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In the society that I have been raised in, I have always been taught to be accepting of others and not pass judgment on their race, culture or religion. I was told to leave my prejudice at home. In other societies, has this been the case as well? Through the close analysis and reading of four texts, I believe that this wasn’t the case and that intolerance and prejudicial attitudes were common. The four texts that I have chosen that show this is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
These texts have made the themes of intolerance and prejudice apparent and have also shown myself and other readers why it is important to have tolerance within a community, without prejudicial attitudes. In Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee explores the importance of tolerance through the character of Miss Maudie.
Miss Maudie says, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” The Mockingbird is like an innocent person, it doesn’t harm anyone. The author wants to show the reader that people who hurt or judge peaceful creatures show their lack of tolerance and compassion for humanity. The Mockingbird is an appropriate symbol for both Tom and Boo, they are both innocent, harmless creatures but have been subjected to false accusations from the community.
Miss Maudie, like Atticus, believes that it is essential to accept people as they are. Judging people through prejudice eyes only marginalizes vulnerable individuals, creating a divided community. The close relationship between lack of tolerance and racism is shown by Tom’s trial.
Harper Lee has effectively communicated the intolerance throughout the novel, mainly through the people of Maycomb. They believe Tom is guilty, without giving him a second look. This is based on the setting of the book which was during the 1940’s and as in The Help, white citizens blamed everything on coloured people, and believed that no one who was coloured would be innocent of crimes. The lack of tolerance and racial division in the community is similar to The Help by Kathryn Stockett, where the importance of tolerance is shown through the character of Skeeter. Skeeter says “I am neither thrilled nor disappointed by the news that they might let a coloured man into Ole Miss, just surprised.” Skeeter is a white woman and most women of the time would be offended that a coloured man would even be considered entrance to university.
In contrast with To Kill A Mockingbird, Stockett is communicating that coloured people are innocent and there is nothing wrong with them, much to another character Hilly’s beliefs that they have “diseases.” The author wants readers to think deep into tolerance in this time and how many coloured people were discriminated on purely because they were different and how White supremacists thought coloured people would hurt or harm them, because they were different and like many did towards Tom and Boo in To Kill A Mockingbird, many did this towards the maids in The Help. These two texts relate as both Harper Lee and Kathryn Stockett have both established very intolerant divided communities, and this consequently makes the reader think more into their society.
Do we discriminate against races such as those from Asia because they have trouble speaking English? This text also intensifies the already questions within the readers minds about the people of that time and readers then compare the people in To Kill A Mockingbird and The Help to themselves. Are we fully tolerant of the differences in our bicultural environment? The lack of tolerance of individuals is established on not only a fictional level but also a historical level in The Book Thief. Through the narration of Death, we learn about tolerance and how one character, Hans Hubermann shows his tolerance of others. It is also through Death’s narration that we learn those who are intolerant of the Jewish race, such as the Nazi Party. What is very important to note is that Hans is German, and the Book Thief is set in the period of Nazism, and as history tells us, men such as Hans would despise Jews and believe all of Hitler’s anti-Semitism policies, and in general would be very intolerant of those who are not the “pure race.”
Death says “In 1933, 90 percent of German’s showed unflinching support for Adolf Hitler. That leaves ten percent that didn’t. Hans Hubermann belonged to that ten percent.” The reason Zusak has chosen to use these words is to establish Hans as a character- who he is and how he is tolerant. Hans immediately connects with Miss Maudie and Skeeter as all three are people who we would expect to be intolerant but all share the same value: that everyone is the same and should be treated equally. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne also communicates how important tolerance is within a community. This text centres on a woman who was convicted of adultery, and the text is set in Puritan times. This text is particularly important as it is not relevant to today’s society, as the three other texts are. The prejudice and intolerance towards a woman who committed adultery would be different in the 21st century. This is shown as the main character Hester Prynne was forced away from her loved ones when her sin came to light.
She was a member of “as befitted a people amongst whom religion and law were almost identical…that the mildest and the severest acts of public discipline were alike made venerable and awful”. The community of her time was very highly based upon religion which is yet again, much like racism and intolerance, is not as common in today’s society. The circumstances that take place with Hester in the novel are not applicable today. In today’s society, we have more of an open society in which one is given more support from their family, government and the community in general when placed in a position such as Hester’s. We realize that adultery is a common occurrence and, therefore, the authority does not place punishment upon adulteresses. This connects strongly with the three other texts as people are more accepting of others in today’s society- we accept coloured people. The United States president is a coloured man, so we also respect them. We look back at German history and feel remorse for the Jewish race, as we learn they did nothing.
They were simply scapegoats. I strongly believe that over the time that the novels are set in, society has changed its values on prejudicial attitudes and as a whole, society is far more tolerant than ever before. After reading my texts and thinking more laterally about them, I strongly believe that today’s society has changed in a big way. These four texts have shown readers how society used to be and although they are merely fiction, they communicate real ideas. In both To Kill A Mockingbird, we think of America in the 1950’s and the racial disparities and the prejudice and intolerance that people such as Boo, Tom and Aibileen would have faced.
Markus Zusak takes us straight back to Hitler’s autocratic fascist reign in The Book Thief and we learn even more about intolerance attitudes, but also learn about tolerant characters like Hans, and like Miss Maudie in To Kill A Mockingbird. In the final book, The Scarlet Letter, we see yet again how society has changed. We no longer discriminate against people because of their personal choices or who they are. Through these texts, readers have learnt this and apply it to their real life and are also thankful that we are tolerant. Thankful that we aren’t killing innocent people, hating on others because of their skin colour or because they simply made a mistake. I am personally glad that society has experienced this change because who knows of what consequences we as a societal whole would be facing today.
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