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Harper Lee deals with prejudice in a large way in To Kill a Mockingbird. The main theme of the novel is prejudice. Almost every character is involved in a situation that contains prejudice. The novel is staged in the tired old town of Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930 s. Maycomb is a classic southern town full of gossip, tradition and burdened with a legacy of racism. Harper Lee bases her novel on historical events that started only a few years before her novel was published.
The civil rights movement had begun and was a very important in America at the time the novel was being written, so there was likely to be a lot of prejudice in Harper Lees novel. There are many situations in To Kill a Mockingbird that are very similar to actual historical events, such as the Scottsboro trials which have a lot in common with the fictional trial of Tom Robinson. The narrator in the novel is called Scout Finch, and the story is told through Scouts perspective. Her fresh outlook on the town of Maycomb provided the reader with a multitude of viewpoints on civil rights.
Scouts innocent perspective compels her to ask questions about why whites treat blacks the way they do. Scout must come to terms with the racism of her town and how it affects the people in her life. A number of people greatly influence Scout. The two major role models in her life, her Aunt Alexandra and her father Atticus, pull her in two opposing directions. Aunt Alexandra is prejudice towards the Finch's black housekeeper, Calpurnia. Bought into the Finch house to teach and act as a female role model for young Scout, Aunt Alexandra begins by demonstrating to Scout Calpurnia's inferior position.
Aunt Alexandra from the beginning shows Scout who possesses the power. The first time Aunt Alexandra appears in the novel, we instantly see the lack of respect that she has for Calpurnia. Aunt Alexandra does not say please or thank you, just a simple command forcing Calpurnia into an inferior position. Calpurnia has symbolized strength and authority throughout Scouts childhood, by acting as a mother figure in the Finch household. Scout has never seen Calpurnia in such a low and submissive position. Calpurnia has established a respected place in the Finch family through the years of dedicated service and through the love she has shown for the Finch children.
Aunt Alexandra senses the childrens closeness to Calpurnia, and fears the bond the family has with Calpurnia. Any relationship with a black person that goes deeper than employer and employee causes scandal in Maycomb, and Aunt Alexandra fully understands gossip and scandals. Aunt Alexandra's attempt to get rid of Calpurnia results from her understanding of the matter. Shortly after her arrival, Aunt Alexandra councils Atticus. "And don't try and get around it. You " ve got to face it sooner or later and it might as well be tonight. We don't need her now. " Aunt Alexandra clearly wants Calpurnia out of the family.
Alexandra sees the respect and love that Scout feels towards Calpurnia and fears Scout will learn to love what she considers "trash. " Aunt Alexandra's label of trash does not only classify blacks, but any group or person that Aunt Alexandra considers to be lower on the social pyramid of Maycomb. Alexandra regards herself and the rest of the Finches as the royalty of Maycomb and she tries to make Scout understand this notion. Alexandra attempts to teach Scout how to be a Finch "lady, " and if Scout wants to be Finch "lady" she can't care for and love people who are not Alexandra's "kind of folks. " Harper Lee deals with the prejudice here by giving Scout another role model, her father, Atticus. Atticus has a completely different viewpoint to Aunt Alexandra, and by comparing the two characters the reader is able to see which character is right and which is wrong. Atticus through both his actions and his words contradicts everything that Alexandra stands for. Atticus shows Scout how to act without forcing his part as a role model on her, as Aunt Alexandra does.
Atticus leads by example, showing the highest respect for everyone in Maycomb, not distinguishing by colour or class. His serious defence for Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, proves his high ideals. Atticus fights a hopeless battle against the racism in the town. Atticus not only shows his non-prejudice through the trial of Tom Robinson, but also through his everyday dealings with Calpurnia. Atticus refutes Alexandra's attempts to fire Cal. "Alexandra, Calpurnia's not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn't have got along without her all these years.
She's a faithful member of this family and you " ll simply have to accept things the way they are. " Atticus directly counters Alexandra's wish to get rid of Calpurnia, showing the high value he puts on Calpurnia. Atticus even goes as far as to say he regards Calpurnia as a "faithful member of the family, " which goes against all that Alexandra has tried to teach Scout. Atticus does not openly tell Scout to follow his lead and reject the racism of Aunt Alexandra, but Scout sees all that Calpurnia means to her family and sees how Atticus respects Calpurnia as an equal. Atticus respect and dependency on Calpurnia forces Scout to question Aunt Alexandra's low opinion of Calpurnia and of all black people. From Boo Radley, we can see how prejudice the county of Maycomb is. Harper Lee uses Boo Radley to show us that the county are not just prejudiced against black people but against white people as well.
Boo Radley is an unusual individual, and he is misunderstood by the county. He is an outsider to the normal society of Maycomb County. Because no one ever sees Boo the people of Maycomb make up stories about Boo and the Radley household, and they do not bother to find out the truth. The County let rumors circulate about Boo and these rumors are assumed as the truth. The rumors that were told about Boo made him out to be a horrible beast that eats squirrels and rats with his bare hands who loves to kill children. At the end of the novel Harper Lee shows us that the towns prejudice against Boo Radley was all wrong as Boo emerges as a timid man who would never consider hurting a child.
When the Tom Robinson trial begins we see the prejudice as racism. Tom is being charged with the rape of a white girl. Because he is black the county will not believe Toms word over the white girls. They do not think that it is possible for a white girl to actually want to kiss a black man. Like Boo Radley Tom is also an outsider to the white, normal society of Maycomb County.
He too is misunderstood. The town did not believe that a black man should feel sorry for a white girl and help he for no reward at all. Everyone assumed that Tom was guilty. In the 30 's, blacks were assumed to have committed any incidents the white members of society accused them of, without looking at evidence or hearing the blacks's tory. In Tom's case, the mob believes Bob Ewell's story of Tom raping Mayella Ewell, without having any hesitation about the truth, and they are unwilling to look for any proof indicating Tom did not commit such a wicked crime.
Harper Lee deals with the prejudice against Tom Robinson by being sympathetic towards him. The reader does not actually have any proof that Tom Robinson is innocent but because of the way that Harper Lee writes sympathetically about Toms character we can tell that he is innocent and that Mayella was actually beat up by her father. There are many different types of prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird and they are all dealt with in different way. The whole novel is based on the cultural and social background against which the novel was written. The civil rights movement had a lot to do with the way that Harper Lee wrote about the prejudice.
The novel was written through a childs perspective and this shows us how the children deal with the prejudice in Maycomb County, but we are also told about the adults viewpoints such as Atticus and Aunt Alexandra. Harper Lee begins the story with the innocent perspective of Scout and ends the story with a Scout that has changed greatly, but a Scout who still retains her non-prejudiced thoughts.
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Research essay sample on Prejudice In To Kill A Mockingbird