Racism in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Racism is one of the most emotional issues in society today. It is one aspect, which people need to understand its impact on the world. Racist individuals are continually destroying the world by their hatred towards people of another race. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is a story about racism rooted in Maycomb town and gradually affects its inhabitants. Racism in this context results from the people not having a mutual understanding or the knowledge to coexist peacefully with one another. A good example is when Tom Robinson is prosecuted for what he did not do and eventually convicted wrongly. This paper analyzes the expression of racism as outlined in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The readers of this novel are shown all things occurring through Scout’s eyes. Scout’s father tells her that she should instead shoot at tin cans placed in the backyard instead of the birds. He further reminds Scout that killing a mockingbird is sinful even though she has the freedom to shoot them (Lee 69). The mockingbird in this context symbolizes Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. The author relates these characters to a mockingbird that only copies or imitates songs of other birds instead of composing its own. It is possible to establish the identity of Tom and Boo by listening to rumors or confirmed stories about them in the same way the mockingbird is identified through other birds. According to Lee (11), most stories depict Boo as an evil person hated by many people. These stories are created to show that Boo came from the wrong or undesired race.

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According to Harper Lee, the novel depicts a simple view of life in Deep South America in the 1930s and how racism gained root during this period. The story is as innocent and humorous as told through Jem Finch and Scout (Daniels 6). Scout is outlined as a young, innocent adolescent growing up alongside her father’s lawsuit controversies. Atticus Finch, who is the father of Jem Finch, is a lawyer and is tasked with defending Tom Robinson, who stands accused of raping a white girl. Racism is a theme that changes the character’s lives through the movie, and this force develops through the narrative.

In this narration, Scout shows how parenting style and the environment are key factors that promote racism. The character was brought up in a respectable African American society, and this is depicted in the manner in which she relates with Calpurnia, her house cleaner. Unlike many other children in the neighborhood who have developed racial prejudices, Scout remains liberal, causing her many problems. Her father’s lawsuit advances the leading cause of all these racial predicaments. Atticus isolates his children from the racists, and for this reason, Scout is continuously haunted by her peer’s remarks in the playground. To this end, Scout resorts to violence which her father does not condone either.

As Atticus battles for justice, her children are continually affected by societal prejudices. Scout is in constant defense of his father’s course, but the racial remarks seem not to be stopping soon. The continuous attacks demonstrate how cruel and deep the racial prejudices have been deeply rooted in Maycomb town. The city is crumbling to pieces because those who defend the black Americans like Atticus are betraying their race. Scout goes to the extent that she even feels her cousin Frank needs to be educated to understand the course of her father’s lawsuit. Frank taunted her as well with some accusations. For instance, he called her a nigger-lover, to show disapproval of her relationship with African Americans. The profound, far-reaching roots of racism have severely affected the lives in this town, especially the life of Scout. The racism is worsened by the discriminative and old-fashioned opinions of her peers.

In this novel, the narrator explains a frosty relationship between a white man, Bib Ewell, and an innocent black man, Tom Robinson. Ewell accuses Tom of raping and tormenting her daughter. The language used, including calling Tom a cruel animal, expresses how the accuser is bitter and hates people of color. The accusations made by Ewell against Tom are based on racial differences. Eventually, Tom was found guilty but not because of the evidence provided before the jury but on the basis that he was of a less superior race. For this, he was bound to serve a jail term for a crime he never committed. Back in the 1930s, the whites were dominant in the US, and in any competition, they would win against the Blacks. As a result, Blacks felt inferior to their white counterparts. These differences contributed to heightened racism, with some incidents depicted in the novel (Hagberg 3). It did not matter the situation. For example, in the case of Tom, everybody in Maycomb town knew that he was innocent, but nothing could be done to save him from the wrath of the dominant white man. Atticus tried his best to defend Tom, but this translated to him facing racial prejudices as well. It was impossible to change the racial perspectives of people living in Maycomb during this period.

Racism, in essence, does not allow for the collective contribution of people in society. It makes it difficult for people to discuss development courses of the community in terms of economic, technological, and even medical platforms. Racism does destroy our morality in that regardless of religious or cultural beliefs, racism is pure hypocrisy (Jay 2). People can argue on ace-related issues from the Christian teaching of love the neighbor more than love ourselves. Such a philosophy is supposed to govern societal morality. However, in modern society, Christians have a high level of hypocrisy, with most of them being convicted of hate-related crimes. In Maycomb, even the Christian fraternity could not stand with Tom Robinson. Hence, in this context, racism is portrayed as all-powerful to the extent of turning the Golden Rule upside down.

Often, individuals and societies are made to think that racism dissipates in itself (Iannone 8). Promoting racism is ignorance, which comes because of continued hypocrisy. The fact is that racism is more dangerous to young children in society. Individuals can depict it in the manner and the levels in which the life of Scout was affected just because of his father’s lawsuit. On the other side, Reverend Sykes seems to have suffered at the perils of racism and assumes that if Tom Robinson is accused falsely, he and his family will not have to suffer the cruelties of racism alone.

Issues like racism, slavery, discrimination, and segregation cannot be overlooked (Macaluso 4). They should be addressed with the utmost seriousness they deserve. The societal perspective should be changed to the effect that all these ills, especially racism, are devastating to our culture and threaten our democracy. Racism is not a disease with a defined treatment since it relates to set attitudes and developed opinions of a specific ethnic group. It is possible to overcome these elements starting from individual initiative to accept other races as they are. However, the current generation can end racist ideas by extending equal treatment to all people.

In conclusion, the message outlined in the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” tries to compel members of society not to knock (kill- literally) the souls who do not have a voice in the community. The main agenda of the author was to show the effects of racism and how it occurs in American society. It was an unfortunate occurrence in Maycomb for the residents not to realize the unfair treatment subjected to Tom Robinson. To make it worse and more tragic American society does not recognize the injustices that the black race has faced over time. The only hope is that humanity will suffice at one point in time, and all elements of racial discrimination will be left to the past.


Works cited

Daniels, Anthony. “Harper Lee’s Loving-Kindness.” New Criterion, vol. 33, no. 10, June 2015, pp. 16-20. Available at: search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=103029772&site=ehost-live.

Hagberg, Laurie. “I Have a Dream/To Kill a Mockingbird.” Educational Leadership, vol. 71, no. 3, Nov. 2013, pp. 90-92. Available at: search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=91736091&site=ehost-live.

Iannone, Carol. “No Longer Black and White: A Forum on to Kill a Mockingbird.” Academic Questions, vol. 29, no. 3, Sept. 2016, pp. 243-278. Available at: doi:10.1007/s12129-016-9581-9.

Jay, G 2015, ‘Queer Children and Representative Men: Harper Lee, Racial Liberalism, and the Dilemma of to Kill a Mockingbird’, American Literary History, 27, 3, pp. 487-522,

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Random House, 2010.

Macaluso, Michael. “Teaching to Kill a Mockingbird Today: Coming to Terms with Race, Racism, and America’s Novel.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 61, no. 3, Nov. 2017, pp. 279-287. Available at: doi:10.1002/jaal.678.