To Kill a Mockingbird: Prejudice, Racism and Sexism

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“We all know all men are not created equal in the sense that some people would have us believe--some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others--some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men” is a quote from the wise Atticus Finch, this passage describes the reality that not all people are seen as equal, even if it is immoral. Prejudice exists. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, prejudice concerning those with low social status’, women, and African Americans is used to give Harper Lee a voice of criticism and change.

Harper Lee uses her work to give her voice by exposing prejudice, such as social status prejudice. Prejudice towards the lower classes of the town is portrayed commonly in To Kill a Mockingbird even by the honorable Atticus Finch when he states, “ assumption one associates with minds of their caliber” (Lee 273). Atticus is referring to the Ewells, a poor family that are considered lower class. Atticus is trying to remind the jury members that the Ewells are below them, and that the members should not shrink down to their level. Harper Lee is demonstarting that prejudice exists in even the most honorable people. Another example is expressed when Jem describes his idea of the social classes: 'There's four kinds of folks in the world. The ordinary kind like us and the neighbors... the Cunninghams... the Ewells... and the Negroes” (Lee 302). Jem is putting people into groups determined by their worths. By including this passage, Harper Lee can associate prejudice with Jem losing his innocence, which people would understand as unfavorable. Lastly, not everyone fits into these social classes created by prejudiced minds. For example, Jem states,'They don't belong anywhere... they're just in-betweens” (Lee 215). This is prejudice towards what Jem believes are “outsiders”. These people are looked down upon just because they don’t fit in. This is another reference to a child losing his innocence. Throughout the novel, people are both looked up to and looked down upon because of how they live. Harper Lee uses the ideas of her characters, so the readers can see how this can be immoral. However, women specifically can receive their own form of prejudice that Lee uses in her novel.

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Women in the 1930s were expected to act and dress a certain way. They had expectations and were frowned upon if they did not exceed these expectations, which Harper Lee tries to convey as wrong in To Kill a Mocking Bird. For example, Scout recalls how Aunt Alexandrea told her “...I wasn't supposed to be doing anything that required pants.” (Lee 108). Aunt Alexandrea is referring to the stereotype that Scout should be doing simple tasks in the house instead of playing outside or doing any “men’s work”. Harper Lee critizes this by using Scout’s dismay to being lectured for her “unlady-like” behavior. Secondly, Aunt Alexandrea, being no stranger to using prejudice directed towards women, claims that Scout should be a “...ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life” (Lee 108). This reinforces the sexist idea that women are meant to always be positive and happy to brighten up the lives of the men in their life. Harper Lee uses Aunt Alexandrea, an obviously prejudiced character, to express these ideas because it helps the reader understand that these ideas are prejudiced. Lastly, Scout tends to hangout with her brother Jem and her friend Dill, which means getting teased is a usual for her. When Scout warns Jem for sneaking out, Jem retaliates by saying, “Scout, I’m telling you for the last time, shut your trap or go home-I declare to the lord you’re gettin’ more like a girl everyday” (Lee ). Jem is contributing to the prejudiced idea that girls are weaker and scare easier than boys. Ideas like these can be offensive, which is why Harper Lee takes advantage of this comment made by Jem to help the reader to understand that it is immoral and prejudiced. Scout experiences prejudice many times throughout the novel for either not exceeding the stereotypical expectation of a young woman or through teasing by her male peers. Readers can see the immoral side of this by seeing how Scout is impacted by the prejudice she experiences. African Americans, like women, are also a specific group of people that are pointed out by prejudice.

There are several types of prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird; however, prejudice towards African Americans is the most apparent. This involves the case of Tom Robinson, the main focus used by Harper Lee to attempt to catalyze change. During the cross-examination, Tom Robinson states that he helped Mayella often because he felt bad for her. In the court room, the prejudiced people’s reactions include, “You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her…below us, nobody liked Tom Robinson’s answer” (Lee 264). The prosecutor and the white people were appalled by Tom Robinson’s answer because of their view that white people are more superior than black people so for Tom to feel sorry for Mayella is equal to feeling that he his more superior than Mayella. Harper Lee made it obvious to the readers that Tom is a good, innocent man, so the readers can inference that Tom never felt superior to Mayella, and he just wanted to help her. Secondly, while Atticus is speaking of Mayella in his closing speech to the jury, he explains “she did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man” (Lee 272). Atticus explains that what Mayella did is considered horrible and “unspeakable” in their society, simply because Tom Robinson is black. Harper Lee exposes this pure racism to show its immorality. Lastly, also in Atticus’ speech, he states “that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women…” (Lee 273). This statement is not the personal view of Atticus himself, but it is the view of many of the people of Maycomb. Saying this is equal to saying all African Americans are bad people. Harper Lee uses the word “all” to allow the reader to realze that such a srong assumption is probably wrong. Racism is one of the common themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee uses blunt racism to show the readers how ugly and offensive these prejudiced views can be.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, three main types of prejudice, racism, sexism, and social status prejudice, are used to give Harper Lee a voice of criticism and change. Harper Lee uses her novel to expose this prejudice and show readers that is is immoral, which could help readers change their views. Prejudice is seen all around the world still till this day. People have fought prejudice in a number ways, for example the Black Lives Matter movement. Harper Lee was one of those people by using her novel to fight for change.

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To Kill a Mockingbird: Prejudice, Racism and Sexism. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from
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