Students are more likely to retain knowledge if they obtain it through something they enjoy. Reading an interesting book, for example, is a more effective way of learning than simply sitting in a classroom and taking notes about concepts and events from decades ago. I believe that it is for this reason that many teachers choose to include Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in their classrooms. The novel, which spans a few years in the 1930s in the prejudiced town of Maycomb, Alabama, explores important historical insight, thus teaching valuable and unforgettable lessons concerning social injustices. Throughout the story, Scout (Jean Louise) Finch, a white, adult narrator, looks back on the important events that shaped her and her brother Jem’s childhood beginning with the introduction to a new friend, Dill, and the mystery of neighbour Boo Radley. Over the years, the siblings are exposed to the death of a particularly racist and rude neighbour, encounters with prejudiced relatives, the sharing of lessons by their friendly neighbour, Miss Maudie, and the shooting of a rabid dog. A later summer brings eye-opening, heart-wrenching messages of deeply rooted prejudice through a rape trial concerning a falsely accused black man, Tom Robinson, whom the Finch siblings’ father, Atticus, defends in court. Unfortunately, the trial ends with a guilty verdict for Tom, which later results in an attempted jailbreak leading to his death. The trial reveals horrifying secrets about the prosecutor, Mayella Ewell’s, family. This angers her father, Bob and prompts him to attack the Finch children in revenge. The attack results in Bob’s murder and serious injuries for Jem, but for Scout and Atticus, it provokes a lot of thought about the power of truth and seeing people for who they truly are on the inside. The story effectively explains to modern day readers the ways in which stereotypical expectations were thrust upon women throughout history. Furthermore, it accurately highlights religious prejudice and discrimination present during the 1930s. Finally, the novel emphasizes the irrationality of racism and the power imbalance between those who are white or black in the time period. Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird most certainly should not be banned from today’s classrooms as it effectively delves into lessons concerning the illogical presentation of social injustices in the 1930s.
The story is full of gender stereotyping and lessons concerning the harmful impact of sexism. Although modern society has improved, gender stereotyping and sexism are still very evident, and so it is imperative that students today learn about the damage these notions cause. Throughout the story, Scout is constantly told to act more lady-like by her Aunt Alexandra. Scout explains her Aunt’s mentality: “I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn’t supposed to be doing anything that required pants” (108). Although the role being pushed on Scout is problematic, it is accurate to the time-period. By being asked to change her attire and play habits, Scout is pressured to be someone she is not. This chips away at her identity and forces her to conform to the expectations of her society. The worst part of this situation, however, is that the stereotype is coming from another woman, which relates to a modern day example of bias against woman by woman within the hiring process of big corporations. Clearly, this form of sexism is still an occurrence today, but by studying this novel in today’s classrooms I strongly believe students will have an easier time grasping the damage that gender expectations and prejudice cause: thus discouraging them for participating in discrimination. Furthermore, sexism, is evident in Atticus’ explanation surrounding the law preventing females to serve on juries: “I guess it’s to protect our frail ladies from sordid cases like Tom’s. Besides, I doubt if we’d ever get a complete case tried—the ladies’d be interrupting to ask questions” (296). Firstly, this informs readers that women were unable to serve on juries during the 1930s, which is important historical context. In my opinion the law is completely illogical: men and women should be given the same rights. However, Atticus’ commentary additionally emphasizes the community’s prejudiced view on women. He implies that women are fragile creatures that need to be protected, and therefore, belittles them. Additionally, Atticus unjustly suggests that women would not understand or be able to follow the trial’s content and teases them for their curiosity. The characters’ struggle in dealing with themes relevant today, such as the importance of gender equality, provide readers with a deeper comprehension of the way sexism was exhibited in the 1930s.
Throughout the story, readers are exposed to the incomprehensible ways in which religious discrimination was presented in the 1930s. One day as Scout is grappling with the meaning of sin, she inquires about Miss Maudie’s faith. Miss Maudie then explains that she is a Baptist, but some of the other Maycomb community members are known as foot-washing Baptists. This confuses Scout and prompts Miss Maudie to explain: “Foot-washers believe anything that’s pleasure is a sin. Did you know some of ‘em came out of the woods one Saturday and told me me and my flowers were going to hell” (59). The prejudice in this situation is unreasonable as both Miss Maudie and the foot-washers believe in the same faith, yet the men are extremely prejudiced against Miss Maudie. Additionally, most would agree being told you are going to hell is not a pleasurable feeling, and therefore, the emotional damage social injustices carry is exposed. The situation conveys important messages to readers as it not only emphasizes an illogical prejudice, but it familiarizes readers with the Baptist religion: a religion from the time period that some readers may not be cognizant of. Moreover, religious discrimination can be witnessed and learned from through the segregation of white and coloured peoples churches. Due to Atticus being out of town, Scout and Jem are taken to their coloured nanny, Cal’s, church. Although Scout describes the church in a joyful manor, the contrast in design and money put into the appearance between the coloured church in comparaison to the white community church is clear (157). This scenario is problematic for multiple reasons. Firstly, there is the evident racism due to the segregation of the churches. Secondly, the white church is more wealthy and has better access to decorations, tombstones and even hymn books. Although both of these injustices are more focused upon race, they thread through an illogical religious prejudice as both churches practice the same Methodist faith, and yet, they are segregated. This is peculiar as Methodism is a branch of Christianity, and Christians believe that all people should be treated equally. The segregation is therefore illogical, and it begs the question, why are the churches segregated if all people are created equally? The segregation of the churches fosters the weaponization of religion. Lee’s portrayal of the era’s religious discrimination educates readers about the use of religion as a weapon, rendering it a beneficial classroom tool.
The story’s authentic representation of the struggles within coloured communities in the 1930s, provides both insight into the daily challenges of a coloured person, and forces readers to grapple with the life-threatening consequences of prejudice. Another beneficial component of Lee’s story is her inclusion of important historical references: the lynching mob for example. With the Tom’s rape trial approaching, Atticus sits in front of the jail as four cars, filled with mob members, approach and ask Atticus to move aside. It is evident that the mob’s goal in this scenario is to lynch Tom Robinson (202). Taking a human life simply because they are not the same skin colour as you is a repulsive, horrifying action: unfortunately, it was not a rare occurrence during this time period. The representation of a lynch mob truly emphasizes the cruel realities present as a result of deeply rooted prejudice in the Jim Crow era. The mob scene additionally provokes deep consideration concerning lynching as many readers may not be familiar with the term. Thought provoking messages considering racism and injustice are additionally present during Tom’s trial and death. Following Tom’s death, as Scout is reflecting on a newspaper article relating Tom’s murder to the death of an innocent bird, she has an epiphany. Scout conceptualizes the major power imbalance between the white and black communities in Maycomb: “Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson but in the secret court of men’s hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed” (323). Scout’s understanding that Tom stood no chance at receiving a not guilty verdict due to the bias present in the community is a mature reflection in which readers can learn from. Not only does Scout’s statement point out the evident bias in the small Maycomb court house, but it also opens eyes to the extent of the prejudice and how it would have been everywhere during the time period. Her reflection highlights that even though slavery in the United States was abolished in 1865, 65 years earlier, racism did not simply disappear. I believe that it is imperative that people today are aware of this as I feel that many are quick to falsely assume that with the abolishment of slavery came the demolition of racist notions. The consequences of Maycomb’s racism also forces readers to be more conscious of prejudice and take caution surrounding it. Readers truly benefit from Lee’s moving, historical demonstration of the Jim Crow era’s racism and the many consequences concerning it.
Ultimately, To Kill a Mockingbird teaches readers valuable, historical, and eye-opening lessons exposing the prejudice of the time period, and thus, should not be banned from today’s classrooms. Firstly, the story teaches readers about the ways women were restricted by stereotypes in the 1930s and helps to break down the barriers of sexism. Through the presence of religious discrimination in the story, readers learn time period accurate examples of illogical religious prejudice. Conclusively, through witnessing the era’s bias and discrimination committed by those who are white against those who are black, readers’ eyes are opened to the consequences of prejudice. The mature subject matter in the story is necessary as it helps readers to realize the brutal, and sometimes fatal, consequences of prejudice. As famously mentioned by George Santayana, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” It is important that we, as humanity learn from our previous historical mistakes so that we do not repeat them in the future. Although it is fiction, Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is the perfect tool to utilise in learning from our past: its content helps to inform readers on plausible historical context, while doing so in a way that discourages readers from participating in prejudicial actions. If all of humanity took the time to learn from our past mistakes, we would be more cautious of our unconscious bias and could eliminate a lot of prejudice from our world.