Theme Of Racism And Portrayal Of The Black Community In Nelle Harper Lee’s Novel To Kill A Mockingbird

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

The appearance of an individual can heavily influence and shape their experiences. In particular, the colour of one’s skin can provide them with countless opportunities or deprive them of basic rights. Black people encounter these consequences in the book To Kill a Mockingbird written by Nelle Harper Lee.

The novel takes place in the 1930s in Maycomb, Alabama, and is told through the perspective of a young girl by the name of Scout Finch. Her father, Atticus Finch is a lawyer with an upcoming trial defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white girl. A recurring theme in the novel is the controversial portrayal of the black community, this is demonstrated through the citizens of Maycomb’s influence on the social image of the black community through racism, transformation, and defence which also carries on to portray a positive image of the black community.

Firstly, the citizens of Maycomb discriminate against their black community through several racist encounters. Specifically, the characters Bob Ewell, Miss. Gates, and Cecil Jacobs display antagonist qualities through racist behaviour. Bob Ewell, a low-class citizen in Maycomb display’s racism towards African-Americans; when physically harasses Miss. Helen Robinson, a black woman and widow of Tom Robinson. Bob Ewell’s encounter of racism is displayed on Helen’s way to work when she: “She looked around and saw Mr.Ewell walking behind her […] All the way to the house, Helen said, she heard a soft voice behind her, crooning foul words” (334). Mr. Ewell is harassing Miss. Robinson because he assumes no one is willing to help her.

Furthermore, Miss. Gates the 3rd-grade teacher portrays racist qualities primarily after the trail; she assumes that Tom Robinson has raped a white woman. This is demonstrated the steps outside the courthouse Scout overhears Miss. Gates saying, “[…] it’s time somebody taught ‘em a lesson, ‘an the next thing they think they can do is marry us” (331). Miss. Gates makes false assumptions suggesting that the black community should be enforced with hardships which would prove them to be worthless in comparison to white people. Moreover, Cecil Jacobs, a boy in Scout’s class shows antagonistic qualities towards the black community, specifically on the playground at school. Scout states that Cecil: “[…] announced in the schoolyard the day before that Scout Finch’s daddy defended n*****s” (99).

This shows racism because Cecil is portraying African-Americans to be indefensible while depriving them of their innocence, especially because it is proven that Tom Robinson is innocent. The racism within the three characters portrays a positive image towards black people. This is due to the fact that Mr. Robinson is convicted wrongfully which allows sympathy for his character, as well as Helen Robinson who has also done nothing wrong, yet is continued to be harassed, and Cecil Jacobs who is declaring that black people do not have the right to a fair trial, for the mere reason of the colour of their skin, Thus allowing the audience to feel sympathetic towards the African-Americans in Maycomb.

Secondly, the citizens of Maycomb’s transformation made a strong statement towards the positive image of the African-American community, particularly through the character development of Scout Finch and Mr. Link Deas. To start off, Mr. Deas rejects to testify on behalf of Tom Robinson to protect his status in the community. Mr. Deas states, “you’ve got everything to lose from this, Atticus. I mean everything,” (195) while consulting with Atticus. In relevance, he unexpectedly shows up to the trial and testifies on behalf of Tom Robinson claiming his innocence. Mr. Deas’ character is developed because although he has a lot to lose, he is willing to defend Tom Robinson over his own reputation.

Additionally, Scout’s perception transitions from ignorance to critically analyzing her black community. Before the trial Scout is unaware of the struggles black people face especially when she tells Cecil that her father does not defend black people, only to come home and ask her brother Jem why defending black people is wrong. Her personality develops later in the book during the time Mr. Robinson is found guilty. Scout narrates and elaborates on how people feel after the trial. This is shown after the jury states the verdict guilty and Scout claims that she: “[…] peeked at Jem: […] his shoulders jerked as if each “guilty” was a separate stab between them” (282). Scout begins to understand how the trial influences individuals to feel and analyzes about the matter in more depth.

Carrying on, Mr. Deas is further developed when he hires Mrs. Robinson. Scout claims that: “even though he didn’t need her, he gave her a job” (333). He goes on to defend her from Mr. Ewell when she is being harassed. Mr. Deas character is once again developed when he goes out of his way to help someone who is frowned upon by society. Consequently, the character development among Scout Finch, and Mr. Deas creates a positive image for the reader about the African-American community by portraying them as victims, while introducing the idea of accepting them into social society.

Lastly, although most citizens of Maycomb are racist towards the African American community, Atticus Finch and Dill Harris are willing to defend the black community with their actions and words. First off, Atticus is accepting towards them when he defends Calpurnia, the black caretaker of his children over his own sister. Atticus’ sister, Alexandra Finch Hancock convinces him to fire Calpurnia for taking his children Jem and Scout to an African-American church (with his approval).

He responds by saying, “Alexandra, Calpurnia’s not leaving this house until she wants to” (182). Atticus defends her because he firmly believes in fairness of race over relations. Furthermore, Dill Harris, a friend of Scouts makes a statement about the unfairness of the trial when he runs crying out of the courthouse after the prosecutor Mr. Gilmore shows impudent behaviour towards Mr. Robinson. Dill makes a bold statement of the black community inside the courthouse; due to his age and upbringing in a broken household he manages to have a greater influence. Dill’s young perspective affects the reader by invoking thought from a new aspect.

Moreover, Atticus once again displays defence when he agrees to take the case of Tom Robinson because he believes that everyone is entitled to a proper defence. While knowing that he will not win the case, Atticus tells Scout that he took on the case because: “[…] if I didn’t I couldn’t hold my head up in town […] and I couldn’t tell you or Jem not to do something again” (100). Atticus once again displays integral qualities by accepting the case knowing he will lose, however believing that if he does not accept the case that would be even more demeaning. Hence, the appeal for the black community, once again allows the reader to feel sympathetic and a sense of unfairness for them through the reliable individuals directing to do so.

In conclusion, The citizens of Maycomb create a positive image of the black community for the reader through prejudice, transition, and advocacy. Prejudice is demonstrated through the characters Bob Ewell, Miss. Gates, and Cecil Jacobs, transition is indicated through the character development of Scout Finch and Mr. Link Deas, and advocacy is established through the characters Atticus Finch and Dill Harris. Therefore racial perceiving is a day to day consequence and a matter of perspective.

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