Class Discrimination in "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

The 1930’s were a dark time for America, discrimination was plentiful and rose up as one of the many flaws in the so-called flawless nation. Harper Lee’s demonstrates her ideological perspective in her masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, which simulates the effects of class discrimination in a small town in Southern America, through the eyes of a innocent young girl named Scout. Harper Lee exhibits this through the use of language choices, characterisation and symbolism in order to show how discrimination change the oppinions and stereotypes of different classes throughout the book.

Characters lose their identity as human beings, assumed, blamed and mistreated through discrimination.

The use of language choices in Harper Lee’s award winning book clearly demonstrates the acts of discrimination and how characters lose their identity within the novel. This is most evident in the Ewell Family, particularly Burris Ewell who comes to school on the first day then gets kicked out for the rest of the year.

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The teacher, Miss Caroline, who is unaware as their status as white trash (The lowest class of white folk, although not as low as the black.) discriminates against his appearance which is of a result of his class. The quote “to get rid of the er - cooties,” displays how Miss Caroline unknowingly discriminates against Burris through her imperative tone. This is further shown by another quote “please bathe yourself before tomorrow.” This presents how the connotations of poverty, associated with his unkempt appearance results in the loss of Burris’s dignity and identity as a human being.

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Harper Lee manifests class discrimination in her book, through the adoption of symbolism. Chapter Ten provides a perfect example as “the pet of Maycomb,” Tim Johnson, a dog that was shot by Atticus in Chapter 10 as he was a danger to the citizens of Maycomb. Acts a symbol of lower class citizens to demostrate the conection to the mistreatement of animals was alot like the discrimination against black people in the 1930s. This is clearly shown by the similarity between the shots that took place in the cold February Morning compared to the figurative shots fired in the court room in Chapter 21. Scout identifys this in the book as she states “A steaming summer night was no different from a winter morning.” This quote clearly alludes back the shooting, reinforcing the loss of empathy for both Tim and Tom as they are both killed off in similar matters, the discrimination against less fortunate social classes.

Throughout the book, Harper Lee uses a plentiful amount of characterisation to repesent the common nature and behaviour of white men in the 1930s. She utilises the unique choice of point of view to demonstrate the selfishness of less fortunate characters that discriminated against Tom in To Kill a Mockingbird. The characterisation of white males in Chapter 21 prove their stance in society as the men follow and agree like a pack to false beliefs implemented by other white men in the novel. The jury showcases this as they immediately approve of the odvious lies solidified by Bob over the trueful story told by Tom. “A jury never looks at a defendant it has convicted.” This shows how widespread ideas are solidified throughout society through Harper Lee’s use of characterisation on white men within the book.

Harper Lee’s way of combining her morals and values into one entertaining and engaging book is the reason for its worldwide success. The uses of language features, symbolism and characterisation to portray the nature of class discrimination in the 1930’s was unheard of for its time of publication. Overall the book gives a healthy understanding of life as a middle class, white trash or black citizen at the time, by demonstrating the effects of discrimination in court-like experience.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Class Discrimination in "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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