Social Prejudices in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird
North America has always had the division of Northern and Southern
states within the continent. When Negroes were imported from their
native country, most of them ended up in the Southern states, working
mostly on cotton plantations. In 1850, over three million blacks lived
in the slave states, the vast majority of them being slaves to white
men. Generally, it was accepted by Southern whites that ‘all Negroes
lie, all Negroes [were] basically immoral beings’ and that they were
heathen, lazy and stupid.
The Civil War, most of which took place between 1861 and 1865, was
fought between the Northern and Southern states. The North states were
more industrialised and the South states were agricultural. This meant
that the North depended less on slavery, so they criticised the South.
Robert E. Lee surrendered on behalf of the South in 1865 which led to
the North imposing laws on to the South. Possibly the most significant
law passed was that which gave civil rights and freedom to all blacks.
The law may have been passed but it did not mean that everyone would
agree with it. This is one of the many issues covered in the novel.
To Kill A Mockingbird is set in the fictional town of Maycomb County,
a town very similar to that in which Harper Lee grew up. It is set in
the 1930s, at the time of the Great Depression. In Maycomb County, it
merely means that life goes from bad to worse. Born in Alabama in
1926, the author experienced a childhood similar to that of Scout, who
narrates the events taking place in this novel. However, the novel is
not an autobiography, it is merely an attempt to condemn racism and
other social prejudices including ageism. This must not be mistaken
with the condemning of white society and the novel contains the
fundamental advice that people are not necessarily evil, we just need
to understand them. Atticus is the character that shows the reader
this, and his does this by saying that ‘you never really understand a
person…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’.
Atticus is also one of the few characters in this book who give the
novel a sense of hope and this does not make the book depressing, as
we are aware that not all hope is lost. When everyone in the community
and the school are calling black people ‘niggers’, Atticus tells Scout
not to use this term as it is ‘common’. This is because he is an
educated man and knows that it is right to call them ‘Negroes’.
Another character who gives the novel a sense of hope is Miss Maudie,
who, in this particular instance, claims that ‘t’s morbid, watching a
poor devil on trial for his life’. She is referring to Tom Robinson
here and unlike Stephanie Crawford who is going to the court house to
have more to talk about, Miss Maudie is not a...