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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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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.