Themes of Prejudice, Growing Up and Courage in To Kill A Mockingbird

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The novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ written by Harper Lee, accurately displays the racial injustices and prejudice prevalent to the people in the south, during the 1930’s. The text explores themes of prejudice, growing up and courage, in which is further developed throughout the novel and within the characters. ‘Scout’ Jean Louise Finch and ‘Jem’ Jeremy Finch, alongside with their father Atticus Finch defy the traditional norms in their society and fight for equity, for the coloured people of Maycomb. With the use of metaphor, motif, personification, colloquialism and symbolism, the novel truly captures the deep south in the 1930’s.

Maycomb is an old fictitious town that is affiliated with racial segregation, economic depression and prejudice against African-American people. It was based on Harper Lee’s hometown in Monroeville, Alabama and the characters within the novel reflect the personalities of those who surrounded Lee, during her childhood. The people in Maycomb are segregated into clearly defined groups, with the coloured folks placed at the bottom of the social strata and the whites on top. Which expresses the apparent ‘White-superiority’ that occurred during the 1930’s. The general populace are also heavily religious and are generally poor, illustrating the impact of the ‘Great Depression’ from 1929 to the early 1940’s. However, prejudice is also shown in the women of Maycomb. They are regarded as ‘unequal’ to men and are therefore not permitted to sit on the jury and must behave or dress a certain way. It is evident that Maycomb is entrenched with racial segregation, economic depression, prejudice and accurately displays a town within a ‘white-supremacist’ society.

Prejudice is the most recurring theme in the novel and is one that affects all and everyone who refuses to conform to the expected behavioural norms in society, at that time when the book was written. The concepts of fear, rumour and superstition feed prejudice, which is then embedded into the minds of Maycomb. This relates to the racial segregation that occurred between the ‘blacks’ and the ‘whites’ during the 1930’s, due to the belief that the ‘whites’ were superior. Prejudice is evident at Tom Robinson’s trial where although he is innocent, is falsely charged for rape and is therefore convicted. “Tom was a dead man, the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.”, the metaphor ‘dead man’ refers to how Tom’s conviction was rather inevitable; as a result of Maycomb’s deeply rooted social and racial values and unjust treatment of African American people at that time. Additionally, Atticus is also degraded by the ‘white’ community in Maycomb for defending Tom in the trial. Mrs Dubose states “Atticus is not any better than the trash he works for.”, the personification of ‘trash’ represents the ‘black’ community and the statement regards Atticus as unequal and a disgrace to the rest of the white folks in Maycomb. The statement also discredits his hard work and compassion towards African American people, that are facing racial injustice. Both Tom and Atticus are prime examples of the few ‘Mockingbirds’ in the novel. Atticus preaches, “Shoot all the bluejays you want if you can hit em’, but remember it’s a sin to kill a Mockingbird”, the motif of ‘Mockingbird’ symbolises innocence and correlates to the unjust situations Atticus and Tom had to endure, in the long battle for equity. The revolting acts of racial prejudice is demonstrated through Tom Robinson’s conviction and Atticus’ abuse via metaphors, personification and motifs; in which both of these characters demonstrate a prime example of innocent ‘Mockingbirds’ scattered throughout the storyline.

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Innocence is a pivotal aspect of being a child, however, growing up in a society where acts of cruelty and injustice aimed at a particular race are normalised, both Jem and Scout learn many notable lessons. Scout is a character that is both precocious and naive and by the end of the novel evolves into a person that is able to view another person’s perspective. The quote “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.” The metaphor “you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”, demonstrates Scout’s maturity and empathy for Boo Radley, a character who is highly prejudiced by the whole Maycomb community. In which, Boo Radley’s negative reputation is synonymous to the hatred of the ‘blacks’ during the 1930’s, as they were believed to be lacking in social status or morality. Scout’s self awareness is projected when she is rescued by Boo Radley from Bob Ewell’s attack, stating “I’d be sorta like killing a Mockingbird”. The motif of ‘Mockingbird’ symbolises innocence and implies that convicting Boo Radley as a result of killing Bob Ewell, would be morally wrong, as he simply wanted to save the children. Jem is a courageous and calm boy and later learns the racial injustices that are inflicted against the ‘Black’ people within his town. Loss of childlike innocence is illustrated when Jem is seen crying after Tom’s conviction, muttering “It ain’t right, Atticus.” The colloquial language of ‘ain’t’ emphasises his disgust and agony towards the judge’s unjust ruling and sparks his disbelief on how an innocent man could be imprisoned purely based on the colour of his skin. The theme of ‘Growing up’ is depicted by the use of colloquialism, metaphor and motif, through Scout’s ability to understand another person’s point of view and Jem’s loss of innocence after hearing Tom’s conviction.

The idea of courage is proven to be fundamental in the novel, to conquer all the evil and prejudice that exists within the close-minded town of Maycomb. The theme of courage profoundly correlates to the ‘Montgomery Bus Boycott’ incident enacted by Rosa Parks in 1955, where she firmly refused to abide by Montgomery’s nonsensical laws against ‘black’ people. Atticus is a rational man in a highly emotional society and is a prime example of courage. When Atticus is confronted and humiliated by Bob Ewell’s question “Too proud to fight? You nigger loving bastard?”, he simply responds “No, too old.” His reply demonstrates a high level of resilience and shows that he is the ‘bigger’ person in petty situations. Another character who displays tremendous acts of courage is Mrs Dubose. Though she is depicted as being an incredibly mean and nasty old woman, she conquers her drug addiction as she states “Leave the world beholden to nothing and nobody.” The metaphor “Beholden to nothing and nobody” portrays her determination to leave the world ‘clean’ from her morphine addiction, resulting her as the bravest person Atticus has ever known. Boo Radley is also a name that is highly feared in the town of Maycomb and is the centre of children’s jokes, games and gossip. Despite the fact that he is associated with an evil persona, he remains a gentle and kind person; therefore making him one of the most courageous and bravest characters in the novel. When Boo Radley saves the children from Bob Ewell’s attack, Scout states “He was real nice.” the description of ‘real nice’ emphasises how Boo Radley’s personality is completely misunderstood by the whole town and completely eliminates the negative stigma that surrounds him. Through thorough analysis, courage is proven to be an essential ability needed to destroy the prejudicial barriers in society, which is displayed through; Atticus’ resilience from Bob Ewell’s harassment, Mrs Dubose’s determination to abandon her drug addiction and Boo Radley’s persistence to remain a kind person.

To conclude, the novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ written by Harper Lee entails a fictitious storyline and incorporates the realistic themes of prejudice, growing up and courage. Through an astounding array of character development, the narrative exceptionally conveys the impact of the Great Depression that occurred in the Deep South. Furthermore, the clever use of colloquialism, metaphor, motif and symbolism help project these concepts, in which is heavily influenced by the context of that time. Therefore, the novel truly captures the prejudicial barriers and societal norms prevalent to the people of the south, during the 1930’s.

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Themes of Prejudice, Growing Up and Courage in To Kill A Mockingbird. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from
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