The Problem of Racism and Segregation in the Novel "To Kill a Mockingbird"

To Kill a Mockingbird delivers an effective depiction of racism that extends from the 1930s—the setting of the novel—to the 1960s—when the novel was published. By placing it in the 30s, Harper Lee is able to point out the heavy oppression still felt by the African American community without alienating her audience. Involving the problem of racism and segregation, Lee makes two important arguments. The first is that the proper response to racism is non-violence as seen in Atticus and the second is that, like Scout, America has been awakened to the good and evil embedded in her society and now cannot slow down in terms of social reform.

Martin Luther King Jr said that the foundation for his nonviolence approach to in the Civil Rights movement stems from agape love: “Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men…And when you could love on this level you begin to love men…because God loves them and here we love the person who does the evil deed while hating the deed that the person does.

” Atticus’ approach with the people of Maycomb County is similar: “I do my best to love everybody.” After Scout defends Atticus in a fight with a fellow schoolmate, he tells her: “You just hold your head high and keep those fists down…Try fighting with your head for a change…” There were two different approaches to racism during the Civil Rights movement.

Unlike Malcolm X who said that violence was a necessary response to violence aimed at oneself and that America’s conscience was bankrupt, Atticus’ nonviolent actions stem from a belief that the “rigid and time-honored code of our society” is evil, not the individual men themselves.

Get quality help now
Sweet V

Proficient in: Nonviolence

4.9 (984)

“ Ok, let me say I’m extremely satisfy with the result while it was a last minute thing. I really enjoy the effort put in. ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

It is for this reason that he is able to sympathize with Mayella but also accuse the jury of possessing “evil assumptions” about all African Americans. Lee argues that the stronger argument is not the one fought with fists,but the one fought with a level head. Later, Miss Maudie comments that Atticus Finch would never win, but he would cause the men of Maycomb County to think long and hard about the verdict. That act alone would cause movement in the right direction. Lee agrees with MLK that nonviolence is not non-action. but action so as not to distance any potential allies. They both seem to argue that you win more friends with honey than with vinegar.

This is not to say that Lee does not believe in radical change. The novel makes it clear that racism and segregation are wrong and that change must happen just as MLK states: “We had to make it clear that nonviolent resistance is not a method of cowardice. It does resist…The nonviolent resister is just as opposed to the evil that he is standing against… The method is nonaggressive physically, but strongly aggressive spiritually.” Atticus’ defense of Tom Robinson is similar to the boil metaphor MLK speaks of, bringing “to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open where it can be seen and dealt with.” This is demonstrated through the amount of time it takes the jury to decide the verdict as it takes them longer than normal.

Lee effectively makes her argument through the eyes of a young child who is awakened to the horrors around her and because of this she cannot ever go back to her innocence: “I had become almost accustomed to hearing insults aimed at Atticus. But this was the first one coming from an adult.” This line demonstrates her eyes being opened for the treatment of African Americans. Scout’s coming of age story runs parallel to Maycomb County’s awakening to the horrors of racism and both serve as a symbol for America herself. Never again can she argue ignorance for the way she treats African Americans. If Scout Finch must recognize the horror of racism, so must America.

Lee presents a realistic portrayal of racism in 1960s America, but by setting the novel in the 1930s did not estrange the reader. Through this lens, she argues for a nonviolent approach to combatting racism as well as shows that America is no longer innocent to the horror of racism and must change.

Cite this page

The Problem of Racism and Segregation in the Novel "To Kill a Mockingbird". (2022, Apr 27). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7