Publication How Literary Elements Demonstrate Racial Discrimination

Jonathon Kozol once said, “Discrimination is alive and soaring”. The novel takes place in the small town of Maycomb County, where everyone knows each other. Although everyone knows each other, some people are discriminated against for various reasons. Discrimination in the novel includes racial, gender, and social class discrimination. In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, discrimination is portrayed through literary elements. Lee demonstrates discrimination through different literary elements, such as metaphors, imagery, and similes to enhance the understanding of discrimination used in the novel.

Metaphors are used to demonstrate the conflict of racial and gender discrimination in the novel. Lee utilizes a metaphor while Jem was talking to Atticus about racial discrimination, where Atticus states, “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” (252).

The use of the metaphor “that white man is trash” is to make evident that many white people discriminated against colored people. Comparing white men that discriminate against colored men to trash shows the significance of racial discrimination. As well as racial discrimination, gender discrimination is also illustrated through the utilization of

metaphors. Scout was being discriminated against by Aunt Alexandra, telling her to act more like a girl. “Aunt Alexandra’s vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-A-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life’ (Lee 93).

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Aunt alexandra believes that Scout should not be acting like her father, and instead should act like the lady she is meant to be. She should be “a ray of sunshine” in her father’s life. Scout should be able to be whoever she wants to be, and telling her to act less like a boy is discriminating against her by making her change her boy-ish ways and act more like what society considers “lady-like”. The usage of metaphors helps better comprehend discrimination in the novel.

Another example of the portrayal of discrimination in the novel is through imagery. Miss Caroline had just noticed Burris Ewell, and was horrified by the way he looked “His neck was dark gray, the backs of his hands were rusty, and his fingernails were black deep into the quick” (Lee 29). This implementation of imagery demonstrates the discrimination of social class in the novel. Some people are not as wealthy as others and may look different because of it. Miss Caroline being horrified about Burris’ looks shows that she is judging and discriminating against him because of his social class. In addition to the way a person looks, people are discriminated against for the way their house looks. Lee uses imagery to describe the Ewell’s house, “Every town the size of Maycomb had families like the Ewells. No economic fluctuations changed their status-people like the Ewell’s lived as guests of the county in prosperity as well as in the depths of a depression.

Maycomb’s Ewells lived behind the town garbage dump in what was once a negro cabin. The cabin’s plank walls were supplemented with sheets of corrugated iron, its roof shingled with tin cans hammered flat, so only its general shape suggested its original design…” (193-194.) Describing the Ewell house with imagery in this way shows the discrimination of social class. The way the Ewell’s house looks represents their social class and the amount of money they really have, which makes people think of them lowly and discriminate them. Lee utilizes imagery in the novel to demonstrate discrimination. Discrimination is also demonstrated in the novel by using similes to compare two different things. Atticus is explaining to scout what a -lover is ‘Scout … n-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’ (Lee 124).

Atticus compares the term “n-lover” to “snot-nose” to show that the term does not mean anything. It is just a way of discriminating against colored people, and making fun of white people who defend them. Similar to racial discrimination, similes are used for social class discrimination. When describing the Ewell house, Lee uses a simile, “The varmints had a lean time of it, for the Ewells gave the dump a thorough gleaning every day, and the fruits of their industry (those that were not eaten) made the plot of ground around the cabin look like the playhouse of an insane child: what passed for a fence was bits of tree limbs, broomsticks and tool shafts, all tipped with rusty hammer-heads, snaggle-toothed rake heads, shovels, axes and grubbing hoes, held on with pieces of barbed wire” (Lee 194). A simile is used that compares “the plot of ground around the cabin” to “the playhouse of an insane child”.

This is discriminating against the Ewell’s social class by comparing their house to a child’s playhouse. Similes help us better understand the discrimination being demonstrated in the novel. Lee portrays discrimination in the novel through the usage of metaphors, imagery, and similes. Metaphors are used to illustrate racial and gender discrimination. Imagery helps us better imagine the discrimination of social class. Another representation of discrimination in the novel are similes, which compare two different things. So many people in this world are discriminated against, whether it be for race, gender, social class, disabilities, religion, etc., and people need to realize that it is not ok to discriminate against others for being different than them.

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Publication How Literary Elements Demonstrate Racial Discrimination. (2022, Feb 08). Retrieved from

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