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Racial Discrimination in Gattaca and To Kill a Mockingbird

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All throughout history, prejudice and discrimination has been a prominent force in society. Discrimination and prejudice are built into our human nature with many discriminant acts being labelled ‘normal’. This is only done because certain groups consider themselves superior and use discrimination as a vantage point to maintain their privilege and power in society. To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) written by Harper Lee is a classic novel that demonstrates how discrimination existed and was used in the late 1920’s to the late 1930’s. Another text that exhibits this same example of discrimination is Gattaca (1997) written by Andrew Niccol, it is a text that demonstrates a possible scenario about discrimination in the future with society being divided into natural births and genetically altered births. Both these novels follow the common idea about how a certain social class consider themselves superior and use discrimination to maintain their power and privilege in society. This can be seen where there is always a ‘superior’ social class, how discrimination becomes normalised and that people in the superior social class are given advantages in society.

Andrew Nicoll’s Gattaca deals with a futuristic prejudice in an advanced society. In the text, scientists have the ability to eliminate all the flaws humans possess, ultimately making a superior being. The natural births are looked down upon by the rest of society as they still include the imperfections humans use to have, hence they are given the name Invalids. The Valids, or genetically superior humans, are given the edge advantage in there society due to their advanced genetics. Society in Gattaca has progressed away from racism and sexism with everyone being considered equal until people could be genetically modified and anyone that wasn’t was the new social class who are inferior. These new social class were treated as useless and weren’t expected to achieve anything great unlike the genetically engineered. Vincent who is the main character in the text, explains to the audience ‘For the genetically superior, success is easier to attain”(Gattaca). This quotes represents the social class difference at the time and how the superior class are abusing their power to maintain the privilege and benefits they possess in society. Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird involves Tom Robison, a poor African American man, embodies the hatred the majority of the white community felt towards the African Americans in The Great Depression. Tom is accused of raping a white girl and stands trial against the family of the supposed rape victim. However despite not being guilty, he is still found guilty by the jury, which consist of white men, because of his skin colour. If he had been a white man, he would have had a better chance of not being found guilty. This is because the jury didn’t consider Tom’s side because the jury discriminated against his skin colour and this can be seen when the jury ignored the evidence presented as there was no medical evidence that pointed to Mayelle Ewell being raped. The reason behind the decision made by the jury was already embedded into the white community as the African American in past times were always and at the time considered inferior and their opinions were irrelevant. Though To Kill a Mockingbird and Gattaca are set in different time periods, they both deal with the fact that prejudice will always exist with one social class using discrimination to maintain their power in society.

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In Gattaca’s futuristic society, there are two ways of birth; natural birth and genetically engineered. These two methods has created two new categories of people which are the Valids and the Invalids. Invalids are people who are genetically inferior and therefore seen as people who are below the Valids. Theoretically the Valids can perform a job better than the Invalids ever can. Due to this mindset, job discrimination occurs in society as they are believed as the Invalids useless so instead the Invalids perform lower social class jobs such as cleaning. The audience is informed by Vincent who is an Invalid, ‘Of course it is illegal to discriminate, genoism it is called, but no one takes the law seriously’ (Gattaca). In the text Vincent Freeman believes that there is more to his life then what the doctors and society predict him to become. Ever Vincent was a child, he has had one dream which was to be a navigator at Gattaca space centre. No one around him believed he would ever reach that goal and always discriminated against Vincent because of his gene makeup. With society constantly discriminating against him, it has become normalised creating a permanent effect on the Invalids believing they cannot contribute anything to society. Vincent explains how society has portrayed the Invalids saying ‘They have got you looking so hard for any flaw, that after a while that is all you see’ (Gattaca). All this attitude and stigma that is directed at the Invalids becomes normalised in this society and like Vincent, the Invalids are treated as inferior. Vincent understands how the rest of society see them stated ‘I belonged to a new underclass, no longer determined by social status or the colour of your skin’ (Gattaca). This behaviour can be found in an alternative form in To Kill a Mockingbird. Instead this time instead of discriminating against people with inferior genes, the text follows how a society discriminates against African Americans. During the time period of the events, the southern states were still restricting social relationships among people of different races. African American people were exposed to special Jim Crow laws which restricted their rights and attempted to keep the race inferior to the Caucasians. In the legal system during the text, African Americans were not judged fairly, rather they were judged by a group of white men who all discriminated against them. As result of this, African Americans were usually found guilty which created more feeling of pressure of prejudice towards their race. This was seen in the text through the character of Tom Robinson again. When he is convicted; Atticus is angry with the Jury and states as the one place where a man is to get a fair deal is in a courtroom no matter his skin colour. It also illustrates how the white people of the Maycomb community viewed African Americans with Atticus stating ‘the hell white people give coloured folks, without even stopping to think that they’re people, too’ (pg. 201). These events and views portray how discrimination against a certain race has become normalised in society which again fuels the power and privilege the higher social class has over the supposed inferior social class.

Since Gattaca is a society that has been designed to suit the superior race it has led to a huge advantage to the advanced social group and leads to the lower class citizens like Vincent who are trying to achieve success in society, nearly impossible. Jerome Murrow is a character in Gattaca who has been genetically modified to be perfect. However when he places second in a swimming race, is demotivated to continue living life so tries to commit suicide but fails so instead sells his identity to Invalids. Vincent speaks about Jerome saying ‘Jerome had been engineered with everything he need to get into Gattaca, except the desire to do so’. This quote exemplifies how society is built in such a way that success can only been achieved by the genetically superior. Since Jerome is genetically engineered at birth, he is automatically granting him the title Valid however, this does not ensure success. This is because Valids such as Jerome, who are guaranteed success, typically lack the desire and purpose to do. The advantages the Valids benefit from can be seen in alternative form in To Kill a Mockingbird however it is more subtle. The white community that exist in Maycomb live in a more privileged state and benefit from social advantages which allows it for them to have a better chance to succeed in life. Whereas the African American community are labelled as poor and inferior. This can be seen how the African Americans belong in the lowest class with majority of them having very little money which is a big contrast to people in the community such as Atticus Finch. This is due to them not having a fair go at obtaining fair pay as the civil right movement hadn’t occurred yet. This led to the African Americans struggling to advance more in society and move social classes. It also was made more difficult though with higher social class using discrimination to maintain the power and privilege they have in society. The two texts both follow high social classes using the advantages to they have over the inferior social class to maintain the power they have in society.

Both Gattaca and To Kill a Mockingbird follow the importance of social structure and a supposed superior social groups using discrimination to maintain their power and privilege they have. This is illustrated in how prejudice changes in different time periods and forms to make one social class inferior to another, how discrimination has become normalised in society and where the superior social class is given advantages to succeed in life whereas it is difficult for the inferior social class to succeed. How the superior social class uses discrimination to maintain their power and privilege is subjective to the society whether it is the white community isolating the African Americans in To Kill a Mockingbird or where it’s the genetically modified abusing their power and not giving the invalids a chance to succeed in life in Gattaca.

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Racial Discrimination in Gattaca and To Kill a Mockingbird. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“Racial Discrimination in Gattaca and To Kill a Mockingbird.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
Racial Discrimination in Gattaca and To Kill a Mockingbird. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2023].
Racial Discrimination in Gattaca and To Kill a Mockingbird [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2023 Dec 8]. Available from:
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