A Story of Racial Injustice, Sexism and Prejudice in to Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird is a story of racial injustice, sexism, and many other types of prejudice. Perhaps the most obvious form of prejudice found in the novel is racism. Tom Robinson was a hardworking, charitable person, who always put the needs of others above his own, but because of his skin colour. He was chosen as a target of racial prejudice, by those too ignorant to recognize his kindness, and care for all those around him. The 35-year-old, husband of three would never hurt a soul.

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Tom Robinson was found guilty and convicted by an all white jury for a crime he did not commit, the rape of Mayella Ewell, on the night of November the 21st. The trial, and death of Tom Robinson is just one instance of racial prejudice found in the novel, but maybe one of the strongest issues of racism which exists. Atticus Finch once said,

“It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird (Lee 90).”

So why did death come to Tom Robinson, such a kind hearted loving person, whose only true sin was pity for a white woman. There are many other instances in To Kill A Mockingbird where racism is clearly shown. When Aunt Alexandra makes her first appearance in the novel, she says to Calpurnia,

“Put my bags in the front bedroom, Calpurnia (Lee 127).” This shows the lack of respect and feeling of superiority that Aunt Alexandra has for Calpurnia, because of the colour of her skin.

The inhabitants of the small Southern town of Maycomb are so unaware of their words that racism and racial slander has become a ‘normal’ everyday thing, children grow seeing nothing wrong in being racist. Racial slander is so commonly used that it is clearly seen that even the author of the novel does not realize the wrong in it. Sexism is also shown throughout the novel.

“Atticus,” he said, “why don’t people like us and Miss Maudie ever sit on juries? You never see anybody from Maycomb on a jury-they all come from out in the woods.” Atticus leaned back in his rocking chair. For some reason he looked pleased with Jem.

“I was wondering when that’d occur to you,” he said. “There are lots of reasons. For one thing, Miss Maudie can’t serve on a jury because she’s a woman.”

“You mean women in Alabama can’t-?” I was indignant. “I do. I guess it’s to protect our frail ladies from sordid cases like Tom’s. Besides,” Atticus grinned, “I doubt if we’d ever get a complete case tried-the ladies’d be interrupting to ask questions (Lee 221).”

In this quote taken from the novel, Atticus explains to his children that women are frail and weak, which is why they cannot be present on the jury. From this and other points in the novel it is clear that traditional Southern men believe women are weak, and should be protected from anything they see unfit for a woman to witness. This is a clear example of sexism in the novel. Jean Louise Finch is constantly being told to put on her dress, and act like a ‘normal’ little girl should act. When Uncle Jack Finch asks Jean Louise to come sit with him and talk, he says to her,

“…you’ll get in trouble if you go around saying things like that. You want to be a lady, don’t you? (Lee 79).”

In saying this he is implying that she is not using proper language for a woman, and only men can speak in profane language. He is telling her that is she continues to use this type of language she will not become a lady.

While sitting in the living room of her home. Jean Louise is asked what she wanted to be when she grows up. When she replies with,

“…just a lady (Lee 230).” Miss Stephanie who is present says.

“While you wont get very far until you start wearing dresses more often.”

This is another example of sexism shown in the novel.

“Aunt Alexandra was fanatical on the subject of my attire. I could not possibly hope to be a lady if I wore breeches; when I said I could do nothing in a dress, she said I wasn’t supposed to be doing things that required pants (Lee 81)”

“Don’t you contradict me!” Mrs Dubose bawled. “And you!” She pointed her arthritic finger at me, “What are you doing in those overalls? You should be in a dress and camisole, young lady (Lee 101).”

Yet again Jean Louise is being told which way it is believed young ladies should dress, and Aunt Alexandra acting as a mother figure constantly insists on Jean Louise behaving like a young girl should behave.

Sexism like racism is such a common thing in Maycomb, that the women have accepted it as part of their lives. They see nothing wrong with being seen as week and frail, and do not consider themselves women unless wearing a dress, speaking in proper language, and behaving with proper table manners. Like Jean Louise, the women of Maycomb have grown surrounded in sexism. They have not realized that the image of a woman, which is being portrayed in Maycomb, is fictional, and is an example of sexual prejudice.

Another type of prejudice which exists in the novel is prejudice based on social class. Social class prejudice is based strongly on financial standing, and social acceptance. The Ewells, and the Cunninghams were farmers, so the crash of the stock market affected them a great deal. In the novel, the Ewells and the Cunninghams are considered lower class, because of their financial standing. They have less money than most other people of Maycomb, so they are looked down at, and seen as lower class. Although the Ewells and the Cunninghams are both poor, the Cunninghams are looked at as being above the Ewells in social class.

“The Cunninghams never took anything they can’t pay back-no church baskets, and no scrip stamps (Lee 20).” “Atticus said the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations. None of them had done an honest days work in his recollection (Lee 30).”

It is simple to see why the people of Maycomb respect the Cunninghams, more than the Ewells. While the Cunninghams never take anything they cannot pay back, the Ewells are people who will lye, cheat, and steal to get what they want. For this reason, the Cunninghams are higher in social class than the Ewells, but they are both lower in social class than the rest of Maycomb’s people, and are both victims of social prejudice. Life in the small Southern town of Maycomb was filled with prejudice; racial prejudice, sexual prejudice, and prejudice towards those who have been socially unaccepted, or have a lower financial standing. Jean Louise Finch grows up surrounded in this prejudice, she tells us the stories of her encounters with prejudice, and the opinions of the people of Maycomb who live it. The people of Maycomb were unaware of the human rights violations which they were guilty of; from whom would their education have come?

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A Story of Racial Injustice, Sexism and Prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. (2022, Feb 12). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/a-story-of-racial-injustice-sexism-and-prejudice-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird-by-harper-lee/