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The Issue of Racism in To Kill A Mockingbird

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In her novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Harper Lee brilliantly dissects the predominance of racism in the 1930s. By allowing the reader to experience the book through the eyes of one of Maycomb County’s own citizens, Scout Finch, the author goes beyond simply telling examples of racism, but rather draws the reader into the lives of those in Maycomb and letting one experience it for oneself. Lee accomplishes this through showing the pre-judgement of those of a different colour in the court, the abnegation of the few white people who choose to associate themselves with those of black colour, and letting one see the absolute segregation throughout the county. This method of writing truly enables one to see the problems in the society portrayed, and to form their own opinions of the issues as the story moves forward.

In the court scenario there is a battle being fought outside of that which is between the defence and the prosecution. This battle is the fight for equality, the fight for fair judgement, and the fight to change minds that have long been stuck in their ways. Atticus is the General and he is raining a hellstorm of facts, and evidence upon the jury, all under the guise of a calm, collected, and respectful man. Through his questioning of Mayella Ewell, Atticus skillfully works the information he needs out of his witness. He does not humiliate her in any ways, so as not to lose favour with the court, but willingly points out and tactfully uses her words to defend his case and prove that Tom Robinson is an innocent man. The primary reason that Tom Robinson ended up in court is not because he did anything wrong, rather it was because Bob Ewell, who had beaten his daughter Mayella, saw his opportunity for a scapegoat in the one man who was witness to his crime, Tom Robinson. Bob Ewell knew that no matter how sideways the trial went, Tom would be convicted, and he would walk free. In spite of mounting evidence for Tom’s innocence the jury, after a long deliberation, convict Tom as guilty. As the children speak with Miss Maudie after the case they are told something that at that point in time, they don’t fully understand. Miss Maudie refers to the case as “A step in the right direction.” She tells Scout, Jem, and Dill that the jury has never before been so conflicted, or taken so long on their decision in a case that involved anyone of black colour. This was the first step towards winning the battle, the fight for equality, the fight for fair judgement, and the fight to change minds that have long been stuck in their ways.

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To clearly demonstrate the sheer prominence of segregation in the 1930s, Harper Lee takes the reader through many different settings to show how the black and white people were separated in almost everything they did. One specific example that the author spends time developing is the example of the church. Even in the church, which is the place that should be the most accepting and loving to all people, we see segregation and poor treatment towards the black community. The black community in Maycomb is forced to go to a separate church outside of town where only their basic needs are met. These needs solely consist of a building, a pulpit, and one hymn book. In spite of their poverty the black church is made up of passionate people who will give what little they have to help their friends and family. As hypocritical as the church situation may be on the part of the white people in Maycomb, it is not the only example of disregard and disassociation towards those of another race. The reader is also shown how the separation affects those in the black community on a day-to-day basis in their housing and living arrangements. Because they are black, they are pushed to the outside of the town itself, they have to walk farther to get to the downtown, and are outliers in the county. Their houses are smaller and less hospitable for families trying to raise children. When the few events happen where black people and white people are in the same building gathered together, they are still separated and the white population are given the better seating. A good example of this is in the courthouse, the black community is there to see the trial of Tom Robinson, a member of their community and their church, and they are nevertheless forced to watch from the balcony, detached from the white people below.

Mr. Dolphus Raymond is a white man coined black by his society. The citizens of Maycomb not only disassociate themselves from the black people in their county, but also look upon those few white folks, who choose to spend their time with the black people, with disregard and a new kind of segregation. Rumours spread like wildfire and are often accepted as truth without much questioning, and this is especially true in the case of Mr. Dolphus. The entirety of Maycomb believes that he is a drunk that is living in depression and that is why he lives the way he does. As Mr. Dolphus talks to Scout and Dill, the reader is given the opportunity for an insight into his mind, his way of life, and how intelligent of a man he surely is. Mr. Dolphus in many ways is very selfless, he hears the rumours, and instead of fighting them, he submits to them. He recognizes how small-minded the population of Maycomb is, and realizes that they would never be able to rest easy knowing that someone could possibly want to live the way he does. So he gives them reasons, he drinks his coca-cola out of a bag to pretend its whiskey, he swerves when he drives into town, and he distances himself from the rest of the white people. Scout does not understand why anyone would purposely make themselves look worse than they are, but one can gather that he does not care what the white people think of him; he has a home and a family in the black community.

Racism is a terrible force that can seize people, and in turn seize communities. Harper Lee did a phenomenal job of delving into the minds of people who thought racism was acceptable and normal, and also the minds of those fighting for change. Through the eyes of a young girl who is not yet old enough to have had her mind molded by the racist community that surrounds her, the reader is allowed to experience racism and how it affected the black community in Maycomb, Through the journey that is “To Kill A Mockingbird.” She sees her father fighting for Tom Robinson’s life, she sees the segregation, and through her talk with Mr. Dolphus she is shown a glimpse of what her world could be if the people did not hate based on colour. Scout Finch is part of the generation of change, the generation that finally woke up and saw what was wrong with their world. Thanks to people like Scout the battle has been won, the fight for equality, the fight for fair judgement, and the fight to change minds that had long been stuck in their ways.

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The Issue of Racism in To Kill A Mockingbird. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from
“The Issue of Racism in To Kill A Mockingbird.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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