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To Kill A Mockingbird Essays: Discrimination and Prejudice

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Discrimination and Prejudice in To Kill A Mocking Bird          


Discrimination and prejudice were very common acts in the early and middle 1900's. Prejudice in this book is displayed by the acts of hate and misunderstanding because of someone's color. People of color were the majority that were treated unfairly. During this time in the southern states, black people had to use separate bathrooms, drinking fountains, sections in restaurants, churches, and even go to separate schools. Although much of the discrimination was directed towards blacks, there were plenty of accounts towards impoverished families by those that had money. Discrimination is prevalent when people that are different are called names. Some people thought blacks were automatically dumb because of their color. They weren't allowed to do anything but menial tasks (such as chopping wood) and hard labor because they were thought too dumb.

The novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee has numerous accounts of racism and prejudice throughout the entire piece. The novel is set in the 1930's, a time when racism was very prevalent. Although bigotry and segregation were pointed in majority towards blacks, other accounts towards whites were also heard of, though not as commonly. There are acts that are so discreet that you almost don't catch them, but along with those, there are blatant acts of bigotry that would never occur in our time. Lee addresses many of these feelings in her novel.

One subtle example of discrimination the reader sees is the treatment of Calpurnia, a black woman, the housekeeper/nanny for the Finch family. Although she is treated fairly, it is obvious that she is considered to be on a lower social level than the Finches. She calls Scout ma'am and Jem sir, although these are titles usually reserved for elders.

"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!"

When Atticus takes Calpurnia to Tom Robinson's home, she has to sit in the back seat so as not to appear as Atticus's equal. She does not eat at the same table with the Finch family although she has been a part of it since Jem was two. She is clearly loved by the family but by no means is she their equal.

"I said come here, nigger, and bust up this chiffarobe for me, I got a nickel for you."

The words "nigger", "darkie", and "boy" are seen often throughout the book. It is often used hatefully but sometimes it is used in a conversation where the speaker says it like they're saying colored.

"Do you defend niggers, Atticus?" "Don't say nigger, Scout. That's common."

This particular quote shows how far ahead Atticus was at this time. He knew that the word nigger was offensive to the blacks at this time. He showed the respect and common courtesy which was very rare of an affluent white male. Most of the blacks live in the bad part of town, or the "slums." Even if they had the money, they wouldn't have been able to live in an upper class neighborhood like the Finches. Blacks were considered dirty and unsanitary therefore, people didn't want them next to their houses. They feared that it would bring down their real estate value along with their reputations.

The black people in this era were not allowed to vote. Yes, they had the right to vote but there were such things as the grandfather clause. The grandfather clause allowed blacks to vote only if they had a grandfather that voted. If their grandfather was a slave, they couldn't vote. In that effect, no black could vote and no black would ever be able to. There were also the Jim Crow Laws. Blacks could not go into restaurants or other public places inhabited by whites. There were separate schools, water fountains, restores, even churches. Blacks had to sit in the back of buses and other forms of public transportation. If they had a seat and there were no empty ones left when a white person entered a bus or other seated area, the blacks had to stand or get off. This was evident when Dill, Jem and Scout were at the courthouse and there were no seats left in the front row. Three blacks stood so that the white children could be seated. There were also extensive literacy tests that had to be passed. Again, many of these "free" blacks had ancestors that were slaves. They were not taught to read, therefore they could not teach their children or grand-children to read.

These are just a few accounts of racism and bigotry against blacks. This is not so surprising and it is most definitely unfair but there were also times when whites were segregated against. Many middle to upper class people discriminated heavily against blacks but also against people of their own race. This was because of their fraternization with blacks or simply because of their social standing.

Mr. Dolphus Raymond was a white man who was a victim of ostracism because of his association with a woman who was black.

"Jem," I asked, "what's a mixed child?"

"Half white, half colored. You've seen 'em Scout. You know, that red-kinky-headed one that delivers for the drugstore. He's half white. They're real sad."

"Sad, how come?"

They don't belong anywhere. Colored folks won't have 'em because they're half white; white folks won't have 'em 'cause they're colored, so they're just in-betweens, don't belong anywhere."

He 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, he said, gave the people an excuse to say he didn't know what he was doing. These sort of relationships were absolutely taboo at this time. It just wasn't accepted.

Aunt Alexandra displayed an act of discrimination against her own race when she forbade Scout to have Walter Cunningham over for lunch.

"I'll tell you why," she said. "Because he is trash, that's why you can't play with him. I'll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what. You're enough of a problem to your father as it is."

The Finch family owned Finch's Landing and could trace their heritage back to almost the beginning of their bloodline. Aunt Alexandra thought, because of her heritage, that she and her family were better than everyone else. This showed that some whites of this era weren't only bigoted against the blacks; they felt the same toward anyone who was even a little bit different than themselves. People still tend to do this today. People with money are always suspecting of lower classes. If they have something that someone else can't afford but they want, they think that they would steal from them to get it.

The theme of prejudice is almost the sole basis of this book. Throughout the novel, we see each separate person and his personal narrow-mindedness. We also see how each person eventually opens his eyes and sees the light. For instance, Aunt Alexandra sees that Walter is as much a human and deserving of respect as she is. She also learns not to judge Atticus for the ways in which he raises his children and to let Scout be a child while she can. This is evident on both counts while in a conversation with Atticus Aunt Alexandra says, "I've been wrong, Atticus. I've been so very wrong." We see each character at his weakest and watch as he grows stronger and more accepting.

You can call it racism, narrow-mindedness, bigotry or intolerance. No matter how you sugar coat it with words, it is wrong. In this novel, we see a black man put on trial for a crime he clearly did not commit. This is an excellent example of how much this country has overcome and matured. We see how badly mistaken we were and how we never want to get back into that type of lifestyle. People were so afraid of what everyone else would've thought that they chose the verdict that the public wanted, not what they felt in their hearts. We have been faced with this problem since the beginning of time and we will face it until the end.

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