Use of Prejudice by Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird: Critical Analysis

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction to Prejudice in "To Kill A Mockingbird"
  2. Racial Prejudice: A Deep Dive
  3. Socioeconomic Prejudice: Class Divisions in Maycomb
  4. Gender Prejudice: Stereotypes and Expectations
  5. Conclusion: Harper Lee's Critique of Society

Introduction to Prejudice in "To Kill A Mockingbird"

In To Kill A Mockingbird, prejudice is one of the major themes that is repeated throughout the book. Many characters act prejudiced against other characters, while others try to fight back. The setting takes place in Maycomb, Alabama. The narrator of the book is a young girl named Scout who is very innocent. One of the main reasons Harper Lee has a child narrate the book is so that there is not much bias when discussing important topics like prejudice. The main character Scout only sees people as people which is very different from how other people in the town act. Other people in the town show prejudice. The three types of prejudice shown in the book are race, socioeconomic, and gender. Harper Lee uses the three different types of prejudice to criticize society, and to try to get society to change their ways.

Racial Prejudice: A Deep Dive

The first example of prejudice is racial prejudice. This is shown through what Atticus says in his closing argument “‘… in the cynical confidence that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption–the evil assumption–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 quote is Atticus trying to get the town to look past their prejudice and to just look at the facts. It is clear that Tom Robinson didn’t do what Mayella Ewell claims he did, but the town believes her because of their racial prejudice. Atticus wants the people to try to get past their prejudice because it is terrible to assume that everyone is the same based solely on their color or race. The people in the town are blinded by their prejudice, and Harper Lee uses this quote to show that we can get past our ways of letting our prejudice and views blind us from seeing the truth. Not only do opposing races encountered prejudice, but people of the same race can also face the effects

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In To Kill A Mockingbird, prejudice is one of the major themes that is repeated throughout the book. Many characters act prejudiced against other characters, while others try to fight back. The setting takes place in Maycomb, Alabama. The narrator of the book is a young girl named Scout who is very innocent. One of the main reasons Harper Lee has a child narrate the book is so that there is not much bias when discussing important topics like prejudice. The main character Scout only sees people as people which is very different from how other people in the town act. Other people in the town show prejudice. The three types of prejudice shown in the book are race, socioeconomic, and gender. Harper Lee uses the three different types of prejudice to criticize society, and to try to get society to change their ways.

The first example of prejudice is racial prejudice. This is shown through what Atticus says in his closing argument “‘… in the cynical confidence that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption–the evil assumption–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 quote is Atticus trying to get the town to look past their prejudice and to just look at the facts. It is clear that Tom Robinson didn’t do what Mayella Ewell claims he did, but the town believes her because of their racial prejudice. Atticus wants the people to try to get past their prejudice because it is terrible to assume that everyone is the same based solely on their color or race. The people in the town are blinded by their prejudice, and Harper Lee uses this quote to show that we can get past our ways of letting our prejudice and views blind us from seeing the truth. Not only do opposing races encountered prejudice, but people of the same race can also face the effects of prejudice. Jem and Scout encounter prejudice when they go to church with Calpurnia. “Lula stopped, but said, ‘You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here–they got their church, we got our’n’” (Lee 158). Jem and Scout have not really encountered prejudice until that moment. Jem and Scout don’t understand why Lula is acting this way, and are offended by this. Harper Lee uses this quote to show that there are two sides where both races in the town are in the wrong because they both act upon prejudice. Harper Lee also wants us to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way, and we can treat each other equally. When Atticus decides to take on the responsibility on the trial, Jem and Scout encounter even more prejudice. One of their classmates, Cecil Jacobs, says “‘My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an’ that n***** oughta hang from the water-tank!’” (Lee 102). Cecil Jacobs says this because his parents are mad, like the rest of the town, Atticus is defending someone they think is guilty. Cecil Jacobs learned to act this way from his parents. Harper Lee uses this quote to show us that children absorb and repeat what their parents say without thinking what it means. She wants people to be careful of what they say around their kids, and to teach them to accept everyone. She focuses a lot on racial prejudice in the book to get us to open our minds to racial equality.

Socioeconomic Prejudice: Class Divisions in Maycomb

The second example of prejudice is socioeconomic. An example of this is when Jem says “‘There’s four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down a the dump, and the Negroes’” (Lee 302). In the book, Jem in maturing, and while he is maturing, he is also losing his innocence. The town’s prejudice is starting to influence him and he is starting to see through the town’s eyes. Scout on the other hand just sees folks for folks. She still has her innocence. Harper Lee uses this quote to criticize that we are teaching our children to be like this. She believes that we need to change this, and look past social classes and see people for who they are and not by where they came from. Later in the book, Aunt Alexandra makes a comment about Cunninghams and their social class. She says “‘Jean Louise, there is no doubt in my mind that they’re good folks. But they’re not our kind of folks’” (Lee 299). Aunt Alexandra says this because she thinks that they are good people, but because they are not in the same social class she thinks less of them. Harper Lee uses this quote to show how people are prejudice and how they act when they find out that people are in a low class than them. Harper Lee wants her readers to look past their social class and see everyone the same. A little later in the chapter, Aunt Alexandra makes another comment about the Cunninghams. She says ‘“The thing is, you can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem. Besides, there’s a drinking streak in the family a mile wide. Finch women aren’t interested in that sort of people’” (Lee 300). She says this because just like the other quote she thinks that she is above the Cunninghams just because of her social class. She’s trying to enforce her prejudice upon Scout. Harper Lee uses this quote to show that without knowing sometimes people enforce things on children when they barely understand what it means. In summary, Harper Lee wants us to look past social class and see the people for who they are.

Gender Prejudice: Stereotypes and Expectations

The third example of prejudice is gender prejudice. Scout’s Aunt expects her to be a perfect little girl and to act proper. She also expects Scout to fit into society’s views of girls. Scout acknowledges this when she says “Aunt Alexandra’s vision of my deportment involved playing with small stoves, tea sets, and wearing the Add-A-Pearl necklace she gave me when I was born; furthermore, I should be a ray of sunshine in my father’s lonely life” (Lee 108). This quote shows gender prejudice because Aunt Alexandra is enforcing an outdated stereotype onto Scout just because society says to do so. Harper Lee uses this quote and quotes like this throughout the book to show how ridiculous the gender norms society tries to place on us are. She does so to try to get people to realize that they don’t have to go along with society’s stereotypes, and for people to try to be their own person. Aunt Alexandra adds to the stereotype of women being proper and needing protection. Later in the book, Judge Taylor says “‘There has been a request… That this courtroom be cleared of spectators, or at least of women and children’” (Lee 232).

This quote puts women and children in the same category of needing protection or being shielded from something. The person who requested this thinks that women need as much protection as children, which is a lot. The person thinks that women should be shielded from the idea of rape. This is prejudiced because it proposes the idea that women can not handle this topic, but how can they protect themselves if they are not educated on the matter. Harper Lee uses this quote to criticize society on how they treat children, and to show that women are stronger than people think. In the beginning of the book, Jem acts like being a girl is a bad thing. He said “‘Nothin’ to it. I swear, Scout, sometimes you at so much like a girl it’s mortifyin’’” (Lee 50). Jem says that it is “mortifying” to act like a girl. Usually when kids are young, they act prejudiced against the other gender without even realizing it. The outdated stereotype of acting like a girl is used by Harper Lee to try to get society to stop using this stereotype. Scout is pressured by her brother to stop acting like a girl, but acting like a girl should not be bad. Overall, Harper Lee uses these quotes about gender prejudice to show that these outdated stereotypes should be disregarded.

Conclusion: Harper Lee's Critique of Society

Throughout To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee uses prejudice to criticize society. She uses racial, socioeconomic, and gender prejudice to achieve this. Racial prejudice is shown during Tom Robinson’s trial. Atticus tries to get the jury to get past their prejudice and just focus on the facts, but fails to do so. The people of both races act upon prejudice against each other. Socioeconomic prejudice is shown when Jem classifies the people of Maycomb into different social groups. Jem now sees people for their social class instead of what type of people they are. It is also shown when Aunt Alexandra makes comments about the Cunninghams. She does so because she thinks that she is higher than then because of their social class. Gender prejudice is shown through Scout’s statement about how her Aunt Alexandra thinks she should act.

People of the town are also prejudiced against women because they act like they need as much protection as children. Jem also makes a comment about Scout acting like a girl. Jem makes it sound like it is terrible to act like a girl. Harper Lee uses all these examples to try to get people to stop following societies stereotype about race, socioeconomic, and gender to get people to be their own people and look at people for more than their race, gender, and social class.

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Use of Prejudice by Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird: Critical Analysis. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/use-of-prejudice-by-harper-lee-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird-critical-analysis/
“Use of Prejudice by Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird: Critical Analysis.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/use-of-prejudice-by-harper-lee-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird-critical-analysis/
Use of Prejudice by Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird: Critical Analysis. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/use-of-prejudice-by-harper-lee-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird-critical-analysis/> [Accessed 19 Jun. 2024].
Use of Prejudice by Harper Lee in To Kill A Mockingbird: Critical Analysis [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2024 Jun 19]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/use-of-prejudice-by-harper-lee-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird-critical-analysis/
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