Surprises Due to the Time of the Book

About this essay

In the 1960’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, author Harper Lee sets a beautiful story in a little town called Maycomb, Alabama. This little town is home to the narrator, Scout, and her family, who experience many different types of discrimination. These types of discrimination were fairly common in the books set date of the 1930’s, which so happens to be when Lee grew up herself. Lee was born in the year 1926 and grew up in Monroeville Alabama (Harper Lee, 2018). An argument can be made that she took some of her own life experiences of growing up in the 30’s and used it in her writing.

Similar to her childhood, Scout experiences and witnesses different types of discrimination. The three main types of discrimination put on display throughout the book are gender, class and race.

While gender may not be the biggest topic of discrimination in the book, it is nevertheless prevalent throughout the book. Scout grew up most of her life without her mother and only had Calpurnia as a womanly figure in her life.

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Outside of Calpurnia, she only had her Father, Atticus, and her brother, Jem, to look up to. It is easy to see that she lacked femininity due to her lack of feminine role models. This of course is not a bad thing, but the 30’s and 50’s were a different time. Back then, women were to be the caretakers of the household, taking care of children, cooking and other household duties. Women were also prevented from serving on juries and working, as they were urged to be housewives.

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In the book itself, Jem goes on to ask how come people that are good can’t be in the jury. Jem particularly asks about his neighbor Miss Maudie. This is then addressed by Atticus that woman could not be apart of the jury. This was an example of inequality of women during that time period.

Another example of inequality for women in To Kill a Mockingbird, would be Scouts relationship with her Alexandra. In one example, Scout, Jeb and Atticus go to visit Alexandra at her house on Christmas day. When there, Alexandra insists that Scout dresses more feminine instead of the pants that she has on. This would not be the last time that Alexandra tries to make Scout more feminine, as she makes further attempts when she comes to visit the Finches. She then again tries to impose her vision of southern woman hood into Scout. This time she wants Scout to sit with her during her Missionary Society meeting, where they discuss many topics. Scout goes on to refer to this action as a “part of her campaign to teach me to be a lady” (262). It is no question that Scout witnesses and experiences the many inequalities of women in the 30’s and 50’s.

Class is another form of discrimination that is widely discussed though out the book. It is first discussed in chapter 2, when Scout attends her first day of school. Her teacher, Miss Caroline, makes Scout feel guilty for knowing already how to read. Atticus had already taught her, making her more advanced than the rest of her class. Being at the top of the social classes, the Finches are more educated than the rest of the other people in town. Being how educated Atticus is, he wanted to make sure his kids were also well educated. Unfortunately for Scout, she was punished unfairly for this. In the same day, another example of class is put on display. During lunch, Miss Caroline gives a quarter to Walter Cunningham, a boy of one of the poorer families in town. Miss Caroline tells Walter to pay her back the next day. What Caroline doesn’t know is that the Cunningham’s are one of the poorer families in town, meaning he will not be able to pay her back. The Cunningham’s are so poor that they can’t pay Atticus money for their legal fees. Instead, they pay Atticus with foods or goods. When Scout tries to explain that Walter will not be able to pay her back, Caroline proceeds to hit Scout with a ruler.

During the 30’s, most families were affected by the great depression, leaving them broke in most cases. Outside of a few rich families, the Finches for example, most people were hurting financially. This of course is put on display in the book, as families such as the Cunningham’s and Ewell’s depict the poor living conditions. In one chapter, Burris Ewell is descried to show how bad these living conditions were for the lower class. First, it is discovered that he has lice in his hair, which freaks out Miss Caroline. Scout goes on to descried how poor Ewell’s hyenine is, saying “his neck was dark gray, the backs of his hands were rusty, and his fingernails were black deep into the quick” (29). While you can see these classes, you have to remember there is another class below lower. During this time, the social classes were rich white families, poor white families and then black families. This of course brings up the final topic, Race.

Racism is heavily presented in this book, but once again comes to no surprise due to the books time in history. This was a time before the civil rights movement, when African Americans were not viewed as equal. They had to go to their own schools and churches, being forced to be segregated from whites. Luckily for Scout and Jem, their Father saw past the color of one’s skin and raised them as such. It even shows in the book how the real evil is not one’s skin color, but who they are. The biggest example of this would be Tom Robinson’s trial. Mr. Robinson was a black man who was accused of raping a white woman. It is later revealed that the woman is Mayella Ewell, who is the older sister of Burris. While it is revealed that Tom did not rape Mayella, his opinion is ignored only because he is black. Unfortunately for Tom, a white man’s word always outweighed a black man’s word. Against an all-white male jury, tom was convicted of a crime he did not commit.

Prior to the trial of Tom Robinson, Scout received ridicule from multiple people for her father’s choice to defend a black man. One of those people was Cecil Jones and the other is Aunt Alexandra’s grandson, Francis. Both children tell Scout her father Atticus is a “*blank* lover” and thus causes Scout to beat on both children. Atticus tells Scout to not fight someone for bad mouthing him, even if it makes her upset. This of course was a popular way to ridicule someone for their choices of being nice to someone in the African American community. Another time racism is shown in the book is when the children are passing by Mrs. Dubose’s house. She shouts at Jem and Scout, telling them that Atticus is just as bad as the “blacks and trash he works for” (chapter 11). Jem goes on to destroy the woman’s plants for her racist comments. Instead of being praised for standing up for his father, Jem is punished for his actions and must read to Mrs. Dubose. They face a lot of racial comments and ridicule from her.

This book overall was a great read, but also a great teacher. From when the book took place to the present, there has been change in the types of discrimination that were discussed. The events in this book show how bad times where back then for African Americans, Women and people of lower class. Black people were treated better than they were as slaves, but where not treated like equals to whites. During WW2 black men fought for everyone’s freedom from tyranny and injustice. How did we treat them when we got home? Like they were still unequal to their fellow man. There was still segregation, false accusation, unrighteous deaths and overall oppression. They did not receive a hero’s welcome, instead they received racial slurs. Also during WW2, women took on more responsibility, they provided entertainment in the form of women’s baseball and took over for then men while they were gone. How were they thanked? By being forced back into the home when the men returned. They were once again treated less than men.

In the end, discrimination played a large role in To Kill a Mockingbird. Tom Robinson was wrongly convicted of a crime only because he was black. Scout wasn’t able to live how she wanted because she had to be more feminine. Miss Caroline judge the Ewell boy for having lice, which was something most of the poor families were us to. With this type of discrimination on display, it is important for the reader to learn from this and grow. The year is 2020 and discrimination is still prevalent throughout the world. As a people we must all come together and overcome this obstacle. Then we will all be equal, and discrimination will just be something read about in books like these.

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Surprises Due to the Time of the Book. (2022, Jun 04). Retrieved from

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