Racism has been present in our societies from the time races first collided and were forced to live in each other’s presence. The Blacks were enslaved for many centuries before it was made illegal in most countries during the 1800s. However, racism and prejudice continue to be present in the 20th century, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. During these years, political triggers in England and the United States, drastically changed racism, with numerous consequences.
The novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee explores the notion of racism in a small southern town in the United States during the depression whereas the novel To Sir With Love, by E. R Braithwaite deals with racism and prejudice in a post-war Britain. The history during the time these novels were written and published was very influential to the authors and success of the books. Both authors’ lives were very significant in the plot of these novels as both show autobiographical contents. The development of the main characters of both novels show the effect of prejudices in their behavior and thoughts and how this changes as they mature.
The elements of fiction are present in both novel; the setting, themes and motifs contain important life lessons and deep connotations. Finally, the perspective from the prejudiced, the colored main character in both novels show their view and thoughts throughout the plot and we see their prejudices against the whites disappear. But what causes a person to hate and feel superior to another person simply based on the color of their skin? Fear and ignorance are the main reason for the segregation between races. Fear of the unknown is a natural concern, which is why many fearful people are racist.
People like security, which is why fear intrudes when an abnormality becomes present in their lives. The time in which the novel To Kill a Mockingbird was written, was a time of great revolution due to racism in the United States. The years 1950 and 1960 were extremely significant in the American history. A new president was elected, then murdered for being against racism. Martin Luther King Jr. made a scandalous speech and the KKK made many disturbing advances towards the anti-racism community. This was a dangerous time for anyone of color or anyone who supported them. President John F. Kennedy was elected as resident in 1960 in the midst of a Cold War with the Soviet Union and a quarrel with Cuba. A revolution against racism and slavery was also boiling, creating great protest and unrest. It goes without saying that Kennedy presided in a country filled with discontent. Kennedy was a supporter of human rights and of the black community, which was a heated topic in the 1960s. He was the first president to show sympathy and take action against the severe discrimination of blacks in America. Especially in the south, black people were hated, forced into slavery, treated as animals and disrespected. Martin Luther King Jr. epresented the beginning of the end for the torment endured by the Negroes during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1955, Luther King lead a bus boycott which lasted 382 days with the ultimate goal of rejecting the segregation between whites and blacks on busses. This lead to King’s arrest and imprisonment, and his home’s destruction. “Against the advice of several key campaign strategists, Kennedy called Coretta Scott King on October 26 to offer help in securing her husband’s safe release . . . The African American vote went heavily for Kennedy across the nation, providing the winning margin in several states”(Flor).
In 1963, Martin Luther King made his famous « I have a dream » speech, which scandalized the nation. This was an important trigger in the civil rights movement as it brought to light the great impact of discrimination on the Blacks. The KKK (Ku Klux Klan) makes its third major appearance in the 1950s with the beginning of the civil rights movement. They hate Black people and make this known through their violent actions against them. They brutally murder Negroes and Whites who support the civil rights while the police and government stand and watch; often, members of the clan were police officers. During the Freedom Rides, Birmingham police allowed the Klan to beat the protesters for a quarter of an hour before intervening. ” (Keko) The police also neglect their duties, ignoring the many murders, attacks, and vandalism and refusing to intervene. It is estimated that the KKK bombed forty homes belonging to colored families between the years 1951 and 1952. The clan’s devastating effects are especially present in the south of the United States, particularly in Alabama and Mississippi In England, racism was also omnipresent in society.
Post-war immigration brought a large amount of multi-racial families to England. In 1950, “Britain invited workers from the Caribbean, especially Jamaica, to fill job vacancies such as labourers and transport workers in order to help rebuild post war Britain. ” (Crystal) The number of multiracial immigrants continued to increase immensely during the following years, until the government imposed strict regulations to lower immigration. Colored immigrants could now only settle in England if they had parents or grandparents already settled there, or if they had a work permit.
When the economy started dropping in the early 1960s, the colored people ? although most are more skilled than their white co-workers? were the first to be laid off. Britons referred to themselves as non-racists but it was not un-common to find signs in city bars, stores, and restaurants, which read “no Blacks, no Irish, no dogs” (which clearly indicates the way the immigrants were treated) In the novel To Sir With Love, E. R Braithwaite expresses his country’s hypocrisy by saying: “In Britain, I found things to be very different.
I have yet to meet a single English person who has actually admitted to anti-Negro prejudice; it is even generally believed that no such thing exists here. A Negro is free to board any bus or train and sit anywhere, provided he has paid the appropriate fare; the fact that many people might pointedly avoid sitting next to him is casually overlooked. He is free to seek accommodation in any licensed hotel or boarding house – the courteous refusal which frequently follows is never ascribed to prejudice. The betrayal I now felt was greater because it had been perpetrated with the greatest of charm and courtesy. (Braithwaite 49) American history was of great influence to Harper Lee when writing To Kill a Mockingbird. She lived in Alabama, where the civil rights movement was most prevalent. Some aspects of the novel may even be seen as autobiographical. Like Scout Finch – the main character of the novel – Lee was a tomboy throughout her childhood and was the daughter of the small town lawyer of Monroeville Alabama. She had a “summer friend”, a boy who stayed with her next-door-neighbour and spent most of her time with her older brother.
Lee even chose her mother’s maiden name for her main characters, giving the novel a very personal aspect. To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930s, at the time of Lee’s childhood. It is set at a time where racism and discrimination were not words of common use. The Blacks’ segregation was not considered a crime, or even morally wrong; it had always been that way, and no one thought any different. Atticus is very different, morally and spiritually than most people of that time. His wise knowledge and mentality outcasts him from the small town and time period he lives in.
The novel is not only shocking for the 1930s but especially for the 1960s when racism was a very reserved subject – although it was very present in society. This novel shocked its early readers for it was the first time that society was invited to “climb into [the Blacks’] skin and walk around in it. ” (Lee 39) Edward Ricardo Braithwaite’s novel, published in the same year, shows exactly what Lee attempts to show: a Negro’s point of view on racism. He explains, in very emotional ways, how racism affected his life, and how his skin color affected his career.
Braithwaite is famous for writing many autobiographical books, dealing with racism, values, and social conditions. Originally from British Guyana, he studied in the United States before serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II. Like many other competent South-American men, he moved to London, hoping to put his engineering skills to good use. However, because of the excessive immigration of colored families, Braithwaite was refused employment multiple times before he settled for a teaching position in London’s east end.
Braithwaite continued as a social worker for black children, a teacher, a writer, and was even granted Guyana’s representation to the United Nations. Braithwaite’s life was greatly affected by racism, both against him and to others. His travels have given him the opportunity to experience racism throughout the world, in the United States, England, and South Africa. His novel To Sir With love describes his life when teaching in a high school while living in London. His life experiences and knowledge lead him to evaluate the Britons’ lack of knowledge.
Braithwaite describes their ignorance of other cultures and races in the following statement “They knew that Jamaica produced sugar, rum and bananas, that Nigeria produced cocoa, and that British Guiana had large natural resources; but these names, though as familiar as the products with which they were associated, were of places far away, and no one seemed really interested in knowing anything about the peoples who lived there or their struggles towards political and economic betterment. (Braithwaite 94) Braithwaite clearly states that racism in England is based on the unknown; people prefer to ignore other races and isolate them rather than gain knowledge from them. The main character in the novel To Sir With Love is challenged with learning about racism and colored people. In London, England, the students are first very difficult after meeting their new teacher. It is unknown whether this determination to discompose their teacher is due to his skin color, or is casual practice. The leading student in the class, Pamela Dare, seems at first quite scared and intimidated by Mr.
Braithwaite, staying out of the way as much as she can. It is after he introduces a new approach, where he treats the students as adults, that she takes a liking to him. From then on, she takes her responsibilities with great maturity, trying her best to impress her new teacher. To Pamela, her teacher’s skin color does not seem to affect her behavior around him. She is not afraid of prejudices and refuses to take a part in them – to believe in them. She even takes it upon her to protect and defend her teacher against society’s watchful eye.
Pamela makes a very striking and important entrance in the novel, showing her importance in the story. By running into Mr. Braithwaite in the beginning, she makes an impact on his view of the school, and foreshadows her return in the following chapters. In the beginning of the novel, she appears to be an immature promiscuous girl, who, despite her intelligence, has no ambition in life. Her collision with Mr. Braithwaite during his first visitation to the school may represent the impact he later has on her life or the sudden stop to her childish indifference. It is the way Mr.
Braithwaite treats her which seems to spark a change in her. She is very pleased to be treated as a grown woman and takes this matter very seriously, demanding respect from her male peers, and showing ambition and maturity. She shows a very morally mature side, especially when it comes to bringing flowers to a classmate, following his mother’s death. When a classmate makes a comment saying that the girls cannot bring him flowers because of what others would say if they saw a girl going to a colored home, Pamela daringly takes it upon herself to pay her respects.
Pamela’s behavior towards her colored classmate is very mature, based on the fact that she takes time to understand and know others before judging them, regardless of color and race. She volunteers to take flowers to her classmate’s home, justifying this by saying “Sir, gossips don’t worry me. After all, I’ve known Seales since in the infants. ” In this instant, Pamela completely disregards Seales’ race and rather focusing on her personal relation with her classmate. She may not have done this had she not known him, but because of her close friendship with Seales, she was able to put his color aside and regard him as a person.
Pamela also proves her indifference towards colored people when Mr. Braithwaite cuts himself and Potter makes a remark on his blood’s color: “’Blimey, red blood’ ‘what did you expect fat boy? Ink? ’ she hissed at him . . . Poor Potter was flushed with embarrassment and stammered ‘I didn’t mean anything, sir, what I meant was, your colour is only skin deep’” (Braithwaite 125) Pamela is obviously completely careless about a person’s color. Potter however, who is more prejudicial, was very surprised to see that Mr. Braithwaite was identical to him that his color changed nothing about his person.
This emphasises ignorance about multiracial people in England. Pamela serves as a sort of bridge between the two races; although she is white, she sympathises and feels for the black. Denham also changes considerably throughout the course of the novel. He begins the novel as the leader of the male students in Braithwaite’s classroom. Once Mr. Braithwaite initiates his new plan in the classroom – to treat the students like adults – most students are won over, especially the girls who are not used to being respected by men. Denham however, refuses to address the girls as Miss or show any respect for the new system.
This is when he begins to lose the girls’ interest, which upsets him. Being used to having the girls’ full attention, Denham is very unhappy at having to be more respectful in order to achieve what he wants. The girls who now have a better self esteem and respect demand good hygiene and respect. Blaming this on Braithwaite, he challenges him to a boxing match, in order to attempt to impress the girls. Instead, they express more concern towards their teacher than to Denham. Denham’s defeat changes his attitude, forfeiting to Braithwaite and the girls’ demand for respect.
Jean (Scout) Louise Finch is To Kill a Mockingbird’s narrator and main character. Scout portrays an objective and innocent view on her society as she doesn’t yet understand her surroundings. As a six year old, she values enormously her father and older brother’s opinions, and is naive enough to believe the prejudices and lies rumored through the town. Having not yet formed her own opinion, she is very curious and intelligent about matters, which may have incited her nickname (Scout). In the first part of the novel, the main theme is innocence of childhood.
It revolves mostly around Jem, Scout and Dill’s summers, school and family. We are shown Scout’s competitive side and the lack of her lady-like manners, which gets her into a number of adventures throughout the novel. She is very protective of her father and this, and a short temper, combines to create many physical fights between her and classmates. Through many ‘injustices’ towards Scout, she learns to better behave, and her thrive to make her father proud and happy adds to her better behavior throughout the second part of the novel. This part revolves around racism and injustice, and the wisdom of Atticus through it all.
Scout grows immensely as a person, with the help of her family, to better understand her community. By putting herself in others’ shoes, she learns to pity and sympathise with others, no matter their social class or race. It is when Scout goes to Calpurnia’s church, that she truly believes Tom Robinson’s innocence in the accusations against him. After hearing about his good side from his friends and family rather than a hateful side from the townspeople, Scout truly understands that every person has a good comes with a baggage of love brought by family and friends; and to see this, one must get to know them.
In the end of the novel, Scout’s sensitive side is shown when she meets Boo Radley. She understands the falsity of her childhood beliefs about Boo, and seems to feel some pity for believing such lies without knowing Mr. Radley. It can also be argued that discrimination against Boo Radley is present throughout the novel. Although he is not of color, he is different from others, which brings him unwanted attention. In this case, discrimination surfaces because of fear; fear of the unknown, of difference and of an unexplained phenomenon.
The unknown leads to the use of imagination, which is often much worse than reality. In the following quote, Scout’s imagination prove to be much more intimidating than the real Boo Radley: Every night-sound I heard from my cot on the back porch was magnified three-fold; every scratch of feet on gravel was Boo Radley seeking revenge, every passing Negro laughing in the night was Boo Radley loose and after us; insects splashing against the screen were Boo Radley’s insane fingers picking the wire to pieces; the chinaberry trees were malignant, hovering, alive. Lee84) After meeting Boo, Scout takes a liking to him, which proves that when time is taken to do so, knowing someone can create a friendship whereas refusing to know someone prolongs the unknown. After meeting Boo, Scout says to her father ‘”Atticus, he was real nice. ’” To which he replies “‘Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them. ’”(Lee 376) The setting in Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, is very important to the novel’s plot as the town is inevitably subjected to prejudice, because of its small population.
Taking place in the small town of Maycomb county, the story begins through the narration of Scout Finch, now an adult, who recalls her childhood memories. This allows a mature vocabulary and description, but an innocent and objective view of the plot. Maycomb County is described as being populated by mostly agriculturalists suffering from the great depression. The Finch family is rather well off, compared to others in the County which sometimes eases Scout’s pride. The isolation and lack of education of the small town leads them to form their own opinion, due to a lack of influence from the outside world.
The novel revolves very much around the notion of morality and equality between social classes. As a lawyer, Atticus values these things very much and instills them in his children. Social barriers are also very present in the novel but Atticus stresses the importance of getting to know someone before believing rumours about them. Familes’ deep roots in Maycomb county lead to their judgement based upon their family’s reputation rather than their individuality. The Cunninghams are described as good people, induced into suffering by the Great Depression.
Below them, are the Ewells, described as poor, dirty, and deplorable, who still stand above (in social hierarchy) the Negroes. This shows how dishonorable the colored families were considered in Maycomb County, simply because of their color. An essay by Sara Constantakis suggests that “They [the people of Maycomb] cannot see beyond their own prejudice, ingrained in them all their lives” (Constantakis ) which is why they cannot see beyond the prejudices imposed on others. Racism overrules the social classes however, segregating the whites and the blacks during the trial. The twelve local men on the jury still take the word of the disreputable Ewells against that of a black man. Bob Ewell may be despised, but racial solidarity still rules the day. ” (Constantakis) There are many symbols present in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the main one being the mockingbird which symbolises innocence. Both Boo Radley and Tom Robinson are described as being mockingbirds in the novel as they are simply “innocent creatures that do nothing but make music for us to enjoy” (Telgen) Boo Radley does not interact much with his surroundings as he prefers to keep to himself.
He therefore promotes neither good nor evil. As a neutral character, he represents innocence surrounded by the evil of human nature. Contrary to the rumors, Boo does not eat raw squirrels or poison pecan nuts for the school children to eat. He leaves presents for Jem and Scout and cares for his ‘friends’, whether by wrapping Scout in a blanket while she stands in the cold (during the house fire at Miss. Maudie’s house) or saving Jem and Scout from an attacker, he proves his affection towards the children, thus proving his integrity.
Tom Robinson is also an innocent character, staying clear of the devil’s advocate and doing as much good as he can for the Ewells, a family in need. The term ‘to kill a mockingbird’ would be to rape one of his innocence through the use of evil. It is therefore fair to say that the jury who convicts Tom Robinson of raping Mayella Ewell ‘kill a mockingbird’. A man who commits no crime, who is good and charitable and innocent is a mockingbird, and the jury, formed of townspeople, who are prejudicial and racist, display the evil of society.
The east-england setting in the novel To Sir With Loveis very significant as social classes and prejudice are very present from the whites and the blacks. The novel To Sir With Love, explores mainly the theme of innocence and prejudice The theme of innocence and naivety is shown within the students of Mr. Braithwaite’s classroom. The students in the beginning of the novel have an excessive level of confidence and pride, which shows their naivety. They are not interested in anything they are taught, as if they believe they will be successful in life without an education.
As Mr. Braithwaite takes over the classroom, the students lose their confidence and pride, realizing the hard truth of the outside world. They are no longer over-confident in their actions and constantly seek guidance. The students slowly lose their innocence as they face reality, losing their sense of security. Not only does the novel explore prejudice towards the black, but it also views the prejudices imposed on the people of Aldgate from an educated point of view. Being the novel’s protagonist, Mr. Braithwaite is sympathised for during his numerous attempts at finding employment in post-war England. His efforts remain fruit-less because of his skin color and prejudices against his race. T
he extensive immigration during the 1950s occurred over a very short period of time, giving the Britons very little time to adjust to the unknown race overwhelming their country. In the beginning of the novel, while Mr. Braithwaite is on a bus, going to visit the school in Aldgate, a woman refuses to sit next to Mr. Braithwaite. While commenting about her prejudice against him, he also makes an unwilling prejudice against her “My quick anger at the woman’s undisguised prejudice was surprisingly tinctured by a certain admiration for her fearless superior attitude; she was more than a match for them. What a superior bitch! . . . What a smooth elegant superior bitch! ” (Braithwaite 9) The lack of education in Aldgate leads the people to believe everything they hear almost as a desperate attempt to gain somewhat of an education.
The prejudices in this novel are however more geared towards the people of Aldgate than the Negroes. When Mr. Braithwaite first visits the school in Aldgate, he seems disgusted by the students by having only looked into their classroom. Mr. Braithwaite and his students belong to two different social classes; educated versus delinquent and white versus black. The many prejudices made against Braithwaite because of his color and against the students for their lack of education may be what causes them to be so prejudicial against others. Mr. Braithwaite’s view on the people of Aldgate changes drastically through the course of the novel. His narration permits us to understand his point of view and foregone conclusions towards his environment. Before he even meets the children, the teachers have instilled in him a certain bitterness towards the students. When Mr. Braithwaite asks Mrs. Dale-Evans if “the children are hard to manage” she answers with “I find them difficult, but then, you see, I’ve no real experience of teaching. They’re so frightfully grown up and sure of themselves, I think I’m a little bit afraid of them.
The boys are not bad, but the girls have a way of looking at me, sort of pityingly, as if they’re so much older and wiser than I am. ” (Braithwaite 32) Mr. Florian also discourages Mr. Braithwaite when he warns them about the students “’You will soon discover that many of them smoke, use bad language and are often rather rude. ’” This only adds to Mr. Braithwaite’s negative opinion about the students. His disgust at the children’s behavior is unchanged through his first few months of teaching.
However, after he stops pitying them and decides to treat them like adults, he begins to see their true individual personalities as they strive to impress him. After Mr. Braithwaite takes the time to know his students, he sees their inner beauty. As the novel progresses, Mr. Braithwaite finds himself loving the students. This shows how prejudices are easily made against strangers before one knows them. Braithwaite discovers the students’ bad attitudes are a way of protecting themselves against the cruel and hard world they live in. Tom Robinson’s view on his society is very limited in To Kill a Mockingbird.