Harper Lee Convey Ideas About Prejudice in “To Kill a Mockingbird”
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In her novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee, examines various themes very closely, however, one of the more dominant themes is that of prejudice. I shall be arguing that Harper Lee conveys her ideas, about this theme, in a very effective and persuasive manner. Several of the characters in the novel, that I will explore, contribute to the main themes of prejudice in a variety of ways. The Cunninghams and Ewells reveals the hierarchical structure of prejudice in the society, Tom Robinson and the aspects of racial prejudice), and Atticus through his through his non-prejudicial approach. Some of the issues that Harper Lee writes about would cause a lot of controversy or even incur legal action if used today for example, the social classes based on gender and colour (discrimination). In a school environment, how the Cunninghams and the black race were viewed would be seen as a form of bullying. Many different aspects of prejudice is mentioned in the novel – some easily noticeable such as racial and others require a certain amount of exploration, for example: religious, social, sexism and educational.
To Kill a Mockingbird was published during the 1960s, a time where there was a significant change in racial prejudice. The actual definition for prejudice is the preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual evidence. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited discrimination, influential individuals such as Rosa Parks rebelled against the typical social codes as secretary of NAACP (National Association for Advancement of Coloured People). Other notable people included, the legendary Martin Luther King, remembered for being the leader of a powerful protest and the delivery of his famous speech, I Have a Dream. By Harper Lee targeting her novel to the Americans of the 1960s, but setting the novel in 1930s, the book stirred up a lot of controversy; fictionalizing history is not only reminding Americans of the type of issues that occurred in their country from both points of view, but it teaches tolerance and brings awareness to Americans that weren’t involved. It reminds the readers of the unfair employment/social classes, the legality of segregation i.e. anti-miscegenation and the existence of the racist organisation Klu Klux Klan. However, most importantly, it shows the progress of America, of what it was to what it has become, and moreover, started to overcome.
The setting that Harper Lee chose for this controversial novel was Maycomb, a fictionalized area in Southern America (Alabama) where Harper Lee grew up – this was also in the 1930s where blacks and whites were segregated. The book To Kill a Mockingbird could be seen as a parallel of the then current Southern America. Southern America in the 1930s had a problem with prejudice which was enrooted in slavery. For example, a white slave masters’ views could influence generations and communities whilst a black slave because of his experience could influence his/her family, the black community- this would cause a division between the two races leading to stereotypes. These family/community beliefs and traditions eventually resulted in prejudice.
As well as the history of slavery, the Wall Street Crash and the Great Depression which occurred between the years of 1929-1939 contributed to the problem of prejudice. The Great Depression led to masses of people being made redundant, companies went into bankruptcy, 23,000 suicides occurred during that period and 75% of the USA was affected by drought. This historical event also fuelled prejudice as legal segregation still ensued, employment was incredibly difficult to get for black people, as a lack of education meant they couldn’t pass basic literacy tests. On the other hand, there’s also the frustration that the white community would go through to get the necessities, due to working harder including white females and a general lack of supplies. Because of this, there is agitation and worry on both races, so decided both blamed it on each other, casting the burden on the ‘opposing race’.
Southern America in the 1930s is paralleled to Maycomb; Maycomb is portrayed as a city of no change or progression, and strict traditions as Chapter One shows ‘There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy…nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County.’ And ‘Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps’. These descriptions depict that Maycomb is customary and one-levelled; with words such like ‘boundaries’, means a limit; this could be a limit to how far they can accept people different to themselves, which shows Maycomb is a base for prejudice to grow in. The description of Maycomb is detrimental to the readers’ first impressions. Now, as a reader, this can show a fixed state of living, and enable the readers’ emotions to be sympathetic towards the inhabitants, or have a preconceived negative opinion about Maycomb during the novel.
An exemplary but subtle example of a prejudice in the book would be religious prejudice which shall be explored briefly in this essay. Although as the abolition of slavery had occurred sometime ago, peoples’ attitudes towards Negroes had not changed – the stereotype that all Negroes act/speak the same, which could correspond with the mindsets of Maycomb, thinking a set way (narrow-minded). However, it is not just Negroes’ that Maycomb are prejudiced towards – it has a hierarchical system that was established within Maycomb. This assumption can be made because the readers see prejudiced views spoken by children up to adults, which shows the readers how deep rooted prejudice is within Maycomb. Another prejudice, social prejudice, can be viewed in chapter 8, pg 70 when Mr. Avery blames Maycomb County’s’ weather on the children; this could be because as there are ‘boundaries’ in Maycomb County, the elder community are not accustomed to this and as a result of this confusion, blame the younger generation.
Although, Maycomb County encompasses a lot of history the novel is narrated by Scout in the form of a retrospective and reflective narrative. Scout is the youngest Finch and her demeanour is slightly masculine – hence her nickname ‘Scout’. A scout being someone who loves the outdoors and adventurous, a scout is stereotyped to be a boy. By choosing Scout, a young girl to narrate quite serious issues, it shows them in quite a blunt, honest light, as being a minor, observant, smart and involved in varied situations, the reader gets to see prejudice in an innocent, straight-forward but also exaggerated light.
The different forms of prejudice through Scout was a genius idea because as she grew up, Scout began to realise the different types of prejudice, such as racial prejudice with Tom Robinsons’ trial – through Atticus Finch. She has encountered social prejudice as well, when having conversations with Aunt Alexandra about the Cunninghams ‘Because- he – is – trash, that’s why you can’t play with him’, this quote reveals that it isn’t race that is restricting Scout playing with Cunninghams, but something else. Aunt Alexandra thinks they shouldn’t be associated with them due to their poor status – this is a clear example of social prejudice, especially as Aunt Alexandra doesn’t have any personal contact with the Cunninghams, so her viewpoint of them is strictly based on their class. Through making Scout the narrator, we see prejudice first-hand as she learns via Atticus “Scout,” said Atticus, “nigger-lover is just one of those terms … that don’t mean anything – like snot-nose. It’s hard to explain – ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.”
“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”
“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes – baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”Through teaching Scout, Atticus also teaches the readers, the power of language and prejudice in Maycomb County (although it’s frequently used it doesn’t make it acceptable) and as Scout grows up we see that she would definitely not become a racist. In my opinion, Harper Lee chose Scout as a narrator because we can see a pure, absorbent view on characters and situations through a child i.e. pg. 169 ‘Don’t you remember me? I go to school with Walter’, this bout of naivety in an awkward situation contributed to breaking the tension and showed how reflecting on situations (which was what, assumedly, Mr. Cunningham did) can make a difference to initial situations – hurting Atticus. On the other hand, Harper Lee has ensured Scout is also smart, head-strong and opinionated so we get a thorough understanding of injustice i.e. pg 250 ‘Naw, Jem, I think there’s just one type of folks. Folks’ Her very simplistic opinion demonstrates how one child’s ideology is a moral way of thinking. We also see the contrast of age because the younger children are not set in the prejudiced society i.e. Dill, Jem, and Scout.
Gender prejudice is also explored through the character of Scout. Scout plays only with her elder brother and her best friend is a typical boy – moreover, she is motherless. Due to qualities and circumstances that Scout had encountered for example, when Miss Alexandra tells her she is not allowed to wear breeches, it helps shed a light on the gender discrimination/prejudice as it is happening to Scout first-hand. We see her fanaticism in Chapter 9 where she says ‘I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I was not supposed to be doing things that required pants.’ Such phrases like this, helps the reader to understand that Aunt Alexandra associates pants with boys, dresses with girls; girls have to be feminine and be ladylike i.e. cooking, cleaning, gardening. We can see Aunt Alexandra as a stereotypical Southern belle trying to fit Scout into that mould. From the aforementioned quotes, and the activities she does for example, playing with her brother and having a male best friend, displays that she wants to be accepted for who she is.
Harper Lee uses gender discrimination and prejudice to convey the point of difference and acceptance. The role of women in 1930’s was to help out throughout the Great Depression when women were panicking about the wellbeing of their husbands, houses, family and themselves; as well as trying to assist their husbands emotionally and financially through employment. This was because men were leaving their wives because of the pressure of supporting a family; there were more single women who had to support themselves – this still didn’t create gender equality. Women were seen as submissive, indirect and stereotypically weak, paralleling the women that are in the weekly Ladies gathering of Maycomb – they do not question their roles.
Maycomb is seen as a patriarchal society, and if a woman doesn’t marry or have children, and fill her time with baking, sewing, or gardening, it was seen as unwomanly, which is why, as Scout had no interest in doing feminine activities (always has her breeches on, and is best friends with a boy) Aunt Alexandra continued to attempt to transform her in to a “proper lady”, by talking, insulting Scout, to insisting she goes to the weekly tea gathering. Scout despises wearing dresses and has the idea that girl activities are wrong ”I declare to the Lord, you’re getting more like a girl everyday!’ With that I had no option but to join them.’ By Jem saying that quote, she is showing signs of succumbing because she doesn’t want to be called a girl. She is an evident tomboy, and because of that, she has a strained relationship with Aunt Alexandra’s relationship in which we view gender prejudice/standards in society.
‘Aunt Alexandra’s view of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets…furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine’. Aunt Alexandra always tried to adjust Scouts’ behaviours through Atticus and she takes a lead because he is a Father and ‘it takes a woman to do that type of work’ who may listen to Aunt Alexrandra because she is a woman. As Atticus doesn’t impose gender distinctions, but obviously understands prejudice, and as the Father probably doesn’t want Scout to go through mistreatment, so obliges with Aunt Alexandra’s instructions. ‘She asked me to tell you must try and behave like the little lady and gentleman that you are.’ When Scout starts to act a bit more feminine, we see Aunty Alexandra and Scouts’ friendship grow less awkward. This is shown in chapter 24, when Scout finally adheres to going to the meeting; she is wearing all pink. ‘Aunt Alexandra looked across the room at me and smiled.’
Aunt Alexandra believes very strongly in femininity. When Aunt Alexandra comes to visit she says ‘We decided that it would be best for you to have some feminine influence. It won’t be many years, Jean Louise, before you become interested in clothes and boys’. This comment implies that girls mains’ focus is their appearance (attire) and attracting men and then becoming submissive. As, the majority of Aunt Alexandra’s friends’ dress a certain way ‘most of them were heavily powdered but unrouged; the only lipstick in the room was Tangee Natural.’ The meeting seems a time to discuss and gossip.
There is clear sexism between males and females, and this is shown in the characters roles. A prime example is a conversation about Miss. Maudie in the later chapters. Miss. Maudie could be deemed as Atticus’ female counterpart due to her morals, her viewpoints even her relationship with Scout and Jem. ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird’. Nonetheless her rights are restricted because of her gender. She was one of the few characters in the novel that believed that Tom Robinson was not guilty, and agreed with Atticus Finch, however she was not allowed on the jury. ‘For one thing, Miss. Maudie can’t serve on a jury because she is a woman.’ (pg. 244) This shows the readers a lot, as Atticus disdains gender distinctions but he states that she is not allowed because she is a female, accepting the status quo as if it could be written in a Maycomb County rulebook. This is clear sexism.
Indeed, in this different but very insular town, Maycomb was not just a haven for racial prejudice but also of the social kind. The families of Maycomb were ordered via social class as well as stereotypes. People generally accepted Maycombs’ social class order as if it was customary ‘We could not expect her to learn all Maycomb’s ways in one day’, this quote makes the readers think that Maycomb was more of a school with rules than an open community. More over, Maycomb has certain ways that may be learnt which cannot be changed. This could add to the social groups or mannerisms of Maycomb. A person with extremely fixed social/class boundaries is Aunt Alexandra. She has meetings in which she soon became the secretary of the Maycomb Amanuensis Club, which shows how swiftly she can gain power/influence, which she uses to tell the children the “facts” of Maycomb and society (her opinions).
Pg. 142 ‘self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not it’s meaning… she would exercise her royal prerogative: she would arrange, advise, caution, and warn.’ The fact she has been described as having a ‘royal prerogative’ shows how highly she thinks of herself and how controlling she wishes to be, as the monarchy os the top of all social classes. A quote that summarises the entire class system and the difference between certain families in Maycomb are three quotes. When Atticus is speaking to Jem about the unfairness of Tom Robinsons’ trial pg.. 242 ‘Tom Robinson’s a coloured man’ this is stated as if colour is all it takes to get treated fairly, and race determines your position in society. Another one is pg.. 249 ‘I mean in Maycomb County.
The thing about it is, our kind of folks don’t like the Cunninghams, the Cunninghams don’t like the Ewells, and the Ewells hate and despise the coloured folks.’ This shows clear dislike for the assumed lower class; however, unfairly coloured folks aren’t assembled into smaller groups but as one collective group – this quote demonstrates racial as well as social prejudice. The last quote being ‘There’s four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbours, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes.’ This is an overview of Maycomb County, with the various different ‘strata’. However, these social ‘tags’ on families are unfair as there are exceptions, a mixture of personalities within families . The Ewells are a prime example with their poor conditions.
Throughout the novel, we hear a lot about the Ewells generally being of no advantage to the Maycomb County. These opinions also come from the most equality-minded people: Atticus, a moralist and educator and Scout. This could represent two meanings. One that the Ewells are commonly known for this reputation, or that it is simply the truth. Pg. 137 helps to show the disapproval and uniqueness that the Ewells have in the community. ‘Why, Atticus said they were absolute trash – I never heard Atticus talk about folks the way he talked about the Ewells.’ By Atticus saying that, it does not mean he has a grudge against this family , however, the readers see this during the interrogation at Tom Robinsons’ Trial on pg. 200 when he repeatedly calls her ‘Miss’.
Furthermore, although Atticus broke Mayella down eventually, he didn’t do it with the intention to hurt her even if he said that ‘the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations’ (pg. 33). This is proven after the interrogation on pg. 208 ‘Somehow, Atticus had hit her hard in a way that was not clear to me, but it gave him no pleasure to do so.’ On the other hand, if Atticus feels a certain way about the Ewells, he doesn’t act negative towards them and attempts to teach his children to accept everyone ‘Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes for a minute’. Atticus may’ve called the Ewells trash, not based on the situation where ‘Mr Bob Ewell stopped Atticus on the post-office corner, spat in his face’ but because of his own beliefs that ‘whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.’ (Chapter 23). However, it could be said that the family are mistreated and negatively stereotyped due to the Father Bob Ewell, and Burris Ewell being a ‘real mean one’. At the same time, Mayella is not completely “mean” like her other family members, her sensitive side (when she looks after her flowers) and it is said that they can ‘rival Miss Maudies’. This is social prejudice.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, there is another poor family named the Cunninghams, they are liked more by Scout than the Ewells ‘that boy’s not trash Jem. He’s not like the Ewells’ (pg. 248), it shows a difference in class division from a child’s perspective also. ‘I go to school with Walter. He’s a nice boy’ (Chapter 15), this is a contrast from peoples’ initial and only view of the Cunninghams that the community have – ‘I still say that Jean Louise will not invite Walter Cunningham to this house. If he were her double first cousin once removed he would still not be received in this house unless he comes to see Atticus on business. Now that is that.’ This statement is rather strange, as its showing that it’s irrelevant if relations are involved, one must be of a certain class. This definitely shows palpable social prejudice towards the Cunningham family because even though the Cunninghams are poor and are clearly lower-class, they are morally correct, loyal, determined and resilient ‘…The Cunninghams never took anything they can’t pay back – no church baskets and no scrip stamps. They never took anything off of anybody, they get along on what they have.
They don’t have much but they get along on it.’ (pg. 22). By this quote, the readers can see that the Cunninghams use initiative with the resources they have, which according to Scout, makes them Fine Folks ‘Somewhere, I had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had’ (pg. 143). However, after all these qualities, the family are still treated differently to other families.
‘By the time we reached our front steps Walter had forgotten he was a Cunningham’ (pg. 26). This hints that Walter was possibly feeling more comfortable in peoples’ presence and felt less like an outsider. Or alternatively, that he was acting more so, like Jem and Scout. The scene when Walter is having dinner with the Finches helps the reader to see that they treat the Cunninghams differently, especially when Scout is speaking to Calpurnia and he says ‘He ain’t company, Cal, he’s just a Cunningham-‘ (pg. 27). This reveals that the Cunninghams grew class by themselves; Scout isn’t particularly prejudiced, so it helps to prove that even if you’ve been brought up fair people i.e. Calpurnia, Atticus, Scout was still affected by this universally-known and accepted caste system in Maycomb.
Another family that the readers may not think are initially prejudiced against are the focal family: the Finches. Due to Atticus’ actions, Jem and Scout had to face the comment of being a ‘Nigger-Lover’ from various people including children from school, Mrs. Dubose and her cousin Francis Hancock. This shows how quickly the community are to limit families due to one person in the families’ activities (for example the Ewells, as I mentioned earlier in the essay).
Yet a further character that suffers prejudice, although less important in the novels’ storyline is Miss Caroline and her class. Her class treated her differently because she came from a different state (North Alabama, Winston County), so the qualities they understood the state had, was transmitted to Miss Caroline. ‘… harbour her share of the peculiarities indigenous to that region… North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests, Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors, and other persons of no background.’ (pg. 18).
This hints that they thought less of her. Additionally, because Scout said ‘Had her conduct been more friendly towards me, I would have felt sorry for her’ (pg. 24), it reveals that they looked at her as inexperienced and not capable of handling the class possibly because she is from a different state or alternatively, she cannot handle the ways of Maycomb because she is ‘of no background.’ Harper Lee presents social prejudice in Maycomb as like a caste system, set in stone, that one is born into prejudice and nothing can be solved. This demonstrates that not being prejudice is rebelling against the ways of Maycomb County. Lee may also be shedding light on reality, and showing the readers how class and social tags can affect the way one is treated amongst ones’ community.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, religious prejudice is shown through Harper Lee’s presentation of religion and the church. Black people in To Kill a Mockingbird are affected by religious prejudice as well as the Radleys. The readers view this when Calpurnia decides to take Jem and Scout to ‘First Purchase African M.E Church’. On pg. 130 it says ‘Negroes worshipped it on Sundays and white men gambled in it on weekdays’, just by the comparison it shows evidence of disrespect. Especially, as it’s a religious place of worship and they are known to be holy and people are gambling inside it (gambling also being a sin) adds to the religious prejudice. This is effective because it shows the readers how insignificant the whites viewed the property of the blacks. The reader can also observe the religious prejudice through the character named Lula who, with no hesitancy, stated their unwanted presence on pg. 131 ‘You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here – they got their church, we got our’n.’ Through this, we see the segregation and prejudice (social as well as religious) in the way that Lula mistreats Scout and Jem. This is effective because it demonstrates the social tension that existed at the time between the blacks and whites. Harper Lee shows a combination of prejudices i.e. religion and racism.
Although Maycomb County is a strong religious community, there are divisions within this including ‘foot-washing Baptists’ that ‘believe anything that’s pleasure is a sin’. (pg.49). Miss. Maudie labels Mr. Radley as a foot-washing Baptist on the basis that he doesn’t leave his house. She puts Mr. Radley in his own the category as if it is setting stone, ‘You know old Mr. Radley was a foot-washing Baptist’ which could be her reason for his peculiar ways (according to Maycomb County) such as not leaving his house.
Scout seems to understand this when she says ‘various Protestant hells’. It’s an overview of the various denominations/groups, including the qualities/customs they have, that may be irregular to other members that do not belong to a denomination/group but may be acceptable because they are simply just who they are.
Although, foot-washing Baptists are prejudiced in a category by themselves, they are in turn prejudice towards women – sexist, it is accepted as a view of theirs. A quote that proves this ‘foot-washers think women are a sin by definition’. This could be a stereotyped group that it appears only Miss. Maudie uses, because of the prejudice against her; ‘…unusually stern-faced citizens appeared. When they pointed to Miss. Maudie Atkinson’s yard, ablaze with summer flowers’, from this quote and throughout the book, we know Miss. Maudie as being a positive role model to Jem and Scout (in particular, Scout and good company) so when Miss. Maudie says ‘Did you know some of ’em came out the woods one Saturday and passed by this place and told me, me and my flowers were going to hell?’, it suggests that these ‘foot-washing Baptists’ were deluded or mean.
Scout picks up on this view on pg. 175 ‘Why the objected to Miss. Maudie’s yard was a mystery, heightened in my mind because for someone who spent all their daylight hours outdoors, Miss. Maudie’s command of Scripture was formidable.’ This makes the readers wonder whether it’s the strength of her faith or whether it’s her gender that is formidable. Another quote which demonstrates the combined prejudice of religion and sexism ‘Again, as I had often met it in my own church, I was confronted with the Impurity of Women doctrine that seemed to preoccupy all clergymen’ (pg. 131). This is evident prejudice from the church, whose overall doctrine is supposed to be ‘love thy neighbour as yourself’ (equality). This quote shows inequality, prejudice towards all women with no exceptions; strangely, this idea is shared in the “black” and “white” church – shows a certain sense of wholeness and similarity but because of social and racial prejudice, this would never be admitted.
Religion in southern America is prevalent, as a lot of people typically went to church and it was abnormal not to. The readers view this through the treatment and isolation that the Radleys experience because of the non-conforming to the Maycomb society. “They close their doors, and do not attend church.” In a contemporary society, this would not be seen as incorrect, but in the Maycomb Community, the Radleys are the only family which don’t. The isolation is emphasised by the positioning of the Radley place ‘jutted into a sharp curve’. This reflects the community’s perception on the Radleys; them sticking out as strange citizens. They treat them with prejudice as they isolate the Radleys and do not socialise with them.
On the other hand, it is not only groups that experience discrimination; non-conformists to the ‘Codes of Maycomb’ also suffer prejudice. Boo Radley is an individual that is hardly vocal and in the novel is greatly judged. This is prejudice around the fear of the unknown as it was a preconceived opinion. He was focused upon at the beginning of the novel, especially by Dill, Scout and Jem in their summers. We see this throughout the novel, firstly through curiosity and dares where they attempt to grab his attention. ‘I won’t say you ran out on a dare an’ I’ll swap you My Grey Ghost if you just go up and touch the house…. Touch the house that’s all?’ they treated Boo Radley as if he was a monster from a myth told by their forefathers ‘A baseball hit into the Radley yard was a lost ball and no questions asked.’
People may have had that view of them because the Radleys didn’t speak out about the family history, and because everyone in Maycomb County is grouped into a category. People decided to take the responsibility of adding details to Boo Radley to their knowledge of him (bad teenage childhood and apparently that he stabbed his Fathers’ leg with a pair of scissors). This prejudice was fuelled by fear, stemmed with rumour and ended up with superstition. Scouts description shows the exaggeration of how far the community can isolate with their own prejudices ‘Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo… There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.’ They have made Boo Radley to be scary and intimidating whereas throughout the novel, he befriended Scout and Jem. ‘Boo was our neighbour. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies and our life.’
Although, he privately helped with the saving of Jem and Scouts life, in effect he is innocent and incredibly shy. ‘He almost whispered it, in the voice of a child afraid of the dark.’ This conjures up an image that he has no public communication skills, even though he’s an adult. Not only was it the children that thought this way, but other members of the community who had negative views of him also ‘Stephanie Crawford even told me once she woke up in the middle of the night and found him looking in the window at her.’ It seems as the readers, we were given misleading, accurate information throughout the novel until his emergence at the end of the novel. On the other hand, his appearance may’ve been monstrous; he has a contrasting personality ‘His grey eyes were colourless.
His hair is dead and thin’, this sounds slightly ghastly but then, one has to consider that he left his house (which was not second nature to Boo) and went to save Jem and Scout – who have done nothing to protect or uplift him. Additionally, he didn’t show any signs of concealing his murder of Bob Ewell although he’s incredibly shy ‘for the same shy smile crept across his face’ – which shows one needs to communicate, or at least meet with a person in order to make reasonable judgement.
Boo was seen as an outsider, and experienced social prejudice. Boo Radley suffered immense prejudice whilst in his home, this is shown at the end of the novel when Scout has a revelation. ‘…you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.’ He could’ve decided to stay in his house due to feeling uncomfortable because he observes how people view him from a distance for instance, children used him as the main part of their games, acts and planned different tactics to get to his house. Harper Lee may’ve used Scouts’ two judgements on Boo Radley to show (as a generalisation), people can be wrong about how they view people.
There are two characters in the novel that show no prejudice towards Boo Radley though and one of them is Atticus: the moralist.
Atticus, could be said to carry the morals of the novel as he carries the most risky task which goes against the “Unwritten Code of Maycomb”, but was also the most controversial and spoke about amongst the community. Some could call Atticus patriotic. ‘He liked Maycomb; he was Maycomb. County born and bred’ The elaboration after the semi-colon shows how proud he is of his birthplace and emphasises the importance of Maycomb to him, and how imperative Atticus is to Maycomb. ‘Atticus Finch won’t win, he can’t win, but he’s the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that.’ Miss. Maudie identifies Atticus’ positive qualities as at that time, Scout and Jem were facing confrontations as well as, receiving the negativity from the result of their Fathers actions – Atticus is a fatherly figure, so by putting his families’ wellbeing at risk, shows his social responsibility to Maycomb. By including the embedded clause ‘he can’t win’ and the contrasting connectives ‘but’ shows his persistence, hope and optimism because he knows he won’t win but attempts.
This type of attitude could be linked to idealism because he’s striving to make change and will continue to try. Lastly, by saying, ‘he’s the only man in these parts, who can keep a jury who out so long’, could emphasise the fact that Atticus is one of a kind, unique, and even brave. The use of the word ‘only’ could be singling him out as the best and the only hope for the black community. Honest people like Miss. Maudie make many positive comments about Atticus and this proves that he shouldn’t be prejudiced against ‘Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets’, this quote challenges the hypocrisy that occurs in Maycomb and shows he is one of the few that is not involved. The statement makes the reader assume that Atticus acts well in private and public, and no facades are put on; or Miss. Maudie would’ve suggested otherwise (‘she had an acid tongue in her head’). Atticus is both a maternal and paternal figure to his children and the rest of Maycomb County ‘Atticus had urged them to accept the state’s generosity in allowing them to plead guilty…escape with their lives’, shows interest in others welfare.
After all the evidence aforementioned of Atticus being a positive citizen to his family and his community, Atticus experiences prejudice from the same people (this shows intense hypocrisy) because of his responsibility to his job and for helping out someone; that person being a black person coincidentally. We see this when a number of people from Maycomb label Atticus ‘nigger-lover’ including Francis Hancock who is family, Cecil Jacobs – Scouts classmate, Bob Ewell and Mrs. Dubose when she shouts ‘Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!’; these quotes are all related to the Tom Robinson case. Atticus does not retaliate, instead compliments her by calling her a ‘great lady’. Prejudice is shown before the trial case on pg. 180 by people (court-house critics also known as Idlers Club) that haven’t been mentioned previously, Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him. That’s what I don’t like about it.’ This reveals that the court-house critics do not agree with what he was appointed to, although they know the system of the courts (pg. 179 ‘they knew as much law as the Chief Justice, from long years of observation’) which consequently means they dislike Atticus because of his choice to defend a black person.
The second person that is very similar to Atticus is Miss. Maudie. She is not prejudiced. This is seen several times, for example when speaking about Boo Radley ‘He always spoke nicely to me, no matter what folks said he did’. In contrast to the rest of the other characters, Miss. Maudie wants to get rid of prejudice ‘And I thought to myself, well we’re making a step – it’s just a baby-step, but it’s a step’, she says this when Atticus holds out the jury in the Tom Robinson trial. She attempts to combat prejudice against Atticus in these all-female tea party , ‘His food doesn’t stick going down, does it?’ Miss. Maudie states this when Miss. Merriweather is condoning Atticus’ actions which denotes that she doesn’t agree. Miss. Maude suffers prejudice because of her hobby by the ‘Foot-Washing Baptists’ who said she was going to hell. This may be because she isn’t the typical Southern belle – she is logical, outspoken and independent.
Comparatively to Boo Radleys situation, Dolphus Raymond is an outsider because of his relationship with a demeaned race (black people). He has gone against social codes, ‘He’s got a coloured woman and all sorts of mixed chillun’ and because of that reason, perhaps that could be why he lives by himself way down near the county line’. He shows that he is neither here nor there, and very impartial and not racist. Dolphus Raymond admits this himself ‘I’m not much of a drinker, but you see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that’s the way I want to live.’ This displays that he has to pretend to be an alcoholic, in order for Maycomb to deal with his differences (bi-racial children and a black wife) ‘it helps folks if they can latch on to a reason… that’s why he won’t change his ways. He can’t help himself, that’s why he lives the way he does.’ Dolphus Raymond has to isolate and attach an addiction to his persona, in order for Maycomb to ‘permit’ him because of the strict social codes.
Overall, the dominant and destructive form of prejudice in the novel is racism. A main focus is the language used, the use of derogatory language throughout the community, used by even minors for instance Francis Hancock. Francis Hancock uses the word ‘nigger-lover’ as an insulting outburst on pg. 92 ‘…but now he’s turned out a nigger-lover we’ll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb again. He’s ruinin’ the family, that’s what he’s doin.’ Being a ‘nigger-lover’ is not negative, because it shows anti-racism but in Maycomb it affects people’s viewpoints, in a negative light, towards the Finches (including Jem and Scout).
Segregation is a direct result of racist views. A prime example of this was the seating arrangements in the Tom Robinson trial. The black people had to sit upstairs (furthest away from the case) and the white people sat downstairs where the trial was taking place. The only people that sat with the black people were: Jem, Scout, Dill and Mr. Dolphus Raymond. No one steps out of their race otherwise they would be called ‘white trash’ or ‘nigger-lover’s. Harper Lee shows such racism through the language used. If they were to step out of ‘bounds’, they would be isolated due to the racial prejudice.
Racial prejudice is exemplified through the lack of education and employment opportuniities; throughout the novel, no black people are mentioned in the school or with any professional/job. An example is in Chapter 12, when Calpurnia takes Jem and Scout to church and Calpurnia says there’ll be no point in getting hymn books because ‘They can’t read’. Black people were denied jobs and offered low paid jobs in the fields or as a cook. Black people weren’t awarded justice or treated justly. The outcome of the trial was inevitable. ‘Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men’s hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed’ (pg. 266). People had the ideology that black people were evil-doers and therefore kept away from the white women. The Tom Robinson trial case is perfect for this point because Mayella Ewell knew that if her secret desire (to kiss a Negro man of her own accord) emerged then she would never be accepted in society, she’d rather let a Negro man die than allow that to happen.
The Tom Robinson case is extremely similar to the current affair (of that time), and that being the Scotboroughs Case. Some people claim that Harper Lee gained inspiration from this case, in which we could compare Atticus to Judge James E. Horton and Samuel Leibowitz. The Scotboroughs Case was about two prostitutes that did an illegal act (in Mayella’s case, something forbidden) and to divert the attention, accused black men on the train. No medical advice was shown and two men that were convicted in the Scotboroughs Case were not physically apt, like Tom Robinsons and his arms. The younger prostitute received serious scrutiny, where it was obvious she wasn’t raped but she still wasn’t convicted, the same as Mayella Ewell.
The trial is a pivotal point in the book, and the lead-up to demonstrate racial prejudice. The idea that Mayella Ewell attempts to seduce or use force get into a sexual circumstance with Tom Robinson, due to loneliness could be an idea to ponder on. Because of the class division, Mayella Ewell is put into an extremely low category so may not get any type of attention from males besides her Father. Tom Robinson can be seen as a mockingbird figure because of innocence, and he is only there to help/comfort others. However society states that it was not his place to enter and assist a young white woman although he had done it several times before. Tom disregarded social codes and decided to socialise with Mayella due to her loneliness ‘And do a quiet, respectable, humble negro who had the unmitigated temerity to ‘feel sorry’ for a white woman who has to put his word against two white peoples.’ Tom didn’t intentionally mean any harm, but is a victim of racism and dies because he is the wrong race – a black man in a white society.
Harper Lee shows solutions of how to face prejudice through courage and tolerance. A person who had immeasurable amounts of tolerance was Atticus, and he taught/influenced his children to learn the skill of tolerating someone by correcting them and through his maxim to stand in other people’s shoes, although he was put in very vulnerable situations, where he had to show enormous courage. In Chapter 15, he faced the lunch mob with an external serenity. ‘You children last night made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute.’ Even though, his life was at risk, his maxim still applied; Atticus’ tolerance and understanding towards people is shown because his reaction is calm even though, Bob Ewell ‘stopped Atticus on the post-office corner, spat in his face, and told him he’d get him if it took the rest of his life.’ The angry statement displays his overall attitude towards situations (viewing things from two sides). By accepting the label ‘nigger-lover’, and basing his jury speech on equality, and placing colour to the side, it shows how morally courageous Atticus is because he is aware of the racial prejudice that everyone has in the community – he also makes a stand against all the mockery, or mistreatment he could be given.
Calpurnia, another active member in the Finch family help to show that one can overcome prejudice using the method of either courage or tolerance. Calpurnia is at the bottom of the social hierarchy but she acts as the protector. She is respected by Atticus, as well as the children but suppressed by society (this is shown when Alexandra tells Atticus that Calpurnia ‘has to go’). As a black woman, she is seen as very helpful, proactive and brave.
The ‘Mad Dog’ scenario is an example of where Calpurnia disregard social codes and attempts to tell the Radleys. By exhibiting this type of behaviour in front of Jem and Scout, it encourages them to be less biased towards hierarchy. They see Calpurnia as a mothering replacement and not only as a black housewife. Atticus agrees with this statement by saying ‘she’s been harder on them in some ways than a mother would have been.’ This is evident through her actions: ‘Calpurnia bent down and kissed me’ (pg. 32). Calpurnia is seen as a bridge between white people and the black community. When Calpurnia brings Jem and Scout to the church, Scout and Jem face social/religious prejudice because of the racial segregation. However, Calpurnia counterbalances her argument which helps Jem and Scout to idolise her.
Many forms of segregation and prejudice are represented in this book. It is believed that Harper Lee had this to show the reader who found it difficult to be treated fairly, and to also make the reader realize how life was in the 1930’s. Concluding, that one couldn’t escape prejudice, no matter how positive and innocent, i.e. Boo Radley, helpful; and moral, Atticus being non-conforming and Dolphus Raymond, one is, due to prejudice, everyone is discriminated against in one form or other. She may have showed this, with an ending chapter (epiphany), by a more maturing Scout displaying how people should choose to act, and mature from prejudice. The fact that her audience were people from the 1960s, and there was prejudice and grudges against/towards black people as well as other forms of prejudice, for instance gender, equality in politics and employment, shows that she wants the book to be evidence for the immorality of ‘old’ America, and how they need to ‘grow’.
Also, because of the direct parallelisms, between the novel and reality helps the readers to grab an understanding, almost immediately. An example o this is the Scotboroughs Case. The real-life similarities such as Atticus to Judge James E. Horton who both went against their community – Judge James E. Horton overturned the trial and his career went downhill, whereas Atticus was prejudiced and threatened. The Scotboroughs Case is paralleled to Tom Robinsons Case; the difference, there were two prostitutes that were committing vagrancy and diverted the trouble and stated that a group of men raped them. There was no medical evidence, and eight out of nine men were convicted whereas two of the men had physical hindrances which would’ve made rape, physically not possible (Tom Robinsons’ arms). Additionally, society’s attitude to the defendants were the same, they were both infamous and the cases attracted a lot of attention.
Furthermore, Harper Lee included heavy prejudice (racism, hierarchy system) and minor prejudice (religious), her main family were ‘prejudice-free’, and unbiased at the end, so showed that there is positivity wherever there is negativity. Scout, the narrator, developed greatly up in the two year period of the novel, and we see the difference in her thoughts – her viewpoint helped everyone to see prejudice in such a blunt light, which showed the crude and unbelievable ‘rules’ within communities; making it hard to ignore. By demonstrating a wide variety of prejudice, it shows how America’s attitude was and how ignorant the American appeared to be.
In doing that, it brought awareness to the readers at the time, and helped people to reflect on their community, their current grudges and to possibly correct them. People gather from the novel, that if more people spoke up (Dolphus Raymond, Miss. Maudie) within the community besides Atticus, there could have been more of an impact. In saying this, one could say that her approach to prejudice proved a definite desire for change in her society – in this; I believe she achieved her purpose. By fictionalizing history and writing this novel, it has been a positive educative tool, teaching tolerance subliminally and slowly allowing the readers to develop awareness through the narrator. It was palpable to me, that moralistic characters such as Atticus helped people to get into thinking like other characters due to Atticus’ maxim ‘standing in someone else’s shoes’. Harper Lee wanted change.