The Black/Coloured Community In To Kill a Mockingbird

The Black/Coloured Community In To Kill a Mockingbird

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How Does Harper Lee Present The Black/Coloured Community In To Kill A
Mockingbird?

To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of a white lawyer who defies all
others to defend a black man in a rape scandal. This may not sound so
strange in present day society; however, in the 1930’s (where the book
is set) this was considered a great crime.

The book was written by Harper Lee during the 1950’s in America, and
coincided with the civil rights movement. At this time in history,
racism played a very important role in society. There was a lot of
racial hatred between black and white civilians, and this ultimately
led to skirmishes and fatalities.

It is set in a small town called Maycomb, in Alabama, one of the
Southern States. Although Maycomb is a fictitious place based on Lee’s
own home town of Monroeville, real places and towns such as Montgomery
are referred to in the novel. As I mentioned above, there are a lot of
factors which explain the attitudes of the people towards each other
throughout the book.

Between 1933 and 1935, there was an economic depression within
America, and more importantly, within its more poverty stricken
states. This caused many shares to suddenly decrease and lose value,
and subsequently poverty swept the country. But perhaps the most
influencing factor for Harper Lee was the Black Civil Rights Movement
in the late 1950’s. This in my view led to Lee’s novel, which is a
mixture of nostalgia, criticism and perhaps guilt-typical of a white
Southern American author of the time.

Also, the apartheid played an important role in the novel. The
apartheid was a social system enforced by the white governments in the
twentieth-century. Under apartheid, black majority of people were
segregated and were denied political and economic rights equal to
those of whites. This included such things as black people sitting at
the back of busses, away from white citizens. In Maycomb, we see an
apartheid like effect throughout the story, and much more in the Tom
Robinson trial sequence. We even hear of blacks living in separate
quarters to white people, and this creates a sort of stereotype of
blacks.

Maycomb is a small town within Alabama itself, and was microcosm (sort
of representative) of American society during the 1930’s. It is a town
concerned in its own matters and dilemmas, and we do not hear anything
about the rest of Alabama or in America throughout the entire novel.
The novel, in a way makes a social comment that black people should be
treated with the same rights and responsibilities as white people.
This is turn created a sort of fear towards black people, as they were

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thought to be very dangerous people.

During the novel, we learn more and more about the segregation and
racism shown towards the black community in Maycomb. They are referred
to as ‘niggers’ and ‘negroes’ very often during the story by some
characters in the story. This shows that the black community were
treated badly and that nobody had much respect for them.

The attitudes of black people towards white people in the novel are
much the same. Calpurnia, who is considered as a surrogate mother to
Jem and Scout, shows no hatred or disliking towards the white
population during the novel. This is mainly because of the fact that
she has been taken in by Atticus Finch, a lawyer who chooses to defend
a black man accused of rape, much to the dismay of all other white
people in Maycomb. She is used during the play as a bridge between the
two communities, and is the main source of information and news about
Tom and his family. The other black characters also share this feeling
of white people throughout the novel, with none of the black community
saying a bad word for their white counterparts.

However, the white attitude towards the black race is mixed. The more
racist side of the white community are the characters Robert (Bob)
Ewell and Mrs Dubose. Bob Ewell is the father of Mayella Ewell, the
girl who accuses Tom Robinson of raping her. He frequently refers to
Tom as ‘nigger’, and to Atticus as ‘nigger lover’. Mrs Dubose is also
racist, not towards Tom however, but towards Atticus, and she also
calls Atticus names such as ‘nigger lover. This forms a bit of irony
as although Mrs Dubose is not a ‘nigger lover’, she is entirely
dependant on her negress servant Jessie, who we see wait on her hand
and foot until she passes away. In addition to this, she is a slight
coward in the sense that she does not talk about Atticus like this to
his face, but merely behind his back and more notably, to his
children. This leads them, Jem more evidently than Scout, to seek
revenge on her, and in the end Jem cuts of all her flower heads.

During the novel, Harper Lee shows us the side of black people that no
one in the book would expect. She shows them to kind and warm hearted,
as well as hard working people. We hear towards the end of the story
that Tom himself was a very hard working person, and works for Mayella
Ewell without pay. After reading the novel, my view is that black
people were viewed as being either stupid and child like, or evil
human beings.

The two black characters that play relatively major roles come across
as being very friendly and very polite people. Calpurnia looks after
the house and after the children, taking them in as ‘her own’.
However, as she is black, this leads to rumours about her private life
coming out. She looks after the children so much that she even takes
them to a black church, even though they are white. During her time at
the Finch’s residence, she has gained the respect of everyone around
her, notably by Atticus, who refers to her as a ‘faithful member of
the family’. This shows how much she is trusted and valued by Atticus
and the rest of his family.

The other black character in the novel, Tom Robinson, is only seen for
a short period of time during the novel, however when we do see him we
find that he is as kind hearted a person as anybody. He is revealed as
a polite and honourable person in court, and is always ready to help
Mayella Ewell. A prime example of this is in the court scenes where
upon being asked about whether he was paid for his services, he
replied:

…‘I was glad to do it. Mr Ewell didn’t seem to help her and neither
did the chillun and I know she didn’t have no spare nickels around’.

This clearly shows us that this is a man that values people above his
work, and doesn’t ask for money, preferring to do the work himself
free of charge. We also know that Tom, like Calpurnia, is a regular
church goer, and is regarded very highly in the black community.

When Tom is accused of raping Mayella, the whole of the White
community takes side with her, saying that if she says that Tom
Robinson was the guilty party, then he must have done it. The White
people then set out on revenge for Tom’s act, as we see when Tom is
moved to the local gaol. They tell Atticus: ‘You know what we want’,
bluntly showing that they are after Tom. However, we then see that the
racism and hatred towards Black people is ever present in the jails
and prisons of Maycomb as well. Towards white people we see there is a
policy of shoot to wound if a prisoner is attempting to escape. But
when Tom attempts to escape the perimeter fence, he is shot seventeen
times, showing us that the guards had their own sense of resentment
towards Tom, and had justly got, what they believed, their revenge. A
phrase summing the shooting up by Atticus was: ‘…they didn’t have to
shoot him that much’.

The attitude in general towards the coloured community is in parts,
shocking. They are spoken off with disgust and are given no respect
whatsoever. They are also put down by their white counterparts at
every occasion, for example when Boo Radley is arrested on suspicion
of stabbing his father in the leg with a pair of scissors, the Sheriff
says:

‘Hadn’t the heart to put him in the jail alongside Negroes’

This shows that even in police stations there is segregation and
racism, and this also shows that black people were regarded among the
lowest of the low. However, it is not just the Sheriff that shows us
the racial abuse towards the coloured community. Mrs Dubose frequently
put down Atticus and Tom Robinson, saying:

‘Your Father’s no better than the Niggers and trash he works for!’

This is by far the most racist comment that we have seen during the
course of the novel. Mrs Dubose uses the word ‘trash’ to describe the
coloured community, and this symbolises how the white community felt
for the black people at the time. However, we must stress that not all
of Maycomb community is prejudiced. Atticus describes the racism as
‘Maycomb’s usual disease’, while Miss Maudie Atkinson says she is
proud of:

‘Those people in this town who say that fair play is not marked White
Only.’

This shows us that not all of Maycomb’s population is bigoted towards
black people.

We see a fine example of how Black people act away from the white
community when Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to a Black church. In
reaction to this, the black people at the church, instead of throwing
them out, welcome them with whole hearted kindness, and make them feel
at home. Here we see the only ‘negative’ black character, Lula May,
and in my view this makes the novel unrealistic in a sense that only
one person opposes such a thing (white children in Black church).
However, Black people at the time would have been afraid to show their
true feelings of white ways for fear of further prejudice from Black
people or for losing their jobs. Therefore it perhaps is realistic
that Black discontent can only be shown to a child who is breaking the
rules of segregation that have been prescribed for black people by
white people. A great example of the Black community’s whole hearted
welcome is when Jem and Scout first enter the church. Harper Lee
describes the actions of the Black people in the church as:

‘When they saw Jem and me with Calpurnia, the men stepped back and
took off their hats; the women crossed their arms at their waists,
weekday gestures of respectful attention.’

These actions show us the gratitude of the Black community towards
Atticus’ and his family for what he has done for Tom Robinson, and
that they would even go as far as to let his white children into a
Black Church with them.

Overall, the community of Maycomb is largely prejudiced towards the
Black population, and even though there are a few people who
acknowledge the Coloured community for what they are, the vast
majority of people do not. Harper Lee shows this in various ways, as
well as showing that the Black community is a loving, caring and very
helpful group of people. The best example of this is in the Black
church, as I have explained above. She also shows that the White
people are racist, and that what goes around comes around in the way
of Mayella Ewell and the rape scandal, and all in all, does an
excellent job in presenting to us the Black community in Maycomb.
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