas Hardy does not move the time period, so, at the time the text was written, the prejudice in the book would have been seen as normal.

The Withered Arm’ bases its tension on superstition, which the literate people of the early 19th century would have been suspicious of. In ‘The Withered Arm’, pre-1900 language is used – for example ”twill’, whereas in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, modern language is used. Both texts use dialects – an example in ‘The Withered Arm’ would be ‘He ha’n’t spoke’, and an example in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ would be ‘moseyin’ along’. This adds realism to the texts and shows the place and time period of the setting. It also shows the class and, sometimes, the colour of the person speaking.

Both texts use some very delicate and beautiful similes to describe women, such as ‘like the light under a heap of rose petals’ and ‘like soft teacakes with frostings of sweet talcum’. The first simile is used to describe Gertrude; it portrays her young, fresh complexion, and I think the ‘rose petals’ could show the softness of her skin. The second simile seems to refer to much older ladies, because of the reference to ‘teacakes’. It can also be linked to the quote ‘it was a tired old town’, because Scout feels she is bored of Maycomb – to her everything seems too old and slow ‘Atticus was feeble – he was nearly 50’.

The description in ‘The Withered Arm’ is delivered by Hardy’s voice, and because of this the vocabulary is very sophisticated – for instance ‘dark countenance’. However, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, the description uses simple vocabulary, because it is the voice of Scout. These different techniques give different impressions to the reader. Hardy creates detailed images with very few words, but Lee shows a realistic childhood view of the events in Maycomb with her use of vocabulary. Superstition forms the main source of prejudice in ‘The Withered Arm’, but in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, colour and race form the major source of discrimination.

Both the settings in the texts are quite similar. Both texts are set in small towns that are geographically isolated – I feel this is because it helps move the storyline along – people only enter the text if they have a purpose in the text. This also makes both communities in the texts introverted. I think this helps the reader to get to know all the characters well. It also helps show the relationships between them. We also know that, if a character is introduced later on in the book, they will have a role to play in the plot.

Rhoda Brook is initially shown as a ‘thin worn milkmaid’. This immediately shows the reader of her physical appearance and class. We also know that she is middle aged ‘made her dark eyes… seem handsome anew’ and that she was beautiful when she was younger. This also refers to her past involving her affair with Farmer Lodge and her illegitimate son. There is some evidence to her being a witch, though she does not know it or wish this to be so ‘something greater in the occult world than she had ever herself suspected’. In certain ways, Rhoda Brook can be compared to Boo Radley.

Both characters are isolated by imposing male figures (Boo’s father and Farmer Lodge), then isolate themselves – Boo because of his hermit-like ways, Rhoda because of her illegitimate child. Both characters are feared by society, and both are subjected to rumours. However, there is some evidence that Rhoda does have supernatural powers; whereas Scout fears Boo because of stories she has heard from Jem and adults. Boo adds fear and tension to the beginning of the novel, but as Scout grows older, she fears him less, and when she finally meets him she feels no fear at all ‘Hello Boo’.

I feel this relationship could also represent, or be a result of, Scout’s changing outlook on the world. As she learns more about the Tom Robinson trial, and listens to people like Atticus and Ms Maudie, the influences on her life become much less prejudiced and her attitude towards other outsiders in the book changes. She refers much more to Atticus’ philosophy: ‘You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view’, which increases her empathy with outsiders in the text. Rhoda Brook can also be compared to Gertrude Lodge, because both characters suffer a great amount of pain in ‘The Withered Arm’.

They both struggle unsuccessfully to gain Farmer Lodge’s love. Neither manages to actually do this, although both go to great lengths to try to win his love. I think that both Rhoda and Gertrude suffer almost continually throughout the storyline, which is ironic as they cause most of each other’s suffering. I feel that Hardy’s portrayal of the suffering of the characters is quite sarcastic and cynical, because both characters never win Lodge’s love and both come to unhappy ends – Gertrude’s death and the death of Rhoda’s son. After reading the story it is obvious that suffering and unrequited love are themes in the text.

This love is present in both the characters. At the start of ‘The Withered Arm’, Gertrude is described as having a ‘face as comely as a live doll’s’ and being ‘A lady complete’. This immediately lets the reader know of her social status and her beauty. She is very young ‘almost, indeed, a girl’ and very attractive in both body and nature ‘kindly… innocent’. Farmer Lodge seems only to love her for her looks ‘my pretty Gertrude’, and this is further proven when her looks begin to fade and the curse begins to take hold. As soon as Rhoda learns about Gertrude, she tries to learn as much as possible about her.

I feel that this is because she wants to compare herself to her. She interrogates her son on Gertrude’s appearance ‘see if she is dark or fair’ although she is too proud to view her herself. At first she is interested in Gertrude purely for jealousy but her views change after she becomes friends with Gertrude. After Rhoda’s dream, she feels immense guilt because of Gertrude. She is remorseful and angry with herself because she harboured such feelings towards Gertrude, which unconsciously caused this ailment ‘she did not wish to inflict… pain’.

Rhoda is torn between two feelings – her feeling of bitterness towards her rival and deep repentance towards her friend. She also has trouble with her adoration of Gertrude, the ‘light’, and what her ‘secret heart’ feels: ‘unconscious usurpation’. This need to take control because her ‘successor’ had ‘rendered impossible any reparation’ between her and Lodge is not obvious to Rhoda in her conscious mind; however, her dreams shows us of this deep resentment towards any rival for Lodge’s love. As Gertrude’s arm slowly shrivels, she is caused mental pain as well as physical.

She is seemingly discarded by Farmer Lodge, which seems to have also happened to Rhoda during her previous affair with him. I feel that this conveys how alike Gertrude and Rhoda are, which leads the reader to believe that the story shall take form in much the same way – Gertrude losing his affection. She is annoyed at her husband’s lack of enthusiasm for trying to cure her arm. This leads to Gertrude becoming isolated from her husband by experimenting with ‘every quack remedy she came across’ and ‘bottles, packets and ointment pots’.

It becomes an obsession for Gertrude, more so after all her attempts fail miserably at achieving her goal, turning her into an ‘irritable, superstitious women’. In this section of the text, Gertrude is blinded from Farmer Lodge’s detestation of her condition, showed by the ‘prosiness’ of their marriage. It also becomes apparent from hearing how Gertrude has ‘grown out of favour’ with her husband. This is reinforced when he promised her a ladies horse in one of the stables when they were wed but never bought one. I feel that the fact she has to ride a ‘draught animal’ rather than a ‘ladies horse’ shows her changing outlook on her life.

She feels that by marrying Lodge she would have had a good life, but that she is now saddled with a cursed arm and an isolated lifestyle. I feel that Hardy wanted to create a short story that was filled with excitement and tension, but that was of no great consequence. Harper Lee, however, wanted to put across many of her own ideas through characters, such as Scout, and wanted people to learn from her book. There is much excitement and tension in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, but in ‘The Withered Arm’, the excitement is much more concentrated, because of the shortness of the text.

This creates very different effects in the two storylines. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is very subtle, bringing outsiders in gradually and hinting at different ideas before coming to a culmination (the trial). ‘The Withered Arm’ introduces the two main outsiders very quickly, as they play major roles in the development of the plot. The outsiders in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ are still very important and play a key role in developing the plot, but are generally not seen as major roles. Conjuror Trendle is an outsider that can be, in some ways, compared to Tom Robinson.

Both characters are isolated from society. Conjuror Trendle is isolated because of the superstitions surrounding witchcraft in the early 19th century, and also geographically ‘she nearly got lost on the heath’. Tom is isolated because of his colour, his disability, and the fact that he lives in the ‘slums’ (black peoples housing of the period). Both characters are very helpful, and will do jobs for nothing. Higher-class members of society use them for their skills. This makes Trendle and Tom quite similar underneath, though not so upon the surface.

Trendle can also be compared to Boo, because both are outsiders that shape the final outcomes of the storylines. Both outcomes relate strongly to the social and historical contexts of the plots, and both seem to have morals. In ‘The Withered Arm’ I feel that one of the main morals is ‘treat others as you would like to be treated’ because Rhoda is punished for her malicious intent with the unneeded death of her son. Gertrude is also punished for her wishing for a person to die ‘Oh – I hope not’ (for the hanging not to go ahead), even when she knows that the person is innocent, with her own death.

In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ I think that the main moral is, of course, Atticus’ philosophy, which is based on the idea of empathy. From this empathy, Scout learns to be honest, kind and unprejudiced to everyone she meets. Scout also learns how to ‘be a lady’, but this is more to do with Alexandra teaching her about etiquette rather than specific morals in the plot. Both texts use pathetic fallacy: ‘weather was unusually warm’ and ‘the wind howled dismally’. However, Harper uses hot weather to show tension, whereas Hardy uses wind and wet weather.

This shows the climate differences in the texts, but it also shows the different preferences in the authors’ styles of writing. Hardy shows an omniscient approach in the description. Because he is the narrator (no character is used), he knows everything that is going to happen in the plot. Harper uses a character to tell the story, which makes it harder to predict what is going to happen, but makes the reader feel more included in the action. The vocabulary used is also much easier to understand, which allows the text to be read by a much wider range of readers.

One author is male and the other female, but both use females as the main characters – we see things mainly from a female perspective. The hangman can be compared to Dolphus Raymond in some ways. Both characters live away from normal society, and both give ‘normal’ people reasons for their seclusion: Raymond pretends to drink and the hangman is labeled as a ‘hermit’. Raymond is seen as a degrading person in Maycomb society, but Davies is admired. I think this is because of the way people enjoyed ‘hang fair(s)’ during that period and is also shown through the admiration for the rope ”Tis’ sold by the inch’.

Both Miss Caroline and Aunt Alexandra are physical outsiders in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, but they are also quite different. Aunt Alexandra fits into Maycomb life very well – for example, she is part of the ‘Missionary Circle’, whereas Miss Caroline doesn’t find it so easy to fit in. I think this is because she is more ignorant of Maycombs traditions and ways than Alexandra – she also appears less prejudiced to begin with, although this lessens as she settles into Maycomb life. Dill is also a physical outsider, but he is accepted because he is a child.

Scout admires his intelligence ‘he could read two books to my one’ and Jem sees him as a ‘pocket Merlin’, a source of entertainment and knowledge of other places. They also like his carefree attitude ‘laugh my head off’. Because Dill is not prejudiced, people are not prejudiced towards him. This seems to be true in Atticus as well ‘in spite of Atticus’ shortcomings… people were content to re-elect him’. It seems that both Hardy and Harper base their books on childhood experiences, and use children to get their points across (Scout and Rhoda’s son).

Both the main children in the texts have one-parent families, which was highly unusual in both periods the texts were set in. In ‘The Withered Arm’ this helps to isolate Rhoda and in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ it allows Alexandra to enter the text and gives Calpurnia a larger role as a ‘mother figure’ in the plot. Outsiders are incredibly important in all aspects of these two texts – they provide humour, add interest, convey emotions of the authors, highlight prejudice, create tension and, ultimately, provide the culminations of the plots.

Outsiders such a Scout and Dill provide humour – Scout by some of the things she says ‘there wasn’t much left for us to learn, except possibly algebra’. This provides humour because algebra is insignificant when compared to the ordeals the children have been through and the life lessons they have learnt that they will take with them throughout their lives. It also emphasises how young Scout actually is. Dill provides humour through his carefree attitude ‘I’ll go and join the circus’. He makes fun of the hypocrisy of the Maycomb citizens, which also adds humour because he is touching upon a taboo subject.

Interest is added through outsiders such as Trendle and Boo. They also add tension, because of their mystery and rumours that surround them. The tension from Conjuror Trendle is implied to be much more serious than that of Boo, because witchcraft was truly feared by people during the 19th century. Boo’s rumours are unrealistic and dismissed by adults, but the childrens’ imaginations make this squirrel eating monster seem quite threatening. I think that when they are acting out the Boo Radley play, they are trying to think about Atticus’ philosophy but do not have the empathy to do this properly.

Atticus makes them stop to show them that this is not the way to empathise, and through his careful teaching and love they learn how to understand true compassion and empathy. Scout is the main character that conveys the emotions of the author – Harper uses Scout as a tool to put forward her own ideas. Atticus is also used in a similar way. I think that Rhoda and Gertrude put across (perhaps unintentionally) Hardy’s cynical views on love and beauty. Outsiders that highlight prejudice include Gertrude and Tom.

Tom is used by Atticus to highlight prejudice during the trial, and Gertrude is judged by her physical appearance and well-being, rather than her personality. Boo and Gertrude provide the culminations of the storylines, coming in early on in the plots and ending the storylines too. This adds structure to the texts and also makes the reader feel satisfied once they have read the books, because characters that they know well and are present throughout the storylines with them, tie up loose ends and provide the final climax and conclusion.

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A Comparison of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'The Withered Arm'. (2017, Nov 02). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-a-comparison-of-to-kill-a-mockingbird-and-the-withered-arm/

A Comparison of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'The Withered Arm'
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