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Prejudice: Social and Racial Conflicts in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

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Prejudice today seems as something people say by accident: without knowing what the dangers of the words leaving their mouth would cause. Playing ball at a local park a kid yells to his teammate who just struck out, “stop playing like a girl” making it seem as though it is an insult to be a girl, another example: while talking to your brother who is on the computer, you notice him listening to Coldplay and accuse him of being gay, not being completely aware of your prejudice against homosexuals. Nearly sixty-five years into the past, during the depression era, people acted similarly in the realistic fiction, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, written by Harper Lee. In this story prejudice is a reoccurring theme and is presented by social and racial categories.

Prejudice in “To Kill a Mockingbird” occurs frequently throughout the story. Many times someone is being prejudice toward someone else, they use the phrase to be more insulting or intimidating, usually because that’s how they were brought up. Francis, Scout and Jem’s cousin, yells, “He’s nothin’ but a nigger-lover!” Referring to Atticus, while he was sprinting down the hall to his kitchen. Believing what he is saying is correct, Francis says, “[…] it certainly does mortify the rest of the family” After listening to his grandma he is convinced that Jem and Scout “[…] don’t know any better” (83). Mrs. Merriweather said later in the book that “there’s nothing more distractin’ than a sulky darky […] just ruins your day to have one of them in your kitchen.” (232) Mrs. Merriweather didn’t mean that statement to be prejudice, but that’s how I, as the reader, read it and perceived it.

Racial prejudice is extremely abundant in this novel. Tom Robinson is a great example of prejudice later in the book. Tom was convicted for raping a white woman because he was black, and Atticus, believing Tom and going against what the rest of Maycomb believed, was Tom’s lawyer. “Why reasonable people go stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up, is something I don’t pretend to understand” (88). Tom ended up being proved guilty even though he was innocent, and the idea that crept over Atticus’s mind was that Mr. Ewell raped his daughter and needed a scapegoat to blame it on, and decided on Tom (chap. 17).

Calpurnia, the Finch’s black housemaid, is a prime example of prejudice in Mayfield. At home she “[doesn’t] talk like the rest of em’ […] Cal but [she] talk[s] like them in church” (176). Calprnia explained how she needs to talk different in front of whites because it gives a different mood and idea that the whites think about her, but at church a more accustomed voice is well accepted. In general the people thought that blacks were less powerful and influential and more easily persecuted for something they didn’t do, just because they were raised that way. Cecil Jacobs said, while discussing the Jews persecution in class one day, “Ain’t no cause to persecute them, they’re white aren’t they?” (245) even though the Jews have been Persecuted many times in the past.

Another type of prejudice well illustrated in this novel was social prejudice. People would categorize groups of people or families based on their social status, color, race, or religion. The Cunningham’s are poor, and people sometimes treat them that way, even if the people are not aware that they are. Scout asked Walter Cunningham over for dinner because she felt bad for him. Calpurnia noticed Scout talking about how Walter ate and told him that most folks don’t eat as well as they do and Scout replied unknowingly, “He ain’t company Cal, he’s just a Cunningham” (24). This single statement shows how Scout is not knowledgeable about what she says that’s prejudice. People also classify the Ewell family as bad and evil. “Every town like Maycomb has a family like the Ewells” (170). Even the Radleys are seen as an odd family. “I know what we are going to play […] Boo Radley.” (38). People sometimes categorize entire families such as these because they feel that if your related to someone who may be poor, or weird, or mean that automatically makes you poor, weird or mean. People in Maycomb even categorized people like Atticus, because he defends black people. They even tell Scout when she’s at school that, “My folks said your daddy is a disgrace” (76).

The prejudice in this story is all tied into the title of the story “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Harper Lee was explaining how numerous characters in the story are “mockingbirds” because of Atticus’s statement about how it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. With this analogy he thinks that persecuting someone of color, of a foreign religious decent, or being a woman is wrong because in their own minds they did nothing wrong. He believes that everyone is “certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions.” (108), referring to the people calling Atticus a Nigger-lover. Even though he tries to love everyone, he still believes in justice. “The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – 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.” (220).

To Conclude; Prejudice, the main theme of this novel, was expressed racially, and socially. To Kill a Mockingbird refers not only to the scene where Atticus explains that killing a mockingbird is a sin, but also to the characters in the story, who were persecuted for being racially, sexually, or ethnically different from everyone else, who could be referred to as mockingbirds.

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