Racism, Sexism and Classism as the Result of a Biased Society in To Kill a Mockingbird

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A common use of setting in books, films and plays, is to create an atmosphere and set a scene. Without it, the audience is left with a feeling of disconnect and emptiness. In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, the setting pushes along the values and beliefs of people from that time. In the early 20th century, the mindset of people in the United States, especially in the south, was very different compared to modern-day thinking. Acts of racism, sexism, or classism were brushed over, and never given a second thought. Whereas nowadays, these acts will lead to a swift kick of justice; for there is no tolerance for such heinous crimes. In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, acts of racism, sexism and classism, that occur in the town of Maycomb, are very prominent throughout the story, which influences the characters and plot.

One of the major themes of the novel is racism and the acts that surround it. In most cases, the white people in the book make negative remarks or act irrationally against people of colour, but in some instances, it is the contrary. For instance, Calpurnia takes Jem and Scout to her church on Sunday. Everything is going well until someone approaches them with feelings of resentment. In the novel, Lula, a black woman, says, “you ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here—they got their church, we got our’n. It is our church, ain’t it, Miss Cal?” (Lee 158). Although Jem and Scout are mere children, because of their skin colour, they are associated with the rest of their race beliefs. This instance shows racism is not always one-sided. Even if one race is the initiator, the other should not contribute to the animosity. Furthermore, another issue surrounding racism is mixed marriages. Mixed marriages at the time were considered disgraceful. In the novel, Jem tells Scout, “they don’t belong anywhere. Coloured folks won’t have ‘em because they’re half white; white folks won’t have ‘em ‘cause they’re coloured, so they’re just in-betweens, don’t belong anywhere. But Mr. Dolphus, now, they say he’s shipped two of his up north. They don’t mind ‘em up north” (Lee 215). The enmity between black and white people deems families of mixed race as sinful and wrong. However, in the northern states, colour people did not have to deal with this abhorrence. Later on in the 1960s, the Black Power movement was formed to combat the antipathy created from previous years of resentment between the blacks and whites in the United States.

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In general, the town is reluctant to embrace change. Everyone seems to accept the classicist, racist, and sexist attitudes that they persist in. In the novel, Jem has an epiphany, and tells Scout, “there's four kinds of folks in the world. There's the ordinary kind like us and the neighbours, there's the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes” (Lee 302). The class system in Maycomb is the shape of a pyramid; like most societies. At the very bottom, there are the Robinsons and people alike. Due to their skin colour, wealth, education and social standing, they are forced down to the lowest level in the social pyramid. Above them are the Ewells. Although their wealth and education are at a bare minimum, the only aspect that puts them apart from the Robinsons is their skin colour; thus levelling them higher. Slightly higher, there are the Cunninghams. Despite being dirt-poor, they are more hard-working than the Ewells, and are white, unlike the Robinsons, which pushes them to the second level of the pyramid. Finally, at the top, there are the Finches. In today’s terms, they would be roughly around middle-class, but back then, due to their education, skin colour and wealth, place at the very top of the pyramid. Under these circumstances, people that are in a certain class are bound to a future that the class allows them to reach. At the time, black people were not expected to have an education, as they were considered low-level workers. That is why when a coloured man is accused of a crime, the system will treat them differently from a privileged upper-class white man. In the novel, from Scout’s point of view, it states, “Maycomb was interested by the news of Tom’s death for perhaps two days; two days were enough for the information to spread through the county [...] To Maycomb, Tom’s death was typical. Typical of a coloured person to cut and run. Typical of a coloured person’s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw” (Lee 322). Maycomb is a prime example of the mindset back then. Everyone had the same racist, sexist and classist thinking. However, the few that did not were disliked for their revolutionary thoughts. People like Atticus Finch and Mrs. Maudie, open-minded and educated people, were not liked by many. Though it is not showcased in the novel, lynching was a major part of black history. Between the late 19th century to the early 20th century, in the south, lynching was a prevalent way to relieve the feeling of indignation the white felt towards the recently freed black.

In Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, acts of racism, sexism and classism, that occur in the town of Maycomb are very prominent throughout the story, which influences the characters and plot. Unlike today, back then, it was not common for people of different races to study together, use public transportation, date or marry, since the racial segregation was hindering them from doing as they please. The societal classes also prevented coloured people from having rights. Since they were at the bottom of the pyramid, there was little to no respect given to them as a class. While too young to understand, the effects of these matters influence Scout’s beliefs and values. The racist remarks, sexist undertones, and classist living all shape her thoughts and actions. Overall, the themes of racial segregation, prejudice, and social inequality improve the plot. Maycomb, as a town, is the embodiment of those themes. The thoughts, actions, and values of those who live there are expressed through the many events that occur throughout the story. The novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, exemplifies the harsh conditions coloured people had to live in and proves the importance of unity, despite diversity.

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Racism, Sexism and Classism as the Result of a Biased Society in To Kill a Mockingbird. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/racism-sexism-and-classism-as-the-result-of-a-biased-society-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird/
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