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Racism and Prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird

By k_tracy Oct 20, 2013 1263 Words
Racism and Prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird
In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, an African American, named Tom Robinson, is accused of raping a white girl. Throughout the story we learn that Maycomb County, Alabama is full of people who are considered to be racist. From the beginning, even before Robinson’s trial began, everyone believed that he would be found guilty. At the end of Robinson’s trial he is found guilty. Another issue throughout the novel is many of the citizens of Maycomb are prejudice against others in the town, such as Boo Radley. A statement one may conclude after reading To Kill a Mockingbird is that racism and prejudice are comparable to habits. Racism, prejudice, and habits may be acquired by watching and listening one’s family, as well as others one interacts with, from a young age. Both racism and prejudice, like most habits, can be broken with some effort and a set mind, but one must first understand what it is they are doing wrong. To understand what is wrong with one’s behavior one might seek an adult or someone they respect to explain what it is that is wrong and why it may be considered wrong.

In Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird, the character development throughout the story shows that racism and prejudice are acquired through one’s interaction with others and that it is possible to break these mindsets. Throughout the majority of this book Scout is afraid of Boo Radley, but towards the end, after Boo Radley carries Scout’s brother home, she realizes he is not such a bad person after all (270). Scout is only afraid of Boo Radley because of the rumors she heard about him from others that she interacted with. Once Scout actually met Boo Radley herself she realized he is not scary, he just keeps to himself. The fact that Scout has an opinion about Boo Radley before actually meeting him shows that she is influenced by others around her. One may not consider this a favorable characteristic, but it is relatable to everyday life. The majority of people are easily influenced or know someone who is easily influenced, so one may comprehend more easily why racism and prejudice exist.

A similar situation to the last one takes place in the beginning of the book. Most of the people in the book know very little about Boo Radley, but “[a]ccording to Miss Stephanie…As Mr. Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors into his parent’s leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants, and resumed his activities” (11). Miss Stephanie tells the children and others this which causes the children and the others to form a prejudicial view about Boo Radley without ever having met him. The fact that Miss Stephanie’s statement affected others’ opinions about Boo shows how one’s statement can affect the logical reasoning of others. The others had no way of knowing if Miss. Stephanie’s statement was true or not, yet they still believed her. One may come to the conclusion that others believe something one says just to feel accepted or included.

Children repeat what they hear from their family and others around them. Sometimes children don‘t realize that what they repeat may sound racist to others and may be considered offensive. Children also say certain things that they do not necessarily understand. One instance in which a child repeated what was heard from a relative was when Francis says, “I guess it ain’t your fault if Uncle Atticus is a nigger-lover…” (83). Francis was repeating what he had heard his grandmother call Atticus while talking. Francis does not know exactly what this means, but he taunts Scout by repeating it. One may conclude that adult’s and others should watch what is said when there are children anywhere close. If an adult says something and a child overhears without the adult knowing, the child may repeat what he or she has heard. The adult may then become embarrassed to learn that what was said by him or her was repeated by the child.

Scout, throughout most of the book, ask questions that are not exactly polite to ask. At one point Scout asks Calpurnia, her family’s African American cook, “…why do you talk nigger-talk to the-to your folks when you know it’s not right?” (125). Scout does not fully, if at all, understand why her question is not polite. Although her father does not use the word ‘nigger’ others around her do. Calpurnia does not seem offended by the question, but this situation shows Calpurnia knows that Scout does not know any better. Since Scout does not realize it is not polite, one may conclude that one should be careful as to what he or she says around children because children do not always understand something is not polite or why it is not polite.

Racism and prejudice may be learned through one’s parents, as well as broken with the help of one’s parents. In a conversation between Jem and his father, Atticus, we learn that Jem believes that just due to the fact that “when it’s a white man’s word against black man’s, the white man always wins” it “doesn’t make it right” that Tom Robinson was found guilty (220). Jem believes this due to the influence of his father. Many, but not all, children look up to their parents for guidance on how to act and what to believe, like Jem. The fact that many children follow their parents’ beliefs and actions could be helpful in attempting to end racism, or it may worsen the situation. If other parents were to act like Atticus, their children would more than likely behave in the same way as Jem, which would be useful in ending racism.

In another instance Atticus’ views come into play on the subject of racism with his other child Scout. In this case “Cecil Jacobs… announced to the schoolyard ‘Scout Finch’s daddy defends niggers” and when Scout tells her father, Atticus, he tells her not to “…say nigger…That’s common.” (74-5). Atticus is setting an example as to what he believes is the proper way to speak. Not only does this reveal Atticus’ feelings about the word, but also how he feels towards racism. This also may give one insight as to how Cecil Jacob’s parents feel about racism. The conflict in the story is about which parental view would be more helpful for a community to end racism, especially among the community’s younger members, such as Scout and Cecil.

To Kill a Mockingbird shows that racism and prejudice are slightly similar to habits. These may be acquired by watching and listening one’s family, as well as others one interacts with, from a young age. One may realize this after reading about Atticus’ influence on his children as well as the influence of others on the children of Maycomb. Both racism and prejudice, like most habits, can be broken with some effort and a set mind, but one must first understand what it is they are doing wrong. To understand what it is that is wrong with one’s behavior one might need an adult or someone they respect to explain what it is that is wrong and why it is wrong. After reading about Atticus and the discussions he has with his children, as well as the behavior of others throughout the book, one might understand this.

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