The Various Forms of Racism Discrimination in To Kill A Mockingbird

May 18, 2022 by Essay Writer

Discrimination has been present throughout human history for centuries. In Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, there is a narration of happenings during the Great Depression and how discrimination was evident between black and white communities. Due to its instant success, a film adaptation was produced approximately two years later in 1962. The novel To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the fictional small town of Maycomb, Alabama, Using different complex characters, the novel centers around the protagonist lawyer Atticus Finch, and his two children, Jem and Scout. Atticus was well known in Maycomb for representing African American clients. On one occasion, Atticus Finch represented an African American named Tom Robinson, who was falsely accused of raping a white girl. This propelled the animosity towards blacks and increased the simmering racial tensions in the town of Maycomb. There is also the element of gender roles and discrimination from people from Northern states, as witnessed in the case of Scout and her teacher. Robinson is seen as a scapegoat in essential issues compared to the charges made by Bob Ewell, and this raises the need to assess other issues of racial biasness raised in the narrative. How does discrimination play a role throughout the novel, and to what extent does it affect the fate of the characters?

Even though racism is the most dominant form of discrimination, there are other forms present in the novel. For instance, Scout is mocked for being a tomboy, and this affects her self-esteem and her relationship with the other characters. Scout and Jem were taken care of by their black housekeeper, Calpurnia, who despite her differences in opinion and perspectives on life, still provided quality care and taught them how to live with others in a society. The children did not believe that the housekeeper could make an impact on their lives because of her identity. Even though Atticus Finch actively fought against prejudice and racism, and even though the children were not raised with preconceived notions of bias, the effect of the town’s racism has altered their frame of mind when it comes to black workers in their household. When they attended Calpurnia’s church, they realized she could speak two languages and were amazed. “The idea that she had another life outside our house was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages (Lee 143)”.

During the time of the narration, Midwestern states like Alabama had to endure the effects of the Dust Bowl, which destroyed most of the crops. Because of this, most in Maycomb were struggling financially and emotionally. “Why does he pay you like that?” I asked. “Because that’s the only way he can pay me. He has no money” (Lee 23). The nature of payment stresses on how racism dominated and also brings out the idea of how poverty shaped the minds of young children and how people had to improvise to survive with the low payments. In the text, the barter system was utilized when Atticus was given crops for payment of his services, which demonstrated that money was scarce. Most people were struggling, but it was even worse for African Americans due to Jim Crow laws. These laws were created with the specific purpose of separating the black and white people in the South. According to “To Kill a Mockingbird” 1962: Lawyering in an Unjust Society, Atticus Finch, by putting an earnest defense forward, was violating the rules of the racially segregated community. One of the commentators narrates that To Kill a Mockingbird advocates for courage in the face of prejudice and outright racial remarks.

Racial discrimination against people of color dominated the 1930’s to the extent that they were not allowed to interact with and intermarry with the whites. The white majority were superior and exercised supremacy of the minority as the latter only engaged in manual jobs. This affected the blacks since they were the dominant ethnic population within the white society; there was a sense of oppression and slavery (Macaluso 282). Dolphus Raymond becomes an outcast for working with a black woman who has an interracial child. Because of this, Raymond is expelled from society because of something considered as a radical act at the time. Having an open relationship with a black woman was considered a grave offense. Until the mid-20th century, there was a law that prohibited interracial relationships and marriages. Around the 1860s, the term miscegenation was introduced. Miscegenation means a mixture of races. The law that prohibited interracial relationships and marriages was introduced to enhance and maintain the purity of the Anglo-Saxon race. In this case, the relationship between black and white was a subtle issue around the time of To Kill a Mockingbird. In a remote town like Maycomb, it was considered as an unacceptable act to against social norms, particularly concerning race. Raymond, aware of the consequence of his actions, avoids interacting with the town, and the only way he could manage this was to pretend to be a drunkard. “It ain’t honesty but it’s mighty helpful to folks. Secretly, Miss Finch, I’m not much of a drinker, but you see they could never, never understand that I live like I do because that’s the way I want to live.” (Lee 228). People saw him as an outcast of society and Atticus was also ashamed for interacting with African Americans even within his role as an attorney.

On the other side of the black and white relationships, blacks were oftentimes seen and treated as sex objects. This further exemplified how the black community was oppressed within the context of the novel. For instance, Mayella Ewell, Bob Ewell’s daughter, engages with Tom in an uncomfortable and sexual manner and tries to scrutinize Tom for avoiding a relationship with her (Smykowski 55). Even though Tom resisted her, she had damned him regardless. Bob Ewell beats his daughter and convinces her to testify against Tom; this provides evidence of yet another form of racial discrimination and prejudice. During the 1930s, racial segregation was at its peak, and black people usually did not interact with the white in any way. In case a black man was accused of rape, they were instantly lynched or punished severely. Bob Ewell was aware of this and took advantage of the high level of racism of the townspeople to shift blame onto Tom and avoid consequences.

Atticus, as the moral character in To Kill a Mockingbird, stressed on how law and justice was used biasedly in the novel. The law was used to propel racial discrimination, as evidenced in Tom Robinson’s case. Justice is meant to be blind, but even in the court system, the black community had designated sitting positions. There were elements of racial discrimination in this context. In Tom Robinson’s case, Atticus provided valid and robust evidence to prove instances of lies. Still, since the jury was all white, they are blinded by racial prejudice and ignored some of the most fundamental facts presented, then go ahead and punish Tom. The jury’s decision was biased and influenced by the racial affiliation rather than the weight of the evidence provided in the court. The novel was written in the 1960s, giving a reflection of what happened during 1930, the same time as the Scottsboro trial in Alabama. As Tom Robinson was falsely accused of raping a white woman, the nine black men in the Scottsboro trial were also charged with rape (Miller 25). The incident created chaos in the justice system, questioning the integrity of the American courts. The men were forced to spend years in jail while the case was handled. In the process, Atticus used all the available resources to free Tom Robinson, but in the real sense, there was no case because the jury had already decided. Racial discrimination affected the justice system and influenced how courts made decisions.

The jury, together with the society at large, failed to listen to Tom despite the fact that he lives an honorable life. They instead believed the words of Bob Ewell, a man known for telling lies (Osborn 1139). The jury and other people in Maycomb took his word because of his skin color. In the end, Tom is killed for trying to escape from prison; he believed there was no justice within the American court system. However, there have been significant changes in the court system since, and the verdict of a case is now decided based on the available evidence. Symbolically, Atticus advocated for justice and morality in the society while Bob Ewell represented racial discrimination and ignorance. In fact, Bob Ewell’s full name is Robert E. Lee Ewell, a name given in reference to one of the best-known commanders of the confederate army. The army represented slave states that advocated for the expansion of slavery and promoted racism.

Although Harper Lee’s novel emphasizes the plight of blacks, she also touches upon other forms of discrimination and predisposition. Scout is criticized by women because of her physical appearance and a result, gets into a fight with other kids. The perception of other people affected her relationship with her father, who was only focused on ensuring she acquires education and grows to be a fair and kind person. Jem also criticizes Scout for acting like a girl but not being girly enough. His statements were influenced by other people’s views even though he was not aware of the gender concept. The existing perceptions of gender troubled Scout.

Another form of discrimination that Scout encounters is displayed by her teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher. She comes from Northern Alabama with a college degree eager to teach the children the “right” way. Scout was already academically ahead and was facilitated by Calpurnia, the housekeeper, who helped with the homework and other academic assignments. Scout knew how to read in her class, but Miss Caroline could not appreciate the talent, Instead, she is scolded for learning how to read before her classmates. Furthermore, Miss Caroline assumes that the only person who taught Scout to read must have been her father and that he taught her incorrectly. “Your father does not know how to teach.” (Lee 19). Even though Atticus was not the person who taught Scout to read, as a licensed lawyer, teaching his daughter letters and words would have been well within his abilities. This shows that the teacher, Miss Caroline, had preconceived notions and prejudices towards people she deemed of lower stature than herself.

Discrimination played a major role in the novel and affected the fates of the major characters. Tom Robinson’s fate was prejudged before he even stepped into the courtroom. Atticus Finch started to have trouble with his townmates because of his representation of a black person. Arguably, Jem started developing preconceived notions defined by the townspeople around him. Scout is being influenced to be more girly and learn her place in the town. Harper Lee’s novel was not only an insight into the world of 1930 Alabama but a warning for us to recognize how our prejudice and preconceived notions affect our relationships and how they affect the relationships of people around us.

Works Cited:

  1. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006.
  2. Macaluso, Michael. “Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird Today: Coming to Terms with Race, Racism, and America’s Novel.” Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 61.3(2017): 279-287.
  3. Miller, James A. Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial. Princeton University Press, 2009.
  4. Osborn Jr, John Jay. “Atticus Finch-The End of Honor: A Discussion of To Kill a Mockingbird.” USFL Rev.30 (1995): 1139.
  5. Smykowski, Adam. “Symbolism and Racism in To Kill a Mockingbird.” Readings on To Kill a Mockingbird (2000): 52-56.

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