Prejudice in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee Essay
Prejudice in “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, many different prejudices are revealed. The most prominent being the racial prejudice between the white people and black people in Maycomb, Alabama during the 1930’s. However, there are many more subtle and discreet prejudices against other people in Maycomb, also.
One of the first prejudices to become known is against the Cunninghams. The Cunninghams are a very poor farming family who were hit hard by the Great Depression. “…The Cunninghams never took anything they can’t pay back – no church baskets and no scrimp stamps. They never took anything off anybody, they get along on what they have. They don’t have much, but they get along on it.” Scout explains to Miss Caroline, their first grade teacher, on page 20. The Cunninghams were hit hardest by the Depression and because of their level of poverty the Cunninghams are discriminated against. “The thing is, you can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem.” Aunt Alexandra explains to Scout on page 224. Aunt Alexandra does not want Scout associating with Walter Cunningham simply because of his class. Aunt Alexandra is discriminating against the Cunninghams because they are below the Finches on the social strata.
Probably the most prominent prejudice in the novel is the racial prejudice. Tom Robinson was a black man who was accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white girl. When Tom was put in jail awaiting trial, Atticus, his lawyer, went down one night and sat outside the jailhouse. A mob showed up that night with the intent to beat Tom Robinson but with Atticus there, the mob was stalled and eventually left. This mob was consumed with racial prejudice against the black people. Even Calpurnia, the black housekeeper for the Finches, is discriminated against.
Although Calpurnia is treated fairly, it is obvious Calpurnia is considered to be on a lower social level than the Finches. Calpurnia calls Scout ma’am and Jem sir, although these are titles usually reserved for elders. An example of this is on page 207. Calpurnia addresses Jem after they have been missing at the trial all day with “Hush your mouth, sir! When you oughta be hangin’ your head in shame you go along laughin’. If Mr. Finch don’t wear you out, I will – get in that house, sir!”
Though it seems that the blacks are the ones who are prejudiced against, when Jem and Scout are taken to Calpurnia’s church, (their black house-keeper) the black people show hostility towards Jem and Scout. Lula, a black woman at the church confronts Calpurnia on page 119. “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here—they got their church, we got our’n.” Because the whites shun the blacks the blacks are prejudiced in return.
Another prejudice that comes to light is the prejudice against Dolphus Raymond. Dolphus is a wealthy white man but is a victim of isolation because of his relationship with a woman who is black. When Scout meets Mr. Dolphus Raymond during the trial Scout becomes aware that Dolphus is a victim of prejudice and has become an outcast. Dolphus pretended to be a drunk so he didn’t have to explain the fact that he was simply in love with a black woman. The alcohol, Dolphus said, gave the people an excuse to say that Dolphus didn’t know what he was doing.
On page 200, Dolphus says to Dill and Scout “When I come to this town, which is seldom, if I weave a little and drink out of this sack, folks can say Dolphus Raymond’s in the clutches of whisky—that’s why he won’t change his ways. He can’t help himself, that’s why he lives like he does.” The people of Maycomb are intolerant of the way Dolphus chooses to live. Dolphus is discriminated against because he lives his life with a black woman. This is thought to be wrong in society in Maycomb.
Yet another prejudice in Maycomb was that against Arthur Radley. Arthur Radley could see the segregation of the people of Maycomb and the prejudice. Therefore Arthur isolated himself; Arthur didn’t want to be a part of Maycomb’s intolerance. By doing this Arthur became one of the outsiders and was still a victim of the prejudice, as Arthur was different. There were wild rumors circulating the town and the children made up stories and games about Arthur. Because he was virtually unknown, Arthur Radley was discriminated against.
The theme of prejudice is explored many ways throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. The different kinds of prejudice explore how deep people’s hatred of each other can go. It gives the reader good insight as to what makes people intolerant and why people shouldn’t be prejudiced just because others are different. From discriminating against the poor to racial prejudice to silly rumors fueling intolerance, very few realize that everyone is different but also equal.