Sunday, January 1, 2012

Prejudice and Isolation in To Kill A Mocking Bird

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To Kill A Mockingbird was written around a time where Jim Crow laws and interracial marriage laws were in affect. This novel focused a lot on prejudice and the relationships between whites and African Americans in the southern United States. Maycomb had very different rules for blacks and whites. There were many incidents where prejudice was explored and experienced by the town. Jem and Scout learned a lot about prejudice from Atticus, Miss Maudie, Aunt Alexandra, Calpurnia, and the town.

Prejudice was viewed very differently from person to person in Maycomb. Miss Maudie was a very unique being. She loved to garden, but even she liked the weeds that sometimes were in her garden. Miss Maudie’s feelings toward her plants were symbolic to the way some town people felt about others. Scout recollected, “[Miss Maudie] loved everything that grew in God’s green earth, even the weeds. With one exception. If she found a blade of nut grass in her yard it was like the Second Battle of the Marne.” Miss Maudie explained that “one sprig of nut grass can ruin a whole yard” (4). This gave you two points of view on the overall story the Ewells were the nut grasses or the African Americans were the nut grasses.

Furthermore, the town continued to play a role in the development of prejudice of Maycomb. When Jem was in the Radley yard, and Mr. Nathan Radley was shooting at him the town automatically assumed the trespasser was black. The town said, “Mr. Radley shot at a Negro in his collard patch” (54). No one had any proof that the trespasser was black. There was a stereotype that just made them assume the trespasser was black. Mr. Radley further degraded blacks by saying that “he won’t aim high, be it dog, or be it nigger” (54). He was comparing a black person to an animal. In another town incident, Bob Ewell declared on the stand, “Jedge, I’ve asked this county for fifteen years to clean out that nest down yonder, they’re dangerous to live around ‘sides devaluin’ my property�” (175). Also during the trial, Scout learned that Mayella experienced a lot what mixed children do “white people wouldn’t have anything to do with her because she lived among pigs; Negroes wouldn’t have anything to do with her because she was white” (1). There was class prejudice just as much as race prejudice in a town. Atticus also explained that when it was a white man’s word against a black man’s word, the white man would always win. There was also misunderstanding as to why the children sat in the colored balcony. Miss Stephanie Crawford didn’t understand why they would choose to sit there. She thought that maybe Atticus wanted them to sit there so he could prove a point in court. A lot of the town people can’t understand why the blacks are dissatisfied in the world. Scout’s teacher, Miss Gates, said, “It’s time somebody taught them a lesson, they were gettin’ way above themselves, an’ the next thing they think they can do is marry us.” Scout thought, “How can you hate Hitler so bad an’ then turn around and be ugly about the folks right at home�” (47).

Jem and Scout were raised by a group of people Aunt Alexandra, Calpurnia, and of course, Atticus. They had different influences on the children. Calpurnia felt that the children should speak the proper way for white children. She wasn’t racist; she was simply acting in a way that was consistent with life in the southern United States during the time period. Dill and Jem were also prejudice towards Scout because she was a girl. So they sometimes didn’t invite her to play with them. Scout also realized that she, Jem, and Dill affected much of the same kinds of prejudices on boo Radley that Maycomb did on Tom Robinson. Scout saw that he couldn’t possibly be capable of the frantic rumors she’s always heard. Now they were able to understand how Maycomb felt towards the people on the fringe of society.

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Atticus was a major part in the development of prejudice, but he had no prejudice in him. He had no problem with his children attending Calpurnia’s church, or with Calpurnia raising his children. He didn’t allow any racial slurs to be spoken. He went to a black community to tell Helen of her husband’s, Tom Robinson, death. Most people would’ve sent a messenger to tell her the news. Therefore, he wasn’t racist. He wasn’t affected by Mrs. Duboses sarcastic language, Miss Stephanie’s gossip, or even Walter Cunningham’s death threat. He didn’t fight back when Bob Ewell spit in his face because he knew that he hurt Bob’s pride and that was bad enough. Atticus accepted those people because he was an expert at getting into someone’s head and irritating them until they saw the light.

In contrast to Atticus, Aunt Alexandra had different views of prejudice. Her prejudices were against blacks. Aunt Alexandra assumed that Calpurnia would take her bags when she arrived at the Finch house. Jem ended up doing it. Scout formed a caste system of Maycomb county due to Aunt Alexandra’s influence. “The older citizens, the present generation of people who had lived side by side for years and years, were utterly predictable to one another” (11). Scout later learned that living side by side for years doesn’t change human nature. Jem explained to Scout the real caste system of Maycomb County. “There’s four kind 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 at the dump, and the Negroes“ (6). Jem said it didn’t get much more simply than that.+ Aunt Alexandra didn’t want the children to visit Calpurnia’s church or even be raised by her. She said, “I don’t think the children have suffered one bit having her brought them up. If anything, she’s been harder on them in some ways than a mother would have been” (17). Aunt Alexandra didn’t want Scout to be around Walter Cunningham Jr. because Finch women shouldn’t be interested in trash. Aunt Alexandra called Walter trash. At this point, Scout was thoroughly confused. She didn’t know what being a lady was all about. She didn’t know if Atticus or Aunt Alexandra was right.

In conclusion, out of all of the prejudices the children had come across, they grew up knowing the truth. Scout knew how to be a lady. She knew what prejudices were and what true bravery was. She knew how to be the better person. In these times, blacks had different sitting in restaurants and even courthouses as you see in the novel. They had different drinking fountains, restrooms, and special places on the bus. Ironically, four black people gave their seats in the “colored balcony” in the courtroom to Dill, Jem, Scout, and Reverend Skyes. This just showed that times would change eventually. Maybe not then, but sometime. Prejudices were all around, but it took children to see the light; the light of love and compassion to all. Even children had prejudices that needed to be overcome. They learned form their mistakes. They saw the prejudices they were inflicting on Boo Radley. The children learned a lot from the people around them. As do we. There are still prejudices today, but we still learn.

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