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In this essay I will be looking at the different types of prejudices that are used in the novel. These include prejudice against colour, sex, class, outcasts and outsiders. I will be looking at how these prejudices affect the characters in the novel and how their attitudes change. I will also be looking closely at the characters of Atticus Finch and Bob Ewell, who have completely different attitudes towards racism.
I interpret the word ‘prejudice’ as literally meaning pre-judge. When someone is prejudiced against someone then it means that they are judging him or her without knowing them and this is usually down to racism.
There are many examples of prejudice in the novel and this gives the idea that Maycomb is a deeply flawed and discriminatory society. The main example of prejudice in the novel revolves around the trial of Tom Robinson, who is a black man that is being tried for a rape crime that he did not commit.
The pre-judgment of Tom Robinson by a 12-strong Maycomb jury shows that the community is deeply racist. White people considered blacks to be ‘upstart’ and the reason for this is that the book is set at the time of depression and whites were worried that, ‘black men could take their jobs’.
This is one of the reasons that Bob Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of murder.
Ewell is deeply racist and when he finds his daughter trying to seduce Tom he automatically accuses the black man. Although this prejudice against Tom Robinson is started by one the man most of the town have no trouble in sticking by the white man and this is why the trial is one of the main areas of racism in the book. This racism against blacks though is not the only area of discrimination in Maycomb society.
There is also a strong discrimination against outsiders that starts at a very early age. An example of this is when scout goes to school for the first time and her teacher says, ‘I am from North Alabama, from Winston County’. At this point … ‘the class murmured apprehensively, should she prove to harbour her share of peculiarities indigenous to that region’. By doing this, the class is pre-judging their teacher only a few minutes after meeting her for the first time. The children are showing that even at their early age they consider outsiders to be ‘peculiar’.
The only reason that I can see for this is that this has been drilled into them from a young age and therefore gives us the idea that the town they live in is deeply flawed and discriminatory The character of Bob Ewell can be seen as the epitome of everything that is wrong with the society of Maycomb. He is described as ‘a little bantam cock that crowed like a rooster on a dung hill’. This shows what the people of the town think about him and also how his racist opinion would usually count for nothing. Mr. Ewell is also a redneck, which is made clear when the author says, ‘the back of his neck reddened at the sound of his name’.
This tells us that Ewell is a racist piece of white trash, like most other rednecks. The character of Bob Ewell rubs off on the rest of his family, whom he treats, with no degree of respect or care. The first example of this comes about when his son, Burris Ewell is at school. The teacher tries to repremand Burris but he says, ‘you ain`t sending me home missus. I was just on the verge of leaving- I done my time for this year’. This shows how Bob has not laid down any rules for his children and he doesn’t set any rules for his children or care what the get up to.
It also gives across the idea that the Ewell family is very dysfunctional and this is one of the many differences between the Ewells and the Fiches. An example of how Ewell has no respect for his family is the way that he drags his daughter Mayella through a rape trial for some personal attention. Ewell describes the rape as ‘rutting’ and this is a word that is only usually used to describe sex between animals. By using this sort of language Ewell is portraying himself and his family as wild animals and when a wild dog appears later in the novel this can be seen as a portrayal of Ewell.
Atticus’s children are very different from Ewell’s but they, like many of the other children in the novel are also prejudiced. Scout is victimized by her brother Jem for not being ‘girlish’ enough. He says, ‘I declare to the lord you are getting more like a girl everyday! ‘ This upset’s Scout because she seems to want to be a boy because men obviously have a higher status in the town. Although Scout is being victimized here she shows signs of being racist herself. When she and Jem are building a snowman that is mostly made of mud she exclaims, ‘I ain’t ever heard of a nigger snowman’.
By using the word ‘nigger’ Scout is showing that from a very young age she is using the language that she has obviously picked up from the people around her and by doing this she is giving the idea that the whole town is discriminatory in one way or another. It is clear that it is not only the white people of Maycomb that are prejudiced against anything that don’t conform to their ideals, it is the black community as well. Both communities shun Mr. Dolphus Raymond because he is involved in a mixed marriage that goes against both white and black laurels.
Jem explains to scout that ‘mixed children belong nowhere’ and this shows how everyone in Maycomb is strongly opposed to anything that is not traditional or that doesn’t occur on a wide-scale. The language that Harper Lee uses in the book is often racist and if it were used today then most people would take offense. She uses words like ‘Nigger’ and Negro’ to show that the town is deeply racist because this language is used daily. I think that it is acceptable for Lee to use this type of language in the novel simply because it was what the language was like at the time that the novel is set and it shows what Maycomb is like.
While Lee uses racist language to show racism in the novel she also uses empathy on a number of occasions to show peoples situations from other people’s points of view. An example of this is when Jem and Scout are made to spend time with Mrs. Dubose. Atticus says,’I wanted you to see something about her-I wanted you to see what real courage is’. With the use of empathy Lee shows the reader what Mrs. Dubose is really like. By making his children spend time with Mrs. Dubose Atticus is showing them not to judge a book by its cover.
This is one of the many morals that Atticus tries to pass down to his kids throughout the novel. Another moral that he tries to pass down is the one that you have to fight for what is right. When Scout asks Atticus why he is taking on the Tom Robinson rape case he explains that if he didn’t then he ‘could not hold my head up in town’. By setting this good example to his children Atticus is showing what type of person he is and this person is very different to Bob Ewell. Atticus is a respectable member of Maycomb’s society who, unlike Ewell is not racist and has a respectable job.
Atticus is also well educated and shows us the importance of empathy. He says that you don’t know a person ‘Until you climb into its skin and walk around in it’. By having the character of Atticus Lee shows us that not all of Maycomb are discriminatory and that it is only parts of the society that have something wrong with them and this can be said about all of society. Although the main plot of the novel is the trial of Tom Robinson the book also contains an interlacing sub-plot that centers on the mysterious character of Boo Radley.
Boo is a man that does not conform to what is considered a ‘normal’ way of life and he is therefore portrayed to the children of Maycomb as a bogeyman. This becomes apparent when Dill has the idea ‘to make Boo Radley come out’. This shows how the children wanted to torment him just because he doesn’t come outside and conform to everyone else’s way of life. This is a form of discrimination because they are tormenting him just because he is different and shows that even though Atticus tries to install good morals into his children they still go of and do things like this.
Along with Tom Robinson, Boo Radley can be seen as the Mockingbird of novel. Atticus says that ‘Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy and therefore it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird’. This can be related to both Boo and Tom because the both do nothing wrong and are both tormented and discriminated against. I think that Lee purposely had two Mockingbirds in the novel, to show that it is all of Maycomb’s society that is prejudiced. The children torment Boo and the adults persecute Tom.
This shows that maycombs society is deeply flawed and discriminatory. So in conclusion, I would say that on the outside the novel is a presentation of a deeply flawed and discriminatory society. If you look deeper then you can see that not all of the society carries this prejudice and I think that the different fate of the two Mockingbirds is very significant. Boo shows us that you should not judge a book by its cover while the death of Tom Robinson shows how cruel humans can be to people who are effectively exactly the same as themselves.