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How Guilt Is Portrayed in Macbeth and to Kill a Mockingbird

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How Guilt is Portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird and Macbeth In 1623 William Shakespeare wrote his play Macbeth, 337 years later Harper Lee wrote her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Although the texts were written in entirely different eras and settings, both texts are similar in the theme of guilt. Guilt is a self-critical emotion that humans feel that compromises their sense of moral integrity. Guilt allows whoever is feeling this emotion to know that they have wronged another person or themselves and gone against their sense of responsibility or moral standards. In both Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the lead villains follow parallel paths with regard to their guilt, undertaking ill advised courses of actions which result not only in the undoing of the women in their lives, but also ultimately their own demise. Early on in William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth the lead character Macbeth is at war with himself over what the correct course of action is, burdened by the Weird Sisters’ stating “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” (I.iii.51), which leaves Shakespeare with the choice of taking Macbeth down the path of letting life play it’s course or taking matters into his own hands. Macbeth ultimately chooses to take matters into his own hands and kills King Duncan. This allows the play to follow the action plan of Macbeth instantly becoming king of Scotland, causing him to spend the rest of the play covering up his tracks. Similarly, in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird the lead villain, Bob Ewell, uses a false accusation against an innocent black man to cover up his assault on his daughter. When Bob Ewell wins the case he loses the little amount of respect that the people have for him, he then begins a progression of events that target the characters that fought against him directly or indirectly. In both texts the first action that the antagonists makes against an innocent leads to a long path of struggling to make the right decision. Following the theme of guilt and the effects it may have on people, both Lee and Shakespeare used the females closest to the male leads to show how guilt can negatively affect a mind. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Mayella Ewell shows a lot of emotions in the brief period she was shown in, guilt happens to be one of them. Lee uses Mayella to portray guilt through both the actions she takes on the stand and later in the chapter when Atticus asks if she loves her father, Lee writes “‘He’s tollable, ‘cept when-’” (208) and “‘Was this the first time you asked him to come inside the fence?’ Mayella jumped slightly at this question.” (209) showing the struggle Mayella is facing. Lee portrays Mayella as an innocent struggling with the inner battle of betraying her father and allowing Tom Robinson to be free of the burden of this crime. Lee subtly portrays the guilt Mayella is feeling, whereas Shakespeare goes for a more obvious approach when it comes to the guilt the male antagonist’s female counterpart feels. Unlike Mayella Ewell, who is portrayed as helpless, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as a ruthless character when we first see her in Macbeth plotting Duncan’s murder before Macbeth presents her with the idea. Lady Macbeth outwardly and obviously portrays the guilt she’s feeling, shown in the play with her sleepwalking, with the gentlewoman and the doctor hearing her speak in her unconscious state stating, “Yet who would/have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?” (V.i.33-34), in reference to when Macbeth killed King Duncan. Shortly after that statement in the scene she also admits to Banquo’s death being the doing of her husband. Lee never made clear the fate of Mayella Ewell in her novel, but Shakespeare kills off Lady Macbeth in an act of suicide, assumed for her to escape her own guilty conscience. Macbeth and Bob Ewell are both led down paths that are immoral and ultimately lead to their demise. Macbeth comes to power cruelly and continues to reign as a tyrant, stated when Macduff remarks, “Not in the legions/Of horrid hell can come a devil more damned/In evils to top Macbeth.” (IV.iii.63-65), explaining that the crimes Macbeth had committed cannot be worse than the ones committed by the devil himself. In comparison to Macbeth, Bob Ewell was born into the power he had over the situation seeing as although, he was a poor white man he was still white; in the 1930s, which is the time period To Kill a Mockingbird was set in, even the poorest white man was more respected than the richest black man. Bob Ewell, like Macbeth, also took advantage of the power he had when he wrongly accused a black man for sexually assaulting his daughter. Both antagonist’s initial actions, Macbeth killing Duncan and Bob Ewell’s accusations of Tom Robinson, led them to more terrible actions and in the end, their demise. Bob Ewell, first harrasesses the wife of Tom Robinson, then breaks into the judge’s house and finally attacks Atticus’ children towards the end of To Kill a Mockingbird. Ewell does this unknowing of the silent protector the kids had, who was able to save the children from his attack by killing him with a kitchen knife, proven to the reader when Heck Tate states “‘Bob Ewell’s lyin’ on the ground under that tree down yonder with a kitchen knife stuck up under his ribs. He’s dead, Mr. Finch.’” (305), showing that the ill advised actions he took led him to his death. Shakespeare portrays the same thing vastly different when he makes Macbeth think he’s invincible with the lines, “...for none of woman born/Shall harm Macbeth.” (IV.i.88-89), until Macduff and Malcolm bring an army to Dunsinane where Macbeth is brought to his death by Macduff, who “...was from his mother’s womb/Untimely ripped.” (V.viii.19-20), meaning he could kill Macbeth. Macbeth was killed because of his tyranny, proving that his misguided actions and him interfering with what fate had in store leads to his demise. Their ill advised courses of action took them down immoral paths leading to their deaths, and in both texts the death of a villain was preceded by the death of innocent people, Duncan, Banquo, and Macduff’s family in Macbeth and Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird, making their deaths a way of showing that all actions have consequences. In both Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the lead villains follow parallel paths with regard to their guilt, undertaking ill advised courses of actions which result not only in the undoing of the women in their lives, but also ultimately their own demise. Lee and Shakespeare both used the theme of guilt to show not only that all that goes around will come around, but also shows the need for people to either clear their slate or think nothing of the actions they’ve taken, showing that human portrayal of guilt as a concept has not changed in nearly 340 years. Shakespeare and Lee also prove with their texts that the actions you take against people can indirectly or directly harm those that are closest to you.

Work Cited
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. The Global Shakespeare Series. Ed. Dom Saliani, Chris Ferguson, Dr. Tim Scott. 1564-1616. Print.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins, 1960. Print…...

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