Common Sayings and Their Moral Significance:
Lessons Taught by In the Heat of the Night
There are many lessons we can learn from In the Heat of the Night. The most important of these is that racism and segregation have negative effects on human well-being and social harmony. Common sayings represent people’s underlying moral codes. For example we like to say: “Appearances are deceptive.” and “What goes around comes around.” Each of the sayings below helps us to explore moral hazards presented by John Ball in his fascinating and powerful novel.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
When a man named Mantoli is murdered, Sam Wood, who is a white, racist police officer, believes the criminal must be a black man because the victim is white. Sam goes to the railroad station and arrests Virgil Tibbs because Tibbs is black and therefore guilty, at least in Sam’s opinion. Sam later discovers that he has made the mistake of arresting an innocent fellow police officer. Bill Gillespie, the chief of police, is also a white racist. He makes the same error for the same reason.
Later in the novel, Sam must inform the victim’s daughter, Duena Mantoli, about her father. On his way to the Endicott’s house where she is staying, Sam thinks to himself that Duena, like all Italian girls, will marry early and then become too fat. But Wood is wrong again, and this is another example of racial prejudice and superficial judgement.
Chief Gillespie arrests Harvey Oberst because in part he believes Harvey is ‘poor white trash’ who therefore must need money. Both Sam and Bill also suspect Virgil of the murder because he is carrying a large amount of cash. Of course they are as wrong about Tibbs as they are about Oberst. Harvey is also a racist who initially judges Tibbs by his colour and does not want to deal with a black man. Later, Virgil helps him get out of jail.
As we can see from these examples, hasty judgements and racial stereotypes enforce...
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