The Theme of Prejudice in To Kill A Mockingbird

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  The theme of prejudice in To Kill A Mockingbird is much more than just a

case of black and white. The entire novel is about prejudice in its' many forms,

the most prominent case of prejudice is the hate between the blacks

and whites. The whole town of Maycomb is based on stereotypes of it's

inhabitants, that are passed down from generation to generation. Rumors run

rampid and very little truth is usually in them.

      "So Jem received most of his information from Miss Stephanie Crawford,
     a neighbor scold, she said she knew the whole thing. According to
     Miss Stephanie, Boo was sitting in the livingroom cutting some
     items from The Maycomb Tribune to paste in his scrapbook. His father
     entered the room. As Mr.Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors
     into his  parent's leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants,
     and resumed his activities."  (Chapter 1, page 11)


   I don't see how you can't expect to have prejudice in a small town like

that, after all isolation is a major factor in why prejudice and racism arise.

                 "Men hate each other because they fear each other,
                  and they  fear each other because
                  they don't know each other,
                  and they don't know each other because
                  they are often separated from each other. "

                                                    -Martin Luther King


      The stereotypes in this novel are fairly common but the fact that they

are accepted and used so openly in public is what astonishes me. I think people

in the community, even if they do disagree with what is being said or done,

they will say or do nothing because they are afraid of going against the

majority of the community and become a victim of prejudice themselves. Atticus

was one of the few who actually stopped and listened to himself without being

biased by the views and opinions of the rest of the town. He then had the

courage to stand up and take prejudice himself for trying to correct the

prejudice against a black man, and prove his innocence.

 

      "Scout, you aren't old enough to understand some things yet, but
     there's been some high talk around town to the effect that I

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     shouldn't do much about defending this man. It's a peculiar case-
     it won't come to trial until summer session. John Taylor was kind
     enough to give us a postponement..."

      "If you shouldn't be defendin' him, then why are you doin' it?"
      "For a number of reasons," said Atticus. "The main one is, if
     I didn't I couldn't hold my head in town, I couldn't represent
     this county in the legislature, I couldn't even tell you or
     Jem not to do something again."   (Chapter 9, page 75)

 
      I think Harper Lee did an excellent job of portraying a small town and

gave a convincing sense of community and the way small towns are. The prejudice

in Maycomb was your typical kind which was based on ignorance. The meaning of

prejudice is Pre-Judge, which is when you pass judgement on something or

someone without having a good  reason, therefore almost all prejudice is based

on ignorance. Racism is much the same because your passing judgement on the

color of the person's skin and not the person themselves. In the story To Kill

a Mocking Bird the prejudice was part of the town because everyone was judged

by their last name or where they come from or their background.


     "I rose graciously on Walter's behalf: "Ah-Miss Caroline?"
      "What is it, Jean Louise?"
      "Miss Caroline, he's a Cunningham."
      I sat back down.
      "What, Jean Louise?"


      I thought I had made things sufficiently clear. It was clear enough to

the rest of us: Walter Cunningham was sitting there lying his head off. He

didn't forget his lunch, he didn't have any. He had none today nor would he

have any tomorrow or the next day. He had probably never seen three

quarters together at the same time in his life.

      I tried again: "Walter's one of the Cunninghams, Miss Caroline."
      "I beg your pardon, Jean Louise?"
      "That's okay, ma'am, you'll get to know all the county folks after a
     while. The Cunninghams never took anything they can't pay back-no
     church baskets... "  (Chapter 2, page 20)

      That quote  isn't really prejudice, but it shows how stereotypical the

town is and how it's residents consider it common knowledge that all Cunninghams

are dirt poor and don't take charity. There are many different forms of

prejudice and I think Harper Lee did a pretty good job of incorporating most of

them into her novel. the most common form of prejudice is prejudice against

people of another race or religion. In other words racism. Another type of

prejudice is against people that are from a different place then you. For

instance in the novel Jem and Dill got into a little argument about which

county was better, the people from Maycomb, or the people from Meridian.

      "But Dill got him the third day, when he told Jem that folks in
     Meridian certainly weren't as afraid as the folks in Maycomb,
     that he'd never seen such scary folks as the ones in Maycomb.
                                    (Chapter 1, page 13)

      Prejudice is often referred to as the regular "disease" of small towns.

Prejudice is born when people form an idea that someone with a different color

skin, sexual orientation, background, accent, style, actually anything that

makes them different, makes them less equal or inferior. In big cities

prejudice is still a problem, but doesn't compare to what's in a small town. In

a big city people are in contact with other people that are different than

themselves, and they begin to realize that they are no better or no worse than

anyone else. I think Harper Lee showed how evil prejudice is during the scene

with the lynch mob at the county jail.

 
      The lynch mob had power and confidence because they were in a group and

had each other to convince themselves that what they were doing was acceptable

and the right thing to do. When Scout came in and tried to talk to Mr.

Cunningham he reminded him that he was an individual and he felt guilty after

seeing her innocence.

 

      The prejudice in this story was mostly about blacks and whites, but the

other forms of prejudice are just as bad and just as common. It's horrible

because if you don't follow the social norms of the environment your in then

your in constant conflict with everyone else. Being too bizarre and strange for

your environment is just as bad as staying out of sight and cutting off contact

with everyone else because then people will gossip and rumor about your life to

compensate for not knowing. This is shown in the case of Boo Radley. Just

because Boo wanted to be left alone and not be bothered he became the focal

point for all the rumors and the gossip of the town.

     "Wonder what he looks like?" said Dill.
     Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-and-
     a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw
     squirrels and any cats he could catch, that's why his hands were
     bloodstained - If you ate an animal raw, you could never wash
     the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his
     face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten;  his eyes popped,
     and he drooled most of the time."   (Chapter 1, Page 13)

      Prejudice is a vicious cycle that is passed down from generation to

generation and is very hard to stop unless people are willing and want to

cooperate.  I think that to overcome prejudice people have to start getting off

the band-wagon and listen to their own conscience, and then have the courage to

act on their own feelings.


Works Cited and Consulted

Erisman, Fred. "The Ethical Dilemmas of Harper Lee." Alabama Review April 26, 1983: 122-36.

Johnson, Claudia. "The Secret Courts of Men's Hearts: Code and Law in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird." Studies in American Fiction (1991):129-139.

Jones, Carolyn. "Black and White and Atticus Finch." The Southern Quarterly Summer 1999: 56-63.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York City, NY:  J.B.Lippincott Company, 1990.


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