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Racism in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Souls of Black Folk: Analytical Essay

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Abstract

Living among the Whites has caused many problems for the Blacks throughout the history. African Americans, who are African in their roots and American in their life, as opposite races, are segregated from the White’s societies due to their colored skin. They are considered as uncivilized and lowbrow people who do not have equal rights to the Whites. Thus, racial segregation acting like a veil, as Du Bois refers to, brings African Americans a dual identity which leads to their double consciousness. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, written in 1960, further to its depiction of racial prejudice and discrimination issues of American society in 1930’s, pictures the life of a minor character named Calpurnia as a black woman who lives with a white family and has the role of a mother for the white children. Therefore, living among the Whites and the Blacks at the same time leads her to a double consciousness, which is the result of segregation. Thus, using W. E. B. Du Bois’ concepts of ‘veil’ and ‘double consciousness’, in this study it has been tried to investigate the inner as well as the outer truth of African Americans’ life and their merged identity under the impact of racism.

Index Terms–double consciousness, Du Bois, identity, segregation, To Kill a Mockingbird

I. Introduction

Racism as an issue has been a matter of fact among the human societies since the end of the 19th century. Black people were predetermined throughout the history by the racist societies due to their skin color. They are considered as the inferior creatures who are socially, politically, and culturally deprived of their rights as human beings. Likewise, Prejudice, injustice, fanaticism, and discrimination have always existed throughout the history so that many innocent individuals were the victims of these concepts. Cultural, gender, and racial stereotypes are indeed the causes of such immoral acts. People living in a society are most of the time under the pressure of being judged by others whether truly or false. In this case, people of opposite races, females, and low-class members are mostly under the attention. Therefore, Cultural, social, and racial superiority has been a kind of instrument to oppress the inferiors. These inferior people, especially people in colored skins, then, are the subjects of prejudice and injustice. Thus, their rights as human-beings are ignored, their services and efforts are unnoticed and they are most of the time treated unfairly. They are segregated from the Whites’ societies and are treated as slaves because they are seen as savages and lowbrow people in the eyes of the Whites regardless of their righteousness and humanity. African Americans are the main victims of segregation who are facing with the problem of double consciousness due to their dual life and merged identity because of being both African and American.

Accordingly, prejudice and injustice toward innocent members of a society, especially Blacks, has been the main concerns of many writers and has prompted them to write for their rights. Unfortunately, despite the enormous struggle of black and white writers, the inequality rights of individuals based on their social, cultural, gender, and racial differences is still alive. These individuals, who are at most of the time from the low-classes of the society, are in the eyes of the others as the subjects of any criminals done in their surroundings, regardless of their innocence. Whereas writing and literature is a good weapon in eliminating wrong believes and behaviors toward such blameless individuals, teaching moral lessons and developing ethical codes in societies to prevent people from judging their fellowmen is the purpose of Nelle Harper Lee by writing To Kill a Mockingbird. Nelle Harper Lee, a white novelist, is the one who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) to express her point of view toward racial and cultural prejudice throughout moral codes of behavior. She also has defended the rights of black people as humans in her second novel Go Set a Watchman (2015). Harper Lee in her two novels, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, attempted to demonstrate how people of different race, culture, and class should be responsible to respect each other and coexist in the world regardless of their differences. She, in the heart of her To Kill a Mockingbird, depicts the life of a Black woman, Calpurnia, who can be considered as a victim of segregation with a dual life. Calpurnia, who is the maid of a white family, lives a dual life as being both African and American. She lives among the Blacks and the Whites at the same time and this oscillation brings her a sense of double consciousness which can be seen in her language and behavior, a double consciousness which is the result of segregation of the Negroes from the Whites’ society.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, which has been recognized as the second moral book after Bible in America and has a widespread popularity around the world, Du Bois’ concepts of ‘veil’ and ‘double consciousness’ can be seen obviously. W. E. B. Du Bois, who is himself a Black, in his The Souls of Black Folks, fights against racism and introduces the concept of ‘veil’ which functions like a wall and segregates the Blacks from the Whites. In Du Bois’ words this veil, which is made by the Whites, brings a sense of double consciousness for the African Americans which finally leads them to a merged identity. Observing Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, this study will focus on the dual life and merged identity of Calpurnia, as a Negro woman in the story, based on Du Bois’ concepts of ‘veil’, as the wall of segregation, and ‘double consciousness’.

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II. Discussion

Racism has existed among the groups of people since the very beginning of the people’s communication and therefore can be considered as the part of human nature. W. E. B. Du Bois in ‘Of the Training of the Black Men’ points to the Whites’ belief that God has created the Negroes as simple and ‘clownish’ creatures to serve them. Therefore, Whites know themselves as the master race and superior to the Blacks. They treat the Blacks as inferior people and segregate them from their own society so that the Blacks are kept behind the wall of segregation, social injustice and oppression. Lois Tyson in his Critical Theory Today says, ‘Racism refers to the unequal power relations that grow from the sociopolitical domination of one race by another and that result in systematic discriminatory practices (for example, segregation, domination, and persecution)’ (2006, p. 360). Likewise, racism

makes it more difficult for black men to earn a living or spend their earnings as they will; it gives them poorer school facilities and restricted contact with cultured classes; and it becomes, throughout the land, a cause and excuse for discontent, lawlessness, laziness, and injustice (qtd in Katz and Sugrue, 2001, p. 205).

Consequently, Blacks are deprived of their rights in the Whites’ societies and are separated physically and psychologically just because of their colored skin, which is the sign of their inferiority in the eyes of white people. In fact, the Whites believe that ‘human races were not just different from one another, but that some were superior to others’ (Moore, 2008, p. XI) and therefore can dominate the inferiors.

W. E. B. Du Bois, a sociologist and Pan-Africanist, from the late 19th century until his death devoted his life to refuting the superiority of one race over the other. Du Bois himself was a victim of prejudice because of his black skin, thus he endeavored all along his life to fight against racism and demanded equal civil rights for African Americans. He was such a prominent figure in the discussion of racism that his work, The Souls of Black Folk, has gained the position of the political Bible for the Negro race. And all creative Afro-American literature has been inspired by it in some degrees (Edwards, 2007, p. Vii). Du Bois in his collection of essays, The Souls of Black Folk, which is a seminal work in African American literature, speaks about his perspectives on the effects of racism and addresses the problem of institutionalized racism as a veil which has segregated the Blacks from the Whites like a wall and has prevented the human nature of the Blacks to be seen by the Whites. Furthermore, Du Bois argues that the veil brings African Americans a dual identity which leads to their double consciousness.

A. Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960 but set it in the 1930s, the time of the Great Depression, to remind the readers of the socioeconomic hardship of those era and also the historic Scottsboro Trial, which Lee has fictionalized it in the story through the character of Tom Robinson who is an innocent Negro accused of raping a white girl. She wrote this novel on the purpose of showing the immoral aspects of cultural, social, racial, and gender discriminations and indeed tried to invite people to coexist with one another despite any differences among them without prejudice and injustice. On the year which Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, it was immediately successful and won the Pulitzer Prize, it has become a classic of modern American Literature and still is a successful and readable novel for 55 years after its publication. This novel also was adapted into an Oscar winning movie in 1962. Further to its depiction of racial prejudice and discrimination issues of American society in 1930’s, To Kill a Mockingbird pictures the life of a minor character named Calpurnia as a black woman who lives with a white family and has the role of a mother for the white children.

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“Racism in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Souls of Black Folk: Analytical Essay.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/racism-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird-and-the-souls-of-black-folk-analytical-essay/
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