To Kill a Mockingbird is a very popular American novel. The plot was loosely based on Harper Lee’s own family and neighbors when she was a child. (Castleman) The novels’ setting is during the Great Depression in the fictional small, southern town Maycomb, Alabama. The narrator of the book is six year old Scout Finch. She lives with her older brother Jem and father Atticus. Atticus is a lawyer in Maycomb. It was during this time period that prejudice was at its peak. There are many forms of discrimination in the novel, but the three most obvious prejudices are racism, sexism, and class-ism.
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Racial prejudice is seen throughout this novel and is brought upon the Negroes. An example of this is during Tom Robinson’s trial. Tom was a black man accused of raping a white woman. Even though all the facts proved that he didn’t do it, the jury still found him guilty. The justice system didn’t allow him to have a fair trial because of the color of his skin. They disregarded his testimony and other witnesses’ credibility; all that was focused on was his race. To further illustrate race during the trial, the blacks had to sit in the upper balcony in the courtroom. The whites were granted the best seats. (sparknoteseditors) Race is taken to a further extent in the book when blacks are denied opportunities. They are forced to do jobs no one else would want to do and are forced to work for very low wages. Their children aren’t allowed to attend school with the whites. They live in the outskirts of Maycomb and are deprived of justice. (Wikipedia) “Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.” (Lee 244) Because Tom was a Negro, the jury convicted him without a second look.
Another prejudice shown throughout the novel is gender prejudice. Scout is ridiculed by the Finch family because of her lack of being lady-like. Because she was a girl, she was expected to act and wear lady-like clothing. For further proof, the men in Maycomb talk of how women should not participate in the court system because they may cause a confrontation with the convicts. (Guillemin 22)Gender prejudice is an important topic of the book because women in this time period were restricted from things that society didn’t want them to do and they couldn’t do anything about it.
Many of the female characters in the novel influence Scouts development. Scout’s main female role models are Calpurnia and her neighbor Miss Maudie. These women are determined, loving, caring, independent, and protective of Scout. Mayella Ewell also has influenced Scout. Scout see’s her destroy Tom’s life and wrongly accuse him of something that secretly she wanted. The female characters who criticized Scout the most about her “lack of being lady-like” were those who had the most racist and opinionated points of view. For example, Mrs. Dubose scolds Scout for not wearing a dress, and thinks she is ruining her father’s good name by not doing so. (Wikipedia)
“You know something, Scout? I’ve got it all figured out, now. There’s four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes.” [Jem] (Lee 227)
The third prejudice talked about in the novel is social class prejudice. An example is when people in town criticized Atticus for defending an African American because he was a white lawyer. His ‘class’ did not belong defending Tom’s class. Because Scout and Jem are the children of Atticus, they are discriminated against as well. The main reason is because they are relatively wealthy white people who are defending poor African Americans. Another example of classism is when Aunt Alexandra forbids Scout to play with Walter Cunningham. Walter is a poor boy who Scout goes to school with. Aunt Alexandra sees Walter and his family as poor and beneath the Finches, in her words,” …they’re good folks. But they’re not our kind of folks.” (Lee 223)
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Furthermore, social class prejudice is also in the church society as well. The Negroes of Maycomb County are forced to pay for their own church because they are not allowed in the white’s church. Regardless of class, Jem and Scout still had relationships with all different kinds of people. They had relations with the old, conservative Mrs. Dubose; the low class Ewells, and Cunninghams who were just as poor as the Ewells but were hard working people; and Calpurnia and other people in the black community. (Wikipedia) Jem and Scout use what their father has taught them about people and use it in their day to day life. Atticus advises them not to judge someone until they have walked around in that person’s skin, gaining a greater understanding of people’s motives and behavior. (Sullivan 340)
There are many forms of discrimination in the novel, but the three most obvious prejudices are racism, sexism, and classism. The prejudice seen in this novel corresponds with the narrow-mindedness of many people during this time period. Prejudice was part of the very fiber of Southern life during the Great Depression.(Bloom 5) People judge others before they even know them, this is because they based them on their race, gender, or class. Thank goodness times have changed and now there is equality for all, no matter who they are or where they’re from. This novel is a great All- American piece of literature and teaches some very important life lessons.
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