To Kill A Mockinbird Racism, Sexism, Social Class Conflict

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"Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones."

-- Charlotte Brontë

The south, as it was in 1930s America was more than just southern belles and gentlemen. The days moved at the subdued pace of tired old men who took mid-day strolls on the searing sidewalk. Though, now and again, a force so powerful would provoke a sedated southern town into a fury. Ever since the dawn of America division, prejudice, and hatred have been reasons for insurmountable conflict. Maycomb County serves as an important backdrop to central issues which plagued early 20th century southern America: sexism, racism, and social class conflict.

Prior to the feminist movement of the 1960s, women had to follow strict gender roles. Scout is a prime example of a female child struggling to fit these roles placed upon her by not only males in society, but women too. The moment Aunt Alexandra enters Maycomb, she places it upon herself to mould young Scout and Jem into their societal roles. Scout especially suffers a great deal of criticism and pressure from her Aunt to be the stereotypical girl;

"We decided that it would be best for you to have some feminine influence. It won't be many years, Jean Louise, before you become interested in clothes and boys—."(Lee, 127)

Aunt Alexandra's comment directed to Scout, reflects the common values of Maycomb County and of that era. Jem, as he starts to grow up also wishes that Scout "started bein' a girl" (115). Miss Stephanie also informs her that she won't become a lady until she wears more dresses. This also stresses the importance of becoming a "lady". To be a lady in the south obviously means more than simply being a female; one has to look and act the part according to the people of that time. Even Atticus, a man who stands for equality, makes sexist comments of his own;

"I guess it's to protect our frail women from sordid cases like Tom's." (221)

Atticus' remarks prove that sexism and gender roles are a norm in society, and their offensiveness is not greatly considered. It's not just the men who place women in their roles; it's the women themselves who take it upon themselves to enforce these rules. Racism is an issue that has long been tackled in society, but it is evident that women in society have only just begun to break free of long held values which have oppressed them in the past.
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