feedback: Who is the most memorable character…

… in TKAM?

When answering this type of question, popular in the Edexcel IGCSE students might want to use these steps as a guide:

1: There is no right answer, but you must have enough material in your chosen character to establish a good, detailed and broad response in order to show, at least, “thorough” knowledge as required to attain 19-24/30.
2: If a character is truly memorable that is because the writer wished the readers to remember that character. Bear this in mind. The character must embody something about the messages which the writer wishes to impart. If you are not sure about the underlying themes or philosophies being discussed, then this is a tricky essay to write well.
3: This essay is not a straightforward character essay. Yes you will need to explore their character, but also explain what it is that makes them memorable.
4: Any character is a construct. Try not to write as though they are real, autonomous characters who think for themselves. They don’t. They have been created in a certain way to convey a certain purpose. Try to show you understand this…

With this in mind, students have just been writing a response to this question based on TKAM in a past IGCSE Lit paper.

I will show an outline plan here for 2 characters: Atticus and Bob Ewell…

Atticus: role- educator, personification of justice, father. Lee is writing to point up the parlous state of bigotry and justice in the South in the 30s. She is intending her writing to reflect the mood of the late 50s and early 60s. This Atticus is needed to be memorable since he embodies the role of the “righteous”…
Here are some ideas:

a: For Atticus to teach the children the fundamental character traits needed to deliver a better world he needs to be put into a series of “lessons”. Throughout part 1 there are a number of these, from stopping the playing of the Radley-game to the lesson in courage which bis Mrs Dubose. Choose wisely and explore a couple to develop the idea that both the children and the reader need to be educated before the trial starts to ensure that the lessons are fully learned.
b: The trial is the centre piece of Part 2 and the lesson here is about justice and the idea that there is a natural justice which is not always represented by the justice delivered by a society which has formulated laws to reinforce the status quo within that society. Atticus is not necessarily free of the taint of racism, but he is clearly embodying the idea that what is just should be fought for, whatever the odds. This section can be used for what Lee evidently intended to be the set piece – his summing-up speech. This speech is so clearly an attack on the complacency of a white hierarchy that it becomes, almost verbatim, the centrepiece of Gregory Peck’s Atticus on film – a depiction of the novel which is so Atticus centered that it tends to slew our recollection of the novel. Clearly we are meant to remember this speech if little else!
c: Atticus is self-effacing yet has deep courage. It is no accident that two passages complement each other in this text: the shooting of Tim Johnson and the threatening second mob scene. In both Atticus is depicted as the calm “ever fixed mark” at the centre of a tempest. Highly memorable scenes which serve to stress the idea of justice being immovable at the centre of a wild world.
d: As a father Atticus is a model – almost too good to be true. He is a single parent who manages to bring up his children in an era of poverty and yet manages to teach them about fairness, courage and honesty despite the challenges he faces. You can choose any of his interventions, but cast an eye to the structure of the novel. Jem is useful. We recall how he is “disappointed” in Atticus early in the story, and becomes hero-struck during the trial, hanging on every word. This book is a bildungsroman. Atticus is particularly memorable because it is his interactions with the children which show the pair develop from the innocence of the opening pages to the worldly experience of the end of the novel. He is memorable because Lee despite Atticus’ input, it is the children who seem to make this journey for themselves.

I use Bob briefly to show how one can approach another character, with much less input on the pages of the book.
a: He embodies Lee’s message that despite social adversity, a good human does not fall below a certain standard of behviour. She needs her readers to recognise this and to take this message away from their reading.
b: His character is memorable because of those to which he stands in apposition. The main difference can be found in the description of his home compared with that of the poor black community. Here setting meets character – Bob’s home is Bob. It is destroyed by his selfish obsession with his own pleasure and his general laziness and careless cruelty. His character is set into by Mayella and her pathetic attempts to bring beauty and colour into the home. This makes his savage assault on her, possibly the mother of some of his children, all the more horrific.
c: He opposes Atticus in the trial and is all Atticus is not. He shows scant respect for the proceedings and an arrogance born of the colour of his skin seems to lead him to ever greater excess of behaviour. He is memorable by comparison, and he does not come out of the comparison well.
d: He seems to embody a cowardly, disreputable white bigot of a kind which Lee wants to hold to account. In a book full of racism, hypocrisy and scant regard for the dignity of those worse off, the best one can say about Ewell is that he is not a hypocrite, unlike the fine Maycomb ladies. He is shown to be a shallow and cowardly being from the moment Burris is scornful (children in this book are a direct product and reflection of the mores of their parents) and cruel to Miss Caroline to the final murderous attack on the children. He acts when drunk and in the comfort of a protective group of hangers on.
We should remember Bob just as much as we remember Atticus – he is the figure against which we are being warned. Men like him should be challenged, says Lee. He has to be memorable if the story is to have any lasting purpose.

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1 Comment

Filed under EDEXCEL IGCSE, Edexcel IGCSE from 2016, GCSE support, Harper Lee, mockingbird, writing skills

One response to “feedback: Who is the most memorable character…

  1. Pingback: Notes from class: Year 11. Most memorable character | English teaching resources

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