“Being Southerners, it was a source of shame to some members of the family that we had no recorded ancestors on either side of the Battle of Hastings”. This is just the first of many prejudice statements in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. We learn here the high expectations set in the society of Maycomb, “a tired old town”, in the 1930’s. Not only were there the social snobberies, but also the racism. In the 1930’s, the civil war was still fresh in many minds, The United States of America was going through a period of isolation due to this.
The northern states had become independent and many had started accepting blacks in their country, although this was not the case in the southern states such as Maycomb, who continued to use black’s as their hands. The southern whites could not come to accept them as equals and this was mainly due to fear and ignorance. However if whites did not let blacks into their ‘social scene’, churches, clubs and schools, then most blacks in turn did not allow whites invading their world either.
A prime example of this is when Scout and Jem Finch are invited by their black cook Calpurnia to visit her church, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here-they got their church, we got our’n”. This is a comment made by Lula, a church regular. Jem and Scout begin to feel uncomfortable and want to “go home” but none of the other church members let them, they are in fact “mighty glad” to have them. This shows how blacks are willing to take a white person over a wrong black person but later in the novel, we see how a white would never take a guilty white person over an innocent black.
Although Lula may be wrong, she is a good example of a person clearly not afraid to fight the white people for black justice. Which most black people would not dare to do in the 1930’s, the time in which Harper Lee’s novel is set. It is very important that this book is written in the eyes of a child, Scout Finch. She is still young and not yet exposed to the prejudices in her society, therefore her views are neither black or white and are in no way influenced by others but simply her own opinion.
However, scout is unusually aware of everything that is going on around her for a child of such a small age, but this brings us back to the reality of the book that it is fictional and not real. “The Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations. None of them had done an honest day’s work in his recollection… they were people, but they lived like animals”, these are the words of Atticus Finch, father of Scout. He in the novel plays a very important role as setting the right example to his children.
There are many influences from their surroundings of racism and class differences but he teaches them that prejudice is wrong, without him they would only be taught what is ‘right’ in their society, which is wrong in reality. Atticus continues his opinion of Bob Ewell the father of the Ewells, “it’s certainly bad, but when a man spends his relief cheques on green whisky his children have a way of crying from hunger pains”. This is bad enough on its own but when he is favoured over an innocent black man, Tom Robinson, in a court case, just because he is white, the image of Bob becomes not only heartless but disgusting.
When Atticus is asked to defend Tom Robinson in the court case of Bob accusing him of raping his daughter, Mayella Ewell, he takes it on. He says “I can’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try and help that man”. This shows how Atticus was an important man in society in the 1930’s, without him there would be no progress into eliminating racism. He is taking a baby step, the beginning of a change. There is much evidence that Bob is guilty when he says he did not want to call the doctor for Mayella when he saw her condition because it “would have cost him five dollars”.
My argument is that if he was more worried about money then his daughters health then surely he would not of gone to so much trouble convicting someone because Mayella was rapped. It was clearly a set up to take a black man to jail knowing that “when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins”. Although we know that anyone whether they are black or white can still be a bad person, Harper Lee tries to make the black people’s world so calm and loving and portraying them as having “biblical patience”.
Then as a major contrast, we are introduced to white characters that resort to drink and have bad tempers such as Bob Ewell. This contrast is important although it is an exaggeration it is the only way we see how disgusting and pointless racism was in the 1930’s, and still is now. Towards the end of the book we see Aunt Alexandra start to see straight through her fellow neighbours, “I mean this town. They’re perfectly willing to let him do what they are too afraid to do themselves”.
She addresses that there are white people willing to accept the black people but they are just too afraid to bring their opinions forward as they think they will be criticised by others. What these people do not realise is that there are many with the same feelings and again too afraid to admit. By not expressing them, it is nearly impossible for any changes to be made in their society, as this leads to generations after generations continuing to be influenced by what is wrong. The alienation of ‘Boo’ Radley is another form of prejudice in the novel.
He is a man named Arthur but nicknamed Boo. He lives in a dark house and never comes out which is why the children are curious to find out who he is and what he looks like. Scout and Jem’s understanding and sympathy for him becomes stronger throughout the book. They begin with the assumption that he is a “malevolent phantom” and Miss Stephanie the local gossip only made their imaginations run wilder. She tells them that he stabbed his mother with scissors but “the sheriff hadn’t the heart to put him in jail alongside Negroes”.
Racism and alienation both in the same paragraph, Harper Lee really tries hard to get the point across about what is right and what is wrong, and clearly succeeds. We have seen many occasions in the book where whites have been made higher than blacks no mater what their reputation and here is another. Arthur is a warm-hearted man, we know this as he stitched up Jem’s trousers when he trespassed in his garden. He covered up Scout with a blanket in order to keep her warm when Miss Maudie’s house was on fire and then he saved both their lives from Bob Ewell when he tried to kill them. How can this be the doings of an evil man?
The answer is simple, its not. Scout and Jem realise this towards the end of the book that this man is being tormented just because he is different. He is a person who does no harm but who himself is harmed for no reason, why would he want to come out of his house if he thinks he is going to be bombarded with hate? “I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside”. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ raises various issues on class and racial equality, but will it ever be eliminated? In my opinion, I do not think it will.
There will always be certain people who can not cope with the idea of a black man and a white man getting along. Nevertheless, with role models like Atticus in our society, we can be taught so that the majority knows what is right and will not be afraid to speak their views. Nelson Mandela was an important figure in racial equality, he was listened to by millions and hopefully influenced many people to believe in what is right and not what they think is right. Influence is the only probable cause of prejudice because it is what you have grown up on, its like starting from A and going to B.
If you are told the alphabet goes from A to B then that is what you will think is correct and what you will teach others. But if you are taught it goes from A to C you are being told otherwise without realising it is wrong, therefore will be teaching others what is not right. We know Atticus managed to get his view across to at least a few people such as his children, Miss Maudie and even Aunt Alexandra the same woman who said saying nigger was correct, seemed to see sense. It is also up to us not to give up just as Atticus did not. We saw he did his best in court and so did the black people when they showered him with gifts of appreciation.
They also showed him much respect, “the Negroes were getting to their feet” as Atticus walked down the court room aisle despite loosing the case. The whole book revolves around Scout, if it was not told by her it would be from a totally different angle and give a different view. Harper Lee tells it very clearly, as if the whole story is a test for scout to find out where she stands or where she wants to stand in her society. We find out what a strong character she is during the end of the novel after having encountered much racism surrounding her and still not being sucked in.