The Stereotypes of to Kill a Mockingbird
The presence and effects of stereotypes in To Kill a Mockingbird are very apparent throughout the book. Whether it be characters setting and breaking them, imposing them on others, or using them to justify their actions, the way they are shown varies throughout the book. Of course their influence varies as well, as does the situation. Burris Ewell is a truant and lashes out at his teacher, but Walter Cunningham acts honorable. Aunt Alexandra, and Jem at some points, try to get Scout to act more ladylike. Bob Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of raping and beating his daughter, and he is believed because of the hate against African Americans at that time period. Even though these scenarios are all very different, they all share the same base root of stereotypes being very easy to see whether they impact the story or not.
Multiple times in the story, stereotypes are broken. In the earlier example, Burris and Walter are both very poor, however only Burris acts in a way that someone might assume he would after learning of his living condition. On the contrary, Walter holds himself proudly and doesn’t lash out because of how he lives. Another unrelated example of stereotypes being broken is the fact that even though Tom Robinson is convicted of the crime he was accused, he didn’t actually commit it. This one is slightly more loose, but fits with the idea nonetheless. While stereotypes are broken a decent amount, this doesn’t have too much of an impact, but is simply something interesting.
Multiple times in the book, stereotypical actions or lifestyles are imposed on people. One of the most obvious is Aunt Alexandra’s constant push for Scout to act more like a lady. Of course Jem does this as well, but the circumstance and reasoning isn’t the same. While it is debatable on whether or not this could be considered imposing a “stereotype”, Atticus constantly tries to instill his lessons and morals into his children whenever he gets the chance. Another debatable example is how Miss Caroline gets frustrated with Scout because she didn’t fall in line with how she expected the students to be. While these are important, another strong instance of stereotypes causing an impact in the story is how people use them to justify themselves.
The largest example of characters using their view of a stereotype to justify themselves is represented by a majority of Maycomb, but more specifically Bob Ewell. Bob does plenty of things that most would consider inhumane because of what he thinks of Tom, however it could be summed in general as the entirety of the trial. While it isn’t confirmed, it is heavily implied in the trial that Bob beat his daughter and blamed it on Tom. There’s also the fact that Bob tried to send a lynch mob on Atticus for representing Tom in the trial. On the other end of the spectrum, a completely different form of this type of stereotype usage is how Scout and Jem make fun of Boo Radley. Because of his shut in nature, they assume he is this scary monster and make all sorts of remarks about him. They, along with Dill, also pester him, and eventually Atticus has to step in and tell them to quit.
Overall, the use of stereotypes in this story not only has variety, but is used properly. While some of the uses have more direct story impact than others, they are all noticeable by the reader regardless. It’s a form of subtle world-building that immerses the reader that much more into the world of the book. The contrast between the Ewells and the Cunninghams paints the class system whilst also showing that not all the impoverished families are the same. The way people impose their views on others of how they should act adds development to certain parts of the story, sometimes even to the character doing the imposing. The characters using stereotypes to justify actions usually develop the plot as a whole without seeming like it. The book uses these tools it created very well, having multiple purposes and implications throughout the book.
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