To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel written by Harper Lee that revolves around his unusual circumstances in the 1930s Southern state. The plot spans three years and chronicles the major shifts that exist in the main characters. Scout Finch, one of the main characters, lives in Maycomb, Alabama, with his father, Atticus, and brother Jem. People in this small town life in social stations defined by how long their families have been here, who their parents are, and where they live. Calpurnia, a black housekeeper, assists Atticus, a widower, in raising his children. Their neighbors are enigmatic, such as Arthur Radley, who never leaves his house. Scout and Jem realize that their father will represent Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of rape and beating a white woman. The situation forces them to have to tolerate racial insults and slurs due to Atticus role in this trial. Atticus proves that Tom could not have committed the crime he got accused of, but he gets tried and convicted. The paper seeks to explore racism in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Harper Lee gives an accurate insight into the racism that occurred in the early twentieth century in the Southern of the United States, and that is still controversial even to date. Racism used to be so popular during this period as the whites had the power and the blacks were supposed to be under them for being minorities. The culture of racism is known to be destructive to the members of the society as it creates inequalities among the various ethnic groups with severe implications on the mental wellbeing of people (Mills 63). The inequity created by racism can be multiple and usually occur when individuals get characterized by degrading labels and stereotypes. In Alabama, people experienced racism, and it affected them given that the whites were segregating blacks (Gadd 17). It is inhuman to think of yourself as better as compared to another person based on their skin color because all humans are created equal.
Calpurnia is one the characters in the novel that is most affected by prejudice. She is an African American and works for Atticus, a white family. She helped to bring up the children and would even go to church with them. However, the relationship between the two races made it hard for blacks and whites to interact smoothly. The whites oppressed the blacks, and they loathed them, and anyone associating with a person’s of the opposite race was viewed as supporting their oppression. It is in such a situation that Calpurnia got herself into when she took Scout and Jem, to an all-black church with her. She got into an argument with Lula, who tells her, “stop right there nigger” (Lee 119). She got questioned for bringing white folks to church. Lula did not like the whites due to the unfair treatment they accorded the blacks. She went ahead and affirmed that the church belonged to the blacks and so whites would not be brought there(Mills 64) However, Calpurnia had to defend the children she took care of despite them being white since they were young to understand what was going on. Lula is an example which shows that Negroes can also be racists too.
Racist prejudice impairs the ability to recognize the decency of the people of color, thus creating a society whereby they are perceived to be of the different level of morality which is inferior. The inequality created by racism is evident in Bob Ewell’s testimony that is degrading to Robinson whereby he stands up and points the finger at him in court. “I have seen that black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella” (Lee 231). The statement shows disrespect given that the word nigger is a derogatory term used to refer to the blacks and using it in a court ignores the fact that the justice system role is to ensure a fair trial for all people. Ewell is using Robinson’s race to emphasize the point that Tom, who is a black should not be regarded the same way as the whites in Maycomb. There was no need to refer him using his race, but this shows the level of prejudice that the blacks encountered in this society (Landman par.8). The characterization by race as done by Ewell is a perfect example of how racism can promote inequality under the law.
Despite the intention to create equality and freedom in America, the laws made mirrored the sentiments held by the constituents of this nation. In this case, the law fails to uphold the equality during Tom’s trial. Robinson, a black man, living in a white society gets accused and tried of raping Mayella Ewell, a white girl. The trail gets conducted in a racial manner depicting the racial hierarchies that existed within the community as well as the stigmas and how the local court rulings reflected this attitude (Johnson 200-201). The justice system lacked validity as it adopted the local feelings neglecting the pursuit of justice and equality. Maycomb’s racial bias plays a crucial role in Tom’s trial and how he gets convicted. Atticus is the only sole supporter of Tom’s innocence, and he states that Mayella though white, was the one who tempted a Negro and she did something that is unspeakable in the society by kissing a black man (Lee 272). The claim indicates that people feel that Mayella kissing tom was an indication of rape as it is unfathomable that a white person would be interested in engaging with an African American.
The town’s presence and publicity of the case during trials allowed popular racist attitudes to permeate the confines of the courthouse that is supposed to be impartial. The racist power structure in Maycomb played a crucial role in depriving Tom of a fair trial throughout the case (Wilson xv). Ewell is the one who forces her daughter to bring false accusations of rape against Tom. In this case, no white lawyer was willing to represent Tom, and there were no black lawyers in the town. It is only Atticus, who chose to defend him as he believed that the law needs to be applied fairly to all individuals in the society. During the trial, Attics proved the innocence of the African American, but the all-white jury who had tried to break into the jail and kill the defendant ended up convicting him (Osborn 1139). Although, the defendant had already been convicted Ewell felt that Atticus had shamed him for putting a defense for a black man. He even goes further and decides to kill Atticus’ children as revenge.
There is sufficient proof to show that Robinson did not commit the crime he gets accused of but he is denied justice for being a black man. Atticus reinforces this idea when he tells Jem that “in our courts, when it’s the white man’s word against a black man’s the white man always wins”(Lee 220). The statement portrays the mentality of most of the Americans at this time. The people knew Robinson through what others said of him, and he considered him to, be a rapist even though he was not. The decision to judge Tom was based on racism as agreeing with a black man was against the community rules. Mayella is white, and she was the one who tempted the Negro. To the members of the society, Mayella did something that was unspeakable. Initially, no code mattered to her, but things came crashing down on her after she broke it (Lee 204). It shows how the society perceived the relationships between the two races.
The predominant prejudice in Maycomb gets illustrated in Cecil Jacob’s comment concerning Atticus. Cecil announces the playground that Scout Finch daddy defends niggers (Lee 77). The statement shows disapproval as it is not expected of a white man to side with the African Americans in this society. Francis also tells Scout that Atticus is a nigger lover, which makes Scout curse him. It shows how the community perceived anyone who sided with people from other races. In another instance, Jem and Scout are walking outside Mrs. Dubose’s home when she starts making derogatory comments about Atticus and reveals her racist personality (Mills 63). She tells Jem that their father is no better than the trash and the niggers that the works for thus indicating the perceptions that the people have about the blacks in the society (Lee 105). The words of Dubose show that the white considered the blacks to be trash and unequal to them.
Jem and the children were sitting the courthouse discussing the background of various citizens when Jem mentions about the mixed children of Dolphus Raymond. He goes on commenting how such children were really sad given that they did not belong anywhere. “Colored folks won’t have e’m because they’re half white; white folks won’t have e’m because they’re colored, so they’re just in between, don’t belong anywhere (Lee 163). The statement shows that it was difficult for the children born of mixed race to fit in the society due to the racist nature of the people in Maycomb. Being half white or half black makes it unacceptable to the people of another race.
Tom meets an unfortunate death, and the town reacts in a racist manner whereby Scout says that his death was typical. He notes that it is typical of a nigger to cut and run and it is in their mentality to have no plan or thoughts for the future (Lee 244). Scout also recognizes the hypocrisy of her teacher who mentions that Americans do not believe in the persecution of people. However, she recalls hearing Miss Gates making racist comments while leaving the court. She tells Jen that she heard Miss Gates say “it is time somebody taught e’m a lesson, they were getting way above themselves, an’ the next thing they can do is marry us” (Lee 251). The statement indicates that the whites felt that the African Americans were inferior to them and there was a need to deal with them. It was necessary to make them fit in their place by teaching them a lesson. The whites did not believe that they could marry the African Americans due to their racist notion.
Other instances of racism exist in the novel showing the racist nature of the community. Horace Gilmer, the prosecutor in the Tom Robinson trial, addresses him as a boy repeatedly even though he is a full grown man. It shows the disrespect that the whites had towards the blacks (Wilson xv). The jury also found Robinson guilty due to the preordained belief that it was unacceptable to believe a black man’s word over those of a white man. Moreover, the blacks were only allowed to sit on the balcony in the courtroom as compared to the whites who were allowed to sit in the central section (Lee 38-40). The idlers club also prevented the black spectators from entering the courtroom until all the whites had finished entering and got seated. Such segregation shows that the whites were favored by the justice system, thus making it unable for the African Americans to find equality before the law. Racism made blacks to be regarded as second-class citizens at this time by the whites.
In conclusion, the author depicts the black community as respectful and straightforward folks who are helpless and grateful to Atticus who saves them. The novel tells of the horrors of racism in the south and its effects on the members of the community. The whites in Maycomb felt that the African Americans did not deserve any privileges for being inferior to them. The justice system is also flawed, and this can be seen from the way the Tom Robinson case got handled whereby, he is denied justice despite lack of substantial evidence to convict him. The situation also made the blacks to be racist towards the whites and the mixed children, possibly due to the prejudice the whites subjected them.
Gadd, T R. To Kill a Mockingbird: Grades 7-8. On the Mark P, 2006.
Johnson, Claudia D. Understanding to Kill a Mockingbird: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historic Documents. 1994.
Landman, Tanya. “Is To Kill a Mockingbird a Racist Book?” The Guardian, 20 Sept. 2017, www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/oct/20/is-to-kill-a-mockingbird-a-racist-book-tanya-landman. Accessed 19 Dec. 2017.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. HarperCollins, 2014.
Mills, Catriona. To Kill a Mockingbird. Insight Publications, 2011.
Osborn, John J. “Atticus Finch – The End of Honor: A Discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird.” Symposium: Picturing Justice: Images of Law and Lawyers in the Visual Media, Univ. of San Francisco School of Law, 1996.
Wilson, Charles E. Race and Racism in Literature. Greenwood P, 2005.