The Problem With Prejudice: Conflict In To Kill A Mockingbird

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

 “Cry about the simple hell people give other people-without even thinking” (Lee 269), this was said by the unusual character of Mr. Dolphus Raymond to Jem and well communicates the problems the characters in the novel are faced with. The fictional, southern gothic novel is set during the 1930s in a small town called Maycomb County, Alabama and is narrated by one of the protagonists, Jean Louise ‘Scout’ Finch.

She tells the story of her father, Atticus, an attorney defending a black man, Tom Robinson, who has been accused of rape. She also mentions her mysterious neighbour Boo Radley who provokes her curiosity along with her brother’s and their neighbour Dill. By analyzing the conflict in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, it becomes clear that prejudice can blind people from seeing others for their true selves. The Finch children show prejudice towards Boo Radley and therefore are unable to see Boo for who he really is. This prejudice can be seen during a conversation between Jem and his sister when he describes Boo Radley’s monster-like qualities, “What teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time” (Lee 16).

Although the children had never met Boo Radley, their preconceived notions of him are vile and malicious. All of their knowledge about their mysterious neighbour is based on town rumors. This proves that the children are too blinded by their prejudice to see Boo Radley for who he truly is. Furthermore, it is not until later on in the novel that the children begin to realize Boo Radley is not who they thought he was because of personal experiences they have with him, “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough” (Lee 374).

After Scout discovers Boo Radley’s true personality, a shy, caring man who wanted nothing but to be friends with them, her opinion about him changes. This proves it was the children’s prejudice depriving them all along from really knowing Boo Radley. Once they were willing to get over their preconceived ideas about him being violent and repulsive, they finally discovered Boo for the true hero he is. The ongoing prejudice and discrimination shown by the people of Maycomb towards Atticus Finch demonstrates how prejudice can deprive society from seeing someone’s true self.

During a conversation between Scout and her classmate Cecil Jacobs, he insults Atticus when he says, “My folks said your daddy was a disgrace.” (Lee 102) This proves Cecil’s family is just one of many families in Maycomb who have insulted, discriminated and even spat on Atticus because of their assumptions. In addition, the infamous Mrs. Dubose explicitly states the presence of prejudice towards Atticus in Maycomb, ‘Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!’ (Lee 135) This proves the people of Maycomb are too ignorant to get to know Atticus and understand why he is defending Tom Robinson, and instead degrade him for defending a man of colour.

Two cases in which a society is letting their prejudice define their opinions on a courageous man, blinding them from knowing his true identity. The most apparent and recurring form of discrimination based on prejudice is shown by the people of Maycomb against Tom Robinson. Atticus explains this to his son when he says, “The jury couldn’t possibly be expected to take Tom Robinson’s word over the Ewells” (Lee 55). This affirmation proves the severity of institutional and racist prejudice in Maycomb. Tom Robinson’s conviction was inevitable from the start of his trial regardless of the solid evidence proving him innocent. The jury’s prejudice against Tom because of his race deprives them of proper judgment for the case. Also, the town of Maycomb’s reaction after the trial explicitly states how they felt about Tom and his conviction, “Tom’s death was typical. […] Typical of a niggers mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw.[…] Nigger always comes out in ‘em” (Lee 322).

The display of Maycomb’s ignorance towards the death of Tom Robinson and their crude, repeated use of a racial slur after the trial shows the prejudice they felt towards him and how they felt no remorse for him since they claim he got what he deserved. They would rather formulate their opinions on Tom on their own racial bias than solid undeniable evidence as presented during the trial. In both cases, it is clear Maycomb has let their racial prejudice rob them of their morality and ability to see Tom for the kind-hearted, hard working person that he really is.

In sum, Harper Lee uses different types of conflicts to show that prejudice can blind people from seeing others for their true selves.

First, she shows through the Finch children’s initial opinions on Boo Radley and how those opinions evolve later on that the children are too consumed by their prejudice to see Boo’s true qualities.

Next, she uses the conflict of Atticus vs. the people of Maycomb to show that ignorance caused by prejudice can cause a society to misjudge someone. This is shown through the many insults directed towards Atticus through his children by many members of his community. Finally, Lee uses the prejudice from the citizens of Maycomb against Tom Robinson to display the severity of racial discrimination in institutions such as a courtroom and how the people of Maycomb were too blind to see Tom Robinson’s distinct innocence. Overall, society could compare themselves to the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird and learn from their mistakes in order to improve their own prejudice problem and not let their own personal bias define how they view others.


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