, Research Paper
Do You Think That Prejudice is a feature of life in Maycomb as seen in “To Kill a Mockingbird”?
The novel “To kill a mockingbird” was set in 1935, a period where prejudice and racism were encountered in everyday life. The small country town called Maycomb was very “old and private” and the people there were not subjected to anything different to their traditional ways and did not experience things that were beyond the boundaries of their town, and was therefore very narrow-minded. The town was bounded by generations of tradition which provided an essence for prejudice and discrimination. The attitudes, treatment and judgment of people such as Boo Radley, Tom Robinson and others clearly reflect the prejudice that exists within the town.
Racial divisions and hatred was a characteristic of Maycomb. The small town was made up of two major races, the whites and the Negroes. The whites, being the dominant race, disapproved of the black population and was weary about any association with them. The Negroes were out casts of the town and were considered the lower class of Maycomb, even lower than the true trash of the white community, the Ewells. The Negroes were referred to as niggers , trash among other dehumanizing names and they were stereotyped as violent, unclean and were unfit to blend with their community.
In Maycomb, Negroes were generally assumed guilty of any crime that a white man accuses them of because of the stereotypical ideas constructed about them. In this case, Tom Robinson was found guilty of the crime even though evidence and testimonies clearly indicate his innocence. The majority of the white community, not knowing the full story and the facts, automatically assume his guilt because he is the typical Negro and they do not recognize the other evidence that proves his innocence. Despite of Bob Ewell s reputation as a drunk, trash and a burden, the white community is willing to believe his questionable testimony over any black man s.
The mob of drunk men that came to the jail that night with intentions to hurt Tom Robinson showed their views of Negroes through violence, even willing to hurt Atticus in order to carry out the punishment in which they think was appropriate for the guilty Tom Robinson. They refuse to be open-minded or to wait for the official trial to begin.
In Maycomb, people were judged not only for the color of their but also for their social class and family history. Upper class were made up of white people with respectable family background and skills in particular fields. The lower class were considered to be the Negroes and whites such as the Ewells who were trash . Even the most respectable, wealthiest or the smartest Negro would never be considered to fit into upper class because the upper class were not willing to accept and mix with the lower class or Negroes.
Aunt Alexandra, like many others, believe that you are born into a class and should therefore act accordingly. When Scout wanted to invite Walter Cunningham to dinner, her Aunt strongly objects and explains that” .they’re good folks. But they’re not our kind of folks” pg.247 She also adds that “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”
Since several generations of the Cunninghams were considered low class, Aunt Alexandra judges Walter by his family history and shows that she does not want to relate to him in any way.
Mixing of different classes were not desirable as it meant the roots of upper class was no longer pure because you have mixed with lower class. This division is revealed when the ladies of Aunt Alexandra s Missionary Society openly admit that “down here we ll just say, you live your way and we ll live ours” pg.258, Mrs. Merriweather
Mayella Ewell stepped over these divisions by flirting with a black man which was unacceptable in those days, and had “broken a code of their society” pg.224 This rape trial was in fact based on Mayella s actions because the Ewell s knew they had to use Robinson as a scapegoat for if the truth had been exposed, society will turn its back on Mayella and she would no longer be accepted in society.
Another example of the town s disapproval of mixing of classes, culture and race is Mr. Dolphus Raymond who married a Negro woman and produced mixed children, unacceptable in the eyes of the white community. The mixed children were disadvantage because “They don t belong anywhere .so they re just in betweens” Jem pg. 177 In order for the folks to stop hassling him on this matter, he had to pretend that he was an alcoholic so that people would stop commenting and gossiping him about having a black wife.
Jem and Scout clearly saw the prejudice that existed in their town and wondered why these divisions still endure ” there s just one kind of folks. Folks” Scout pg.250
The “normal” community were also prejudice of those who had different beliefs, values and ways of living. By standing up for what he believed in, Atticus and his family paid the ultimate price. Atticus Finch chose to go against the Maycomb s traditional codes of trashy blacks and upper whites and opposed of segregation, intolerance and racial inequality. But many of the folks were displeased that Atticus wanted to defend a black trash man but he stood strong and defended Tom whole-heartedly and was highly respected by the black community ” but Atticus aims to defend this nigger. That s what I don t like about it.”pg.180
The missionary society considered Atticus to be foolish and misguided pg.257 and could not comprehend with his actions.
Attitudes toward Atticus were unpleasant and heartbreaking, “Your father (Atticus) is no better than the niggers and the trash he works for.” Pg.113, Mrs. Dubose.
Children and adults alike taunted the Finches with names and threats such as nigger-lover Atticus wisely explains to his Scout what a nigger lover is ignorant and trashy people use it when they think somebody s favouring Negroes over and above themselves ..ugly term to label somebody. Pg.120
Boo Radley was also an outcast of the Maycomb community because he chooses to stay inside his house. People, children especially, believed that Boo was a threat to Maycomb and stories were made up about him, “Boo was about six and a half feet tall, his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.” p.14 The town s gossip, Miss Crawford told everybody everything about the Radleys and their queer ways, assuming she knew everything. The stories that she told that were passed through many ears and caused people to become unnecessarily fearful and wrongly perceived the Radley place and the Radleys.
Prejudice is a distinctive characteristic of Maycomb that has covered several areas from racial hatred to social discrimination. The common verdict in all of these incidents are as a result of intolerance and lack of understanding. People such as Mrs. Dubose, the upper class and the accepted population of Maycomb failed to understand the ways of several individuals and the Negroes and considered things from their point of view. They expressed their intolerance and prejudice through violence, inacceptance and treatment toward them.