“Atticus provides sufficient evidence for Tom’s acquittal and in fact proves that Mayella’s father, Bob, is responsible for the marks on her face and neck. However, the all-white jury convicts Tom anyway and later he is shot while trying to “escape” from prison. Bob Ewell is infuriated by the accusations made by Atticus and attacks his children Jem and Scout with a knife as they walk home from a Halloween party. Boo Radley saves the children and fatally stabs Ewell. Boo carries the wounded Jem back to the Finch house and after sitting with Scout for some time, disappears into the Radley house.” (Kasper, 2006, p.274)
The study of identities of characters in the story is facilitated through an understanding of General Semantics. Closely related to the ideas introduced by the Frankfurt school and Western Marxists, General Semantics gives rise to the concept of non-identity. Broadly speaking, the theory of non-identity states that each object/person is quite unique. The same is true of words, where they can only be employed as approximations of the actual things they stand for. Extending this theory to the novel, we learn that describing people in generalized terms can be a precarious exercise. For example, the
“townspeople and the jury are convinced Tom Robinson is guilty of raping a white girl simply because of their prejudiced view of black Americans. It was unacceptable for a black man to come anywhere near a white woman. If accused of the rape of a white woman, a black man was often lynched. During the trial, when Tom Robinson testifies that he did not rape Mayella and in fact she propositioned him, the jury refuses to believe him because it is a black man’s word against a white person’s. Tom’s character is not considered outside the generalizations made about his race.” (Murray, 2010, p.75)
Scenes like these from the novel illustrate how blacks were conferred a generic negative identity. To study the work in the backdrop of a Western Marxist model, Michel Foucault’s conceptualization ‘Panopticon and the Other’ is quite relevant. First articulated in his book ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison’, this model offers a pessimistic view of society, and presents it as “is an infallible design of repression from which no one can escape, at least not without severe repercussions”. (Best, 2009, p.542) This model comes across as deterministic, thereby sapping the main characters Atticus, Scout and Jem of volition and merit. Sociologist Claudia Durst Johnson offers an alternative take on the ‘Other’ in the novel. She notes that individuals arrive at their self-identities through their encounters with external forces – forces that are outside their commonplace lives. As a result of these encounters, they “break the cultural and psychological barriers that imprison them and come to embrace a larger world.” (Best, 2009, p.543) In the cases of Scout and Jem they are still learning the rules of society and their own places in it. The thus “find alien forces in social outcasts and people of other classes. The sense of the Other is apparent in the social development of Scout and Jem, in class, race, and gender prejudices and even in the children’s fascination with Arthur “Boo” Radley.” (Best, 2009, p.543) Boo Radley as the most important ‘Other’ is quite interesting, for he belongs to their race. This illustrates the Marxist assertion that social class is one of the most powerful markers of self-identity.