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How Stereotyping Causes Prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird

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The chances of blacks going to jail are 32% while for whites, it is 6%. This injustice happens to this day and is showcased when an innocent black is accused of rape in To Kill a Mockingbird. However Arthur Radley also faces prejudice despite being white. Siblings Scout and Jem witness these problems in their town, Maycomb. Their father Atticus and others teach them morals that contradict usual ways. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee addresses how stereotyping produces the effect of prejudice which can be solved through educating others about showing empathy towards those who are different.

Through imagery, one is able to see fear shape Maycomb’s citizens’ stereotypes of those different than themselves. Arthur Radley, an outcast in their society, is feared by the citizens and is therefore stereotyped for living in his own way. Jem describes characters with such descriptions like “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” (Lee 13). The vivid and detailed description that Jem gives is imagery and the fact that he refers to Arthur Radley as Boo, along with most of the town, emphasizes that everyone knows and thinks of him as a monster. Since he is an outsider, the townspeople are fearful of him and this leads to assumptions being relied on to know more about him. There is also a hint of irony in this quote because as it is stated, this description is described as reasonable. However, most people don’t know anything about him because they have never seen or interacted with him. Their fear leads to their rumors that they believe and spread. Just like Arthur Radley, another white man, Dolphus Raymond, faces stereotyping in his life. When Raymond meets the children he tells them, “‘I try to give ‘em a reason, you see. It helps folks if they can latch onto a reason. When I come to town, which is seldom, if I weave a little and drink out of this sack, folks can say Dolphus Raymond’s in the clutches of whiskey—that’s why he won’t change his ways. He can’t help himself, that’s why he lives the way he does’” (Lee 200). The imagery describes Raymond’s actions and his sack. Raymond is actually drinking cola rather than whiskey. People believe he is an alcoholic and use stereotypes to assume this. Raymond does not tell them otherwise because the townspeoples’ fear and assumptions of him blind them from the truth. They rely on their unchanging ways of stereotyping and refuse to step into his skin while Dolphus Raymond steps into theirs. Therefore, Maycomb’s fear molds their assumptions and stereotypes that further affect those who are different.

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The effect of prejudice is demonstrated through ironic morals incorporated into the hypocritical adults of Maycomb. Many of the citizens don’t think of their own beliefs and morals before contradicting them. Like the others, Aunt Alexandra demonstrates this when Atticus said she had a “preoccupation with heredity. Somewhere, I had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had, but Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land the finer he was” (Lee 130). Meanwhile, Aunt Alexandra and the Finch family have not lived in Maycomb for long compared to many citizens of the town, making this belief ironic. She hypocritically thinks of herself as higher while she believes that good people have lived in one place for generations, yet she just relocated to Maycomb. She has also judged citizens who have been living in one place for a long time. According to this statement, Alexandra has only one standard for what makes a good person. This hypocrisy stretches from home life to academic environments. Scout’s school teacher, Ms. Gates, expresses how she views prejudice by saying, “‘Over here we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudiced. Prejudice,’ she enunciated carefully. ‘There are no better people in the world than the Jews, and why Hitler doesn’t think so is a mystery to me’” (Lee 245). This ironic claim is contradicting herself by claiming that individuals who are racist towards Jews are prejudiced, yet she herself is prejudiced and racist. Previously, Ms. Gates mentions that black people should know their place in Maycomb. Ms. Gates’ hypocrisy is demonstrated when she tells students that Jew-haters are prejudiced. She does not realize how she thinks of black people in her own community and her own daily life. This way of thinking is still present in modern day and Ms. Gates is a representation of all people who believe prejudice only apply to certain groups. In this case, Ms. Gates believes Jews should be treated with equality while blacks should not. Ms. Gates is not the only person who is like this in the novel. The First Purchase was the church that was the first thing that was purchased by former slaves in the past. However, now in that building, “Negroes worshipped in it on Sundays and white men gambled in it on weekdays” (Lee 118). This is ironic because worshipping is a higher thing than gambling. In Maycomb’s society, whites are above blacks in all ways. White men are sinning in black peoples’ holy place. Due to white men engaging in this activity, citizens accept this. People who are socially higher and supposedly better are practicing a lower thing while people who are socially lower are practicing a holy and sacred thing. Therefore, hypocrisy is seen when prejudiced citizens display their ironic morals in everyday life.

Individuals educating others about empathy is shown through aphorism to propose solutions to the problems in Maycomb. Adults with good morals teaching others about understanding those who are different results in problems being solved in the community and in the future. Individuals such as Miss Maudie demonstrate this when she tried to teach Scout and Jem, “‘People in their right minds never take pride in their talents’” (Lee 98). The aphorism is shown through Miss Maudie teaching the children that one not taking pride in their talents and skills shows how one shouldn’t entertain themselves at another’s expense. Miss Maudie is trying to teach the children that they should empathize with others and this should prevent them from showing off their skills. One’s morals shouldn’t allow them to hurt others to entertain themselves. Atticus puts his prey above himself and he wants for his children to learn this and apply it to their lives. This could be applied not only in hunting, but in scenarios similar to when Scout beat up Walter Cunningham. While Scout was not especially gifted with the power of her fists, she took advantage of how powerless Walter was in the situation. Miss Maudie is trying to teach her to reverse that and to be like Atticus because he considers his prey’s well-being over his enjoyment. Miss Maudie and Atticus are figures that teach the children correct morals. When Atticus gives guns to Jem and Scout, he says “‘I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird’” (Lee 90). The mockingbird represents innocence because it sings for the pleasure of others. This is just like Arthur Radley, who has only gifted trinkets to Jem and Scout. Tom Robinson is also a figure that is representative of cases like the Scottsboro boys, people falsely accused of a crime. The mockingbird is often hard to spot, like how Arthur Radley is hidden yet is content when the children are happy. Despite being hidden, the mockingbird sings for the pleasure of others and in turn is happy when others are happy. Atticus is teaching Jem and Scout that it is a sin to kill or harm innocence. The innocence has done nothing wrong and they have to understand that. Scout also mentions how this is the only thing that he has said is a sin to do. This emphasizes how severe this situation is because he wants his children to learn how to understand the mockingbird. This is one of many situations where Atticus teaches his children an important life lesson. Atticus tells Scout “‘if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person …’ ‘-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’” (Lee 30). Aphorism is seen through Atticus describing this lesson to Scout that people need to understand the struggles of others instead of making assumptions. By stepping into another’s skin, one can empathize with their internal problems as well. Rather than the common saying using shoes, Lee utilizes skin to emphasize that all struggle with conflicts that are hidden below the surface. By walking around in someone’s skin, it allows one to feel how one copes throughout each day and the conflicts inside and out. One can change out their shoes but one cannot change out their skin. Consequently, understanding can be achieved through education from others in order to solve problems.

In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee presents how stereotyping causes prejudice which can be solved through education and empathy. This is like the Scottsboro case when nine black males were falsely accused of raping two white women. Ranging from ages 12-19, eight were convicted. After six years in prison, four were released and the rest were released on parole in 1946. This case’s verdict would have been prevented if the all white jury understood how their prejudiced decision would affect the boys’ lives. This lack of education and empathy applies to the real world and in the novel.

Works Cited

  1. The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Scottsboro Case.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 20 Aug. 2019, www.britannica.com/event/Scottsboro-case.
  2. Chastain, Chloe. “To Kill a Mockingbird Connections.” Prezi.com, 7 Apr. 2015, prezi.com/bxulh0xy7-ke/to-kill-a-mockingbird-connections/.

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How Stereotyping Causes Prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2022 Sept 24]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/how-stereotyping-causes-prejudice-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird/
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