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”To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee Literary Analysis

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In the words of Anthony J. D’Angelo, “If you believe that discrimination exists, it will.” The novel To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee, is set in the early thirties in the deep south of Alabama. Various characters are subjected to the old-fashioned ways of discrimination and inequity often found in such a setting. The main protagonist Scout attempts to grasp the concept and learns to live with prejudice in her life. Meanwhile, other characters struggle on a daily basis to find acceptance and, more prominently, justice. This novel contains various situations in which several personalities are persecuted as a result of their race, age and socio-economic standing. Undoubtedly, the unjust and dehumanizing effect of prejudice is one theme in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird.

Firstly, in this novel a person’s age plays a large role in the amount of respect he/she is given. Children in particular are not thought of very highly. For example, Mrs. Dubose hassles Scout and tells her that she will grow up to be trash and most likely work in a low paying job. She goes on to say that there will be “not only a Finch waiting on tables, but one in the courthouse lawing for niggers” (Lee 135). Mr. Avery’s accusation towards Jem and Scout in reference to the layer of snow covering Maycomb County is another example of discrimination against children. Mr. Avery approaches the children and explains that it “hasn’t snowed in Maycomb since Appomattox. It’s bad children like you makes the seasons change” (Lee 87). Lastly, Scout’s teacher, Mrs. Caroline, makes it clear that she is unhappy with her superior knowledge. It upsets her that not all children are as dumb and clueless as she may perceive them to be. Scout explains how the situation came about “after making me read… she discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste” (Lee 22).

Evidently, children are rarely given the chance to prove themselves and the majority are thought to be senseless, troublesome and lacking ambition. Clearly, children are subjected to prejudice and discrimination, of sorts. Socio-economic is yet another type of discrimination shown in To Kill a Mockingbird. Wealth and background influence one’s social standing in Maycomb. Aunt Alexandra explains to Scout that she believes “you can scrub Walter Cunningham until he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem” (Lee 300) simply because he is a Cunningham, a boy from a poor family. In addition, the Ewells are a family famed for holding the title of the ‘Poorest White-Folk in Maycomb County.’ Due to this and the fact that it has been this way for generations, they are thought of as dirty, repulsive people who get little respect in the community.

Atticus believes that “the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations” (Lee 40). Even Jem acknowledges the various levels of social status. This is evident when he explains to Scout that “there are four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbours, there’s the kind like the Cunningham’s out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes” (Lee 302). Unquestionably, all Maycomb residents acknowledge and comprehend the idea of socio-economic standings and clearly these ideas have long been stirring in their heads. If you come from a poor family, you are not fit to converse commonly with the folks from higher classes than yours. If you come from a family with little respect in the community, all members of that family deserve little respect and have no right to prove themselves different.

These are morally incorrect, discriminative views that most of the characters live by. This especially proves that socio-economic discrimination is a prevalent and accepted topic in Maycomb. The most ubiquitous type of prejudice in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird is old-fashioned, deep-rooted racism toward the African-American population. Jem educates Scout on the lonely existence of ‘mixed children.’ After Scout asks why they’re so sad, he replies, “They don’t belong anywhere. Coloured folks won’t have ‘em because they’re half white; white folks won’t have ‘em because they’re coloured, so they’re just in-betweens” (Lee 215). A main contribution to the plot in this book is the Tom Robinson trial, in which Mr. Ewell charged a Negro with raping and abusing his daughter Mayella, although no proof is shown. Atticus explains to Jem, who becomes upset with the matter, that “when it’s a white man’s word over a black man’s, the white man will always win. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life” (Lee 295).

In To Kill a Mockingbird the character Dolphus Raymond is a Caucasian man who is father to ‘mixed children’ and spends the majority of his time living amongst Negroes. People do not think much of it because of his ‘severe drinking problem.’ But after running into him at the court house, Scout realizes this is not the case. Mr. Raymond explains that “I’m not much of a drinker, but… they could never understand that I lives like I does because that’s the way I wants to live” (Lee 268). Whether you are part black, completely black or even white and choose to interact or defend the Negro population, your respect and opportunity in Maycomb is lessened. Indisputably, racial discrimination is an established and rampant part of life in Maycomb.

Unquestionably, prejudice is customary to life in Maycomb. Whether it is racial, socio-economic or based on age, prejudice is an everyday practice for the majority of characters in this novel. To them, it’s a traditional aspect of existence. This theme cost Tom Robinson his life and countless others their rights and dignity, as it does both in this bestseller, and in the real world. Harper Lee allows the reader to realize and comprehend the unjust aftermath of inequity as Scout comes to these realizations herself. Lee uses Scout’s childish, however simplistic views to break down situations that can be related to the opinions of the reader. The world has made leaps and bounds towards equity since the publishing of this novel. But in the end, To Kill a Mockingbird teaches the reader a much needed lesson that often escapes even the minds of today’s people, “There’s just one kind of folks. Folks” (Lee 304).

Works Cited

“Discrimination Quotes.” Brainy Quote. tend Glam Media, 2001. Web. 20 Jan. 2013. <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/discrimination.html>.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Grand Central, 1960. Print.

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