How Are Prejudice and Hypocrisy Explored in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”?

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In the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, Harper Lee brings the readers to the roots of human nature – prejudice and hypocrisy. She deliberately isolates various characters and cleverly depicts the way it is used through the eyes of Scout and Jem, innocent children of Atticus Finch who is a rightful and respected lawyer. Although Maycomb seems riddled with such despicable attributes, there are still some moments of hope.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was mainly focused in the 1930s, although slavery was abolished, they enforced racial segregation between the white and black community. Hypocrisy and prejudice is seen in many ways throughout the novel, it not only does evolve around the black and white community, is also engulfs an entire white community itself. In Harper Lee’s Maycomb, hypocrisy and prejudice is demonstrated within a focus of events such as the Tom Robinson case, and various characters such as Calpurnia, the Cunninghams, the Ewell’s, Tom Robinson, and the Finch family.

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The Tom Robinson case in one of the main events where prejudice and hypocrisy is focused on. As we can see, there is no way for Tom Robinson, the novel’s main mockingbird, to win the case due to his skin colour. “Tom Robinson was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth.” Sadly, ignoring justice and social order, we can see a presupposed conclusion for the Tom Robinson case, a shameful and stubborn “moral” (inequality in the 1930s) code that the word of a black man will always be weaker than a white person’s one.

To the powerful white community, this “code of conduct” will supposedly maintain social order. During the case, Bob Ewell claims “I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!” Testifying in court, Bob Ewell uses the worse possible words in the English language to refer to Tom Robinson. The phrase “Black Nigger” suggests that all he sees of Tom is his skin colour, who is only a black man. He does not even use the words “He”, “Tom” or “Mr Robinson”, but just “Black Nigger”.

Furthermore, the use of “Rutting” is referred to animals, defining Tom Robinson only worth as much as an animal. Prejudice can also be seen from Mr Gilmer towards reference to Tom Robinson, he says “”You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?” Mr. Gilmer seemed ready to rise to the ceiling… Below us, nobody liked Tom Robinson’s answer. Mr. Gilmer paused a long time to let it sink in.” Because Tom Robinson pities Mayella Ewell and decides to help her, and due to strong racial segregation, a black person feeling sorry for a white woman is totally unacceptable, given by a black person’s low status, feeling sorry for a white woman would put themselves in a higher position.

In Atticus’s final speech he says “–the evil assumption– that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women… There is not a person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing” This passage suggests the racial patterns prevalent in Maycomb, that given by your skin colour, the person who you are underneath is already defined regardless of personality. Even worse, the white community assumes that all black people are rapists, dangerous, and immoral, which means that there can be no justice served for black people, that it is ironic that there is indeed no morality to stereotype an entire race of people.

In addition, during the missionary circle, Mrs Merriweather and her missionaries make negative remarks on the black community. Firstly, they intend on bringing peace and order in Africa to a tribe called the Mrunas. “Oh child, these poor Mrunas…Mrs Merriweather’s brown eyes filled with tears when she considered the oppressed…The poverty, the darkness, the immorality.” Mrs Merriweather wants to help the black tribe Mrunas, whom she considers lives in virtual oppression and sadness. This example espouses great emotional ignorance and moral blindness. Her team of missionaries are planning to improve situations in Africa, but ignore or do not realise the effect of Tom Robinson’s trial on Helen Robinson, who is widowed with fatherless children to feed. “We can educate ‘em till we’re blue in the face, we can try till we drop to make Christians out of ’em, but there’s no lady safe in her bed these nights.”

Mrs Merriweather believes that no matter how hard they try to educate the Mrunas, they’ll still never be educated. “no lady safe in their bed” Mrs Merriweather refers to the Tom Robinson case and says that all black men are very dangerous members of the community, ironically Tom Robinson has not committed any crime. She also ignores the fact of how the black community in Maycomb are the real people being “oppressed” and living in “poverty”. Meanwhile, rants about the Mruna culture as “Sin and Squalor”. Again, she recognises something that is not Christian as barbaric and uncivilised. “Mrs Merriweather was the most devout lady in Maycomb”, this quote tells me that she is a deeply devoted Christian who follows everything Christianity teaches. However, examples of Christian teachings are “God created everyone equal” and “love thy neighbour”.

Racial discrimination in Maycomb contradicts this. Christian teaching that there is no social status and hierarchy. In addition Helen Robinson is a good Christian, who deserves financial support but does not receive any. Moreover, she comments on Tom Robinson’s death as reckless and unintelligent. “To Maycomb, Tom’s death was typical. Typical for a nigger to cut and run. Typical of a nigger’s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind as fast as he saw.” This is a very racist comment which is deeply unfair and untrue, as she is stereotyping an entire race as being reckless, dull-witted and foolish. Tom Robinson had absolutely no choice, was fighting for his life. For Tom Robinson, it is entirely understandable that he couldn’t wait for an appeal and running away was his best chance to survive. In addition, she remarks “No woman is safe in their bed at night”

However, not only does prejudice and hypocrisy evolve around the white and black community, Harper Lee also includes prejudice within an entire race. For example, this happens when Aunt Alexandra does not approve of Scout’s permission to invite Walter Cunningham into their house and play with Scout. Aunt Alexandra says “But they’re not our kind of folks…he—is—trash, I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what.” Aunt Alexandra does not allow Scout to play with the Cunninghams, as she refers to them as lower-class citizens and does not look up to them. Playing with the Cunninghams would damage Scout’s reputation and would follow their bad habits. “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. Besides, there’s a drinking streak in that family a mile wide.

Finch women aren’t interested in that sort of people.” Aunt Alexandra believes that the Cunninghams are not worthy of respect because of their inferior history and bad reputation. She also despises them because they are poor. Aunt Alexandra believes that whatever the Cunninghams can achieve, their history of being lower-class citizens would not change the way they are as citizens of Maycomb nonetheless. Although the Cunninghams do not lend what they can’t pay back, voting “not guilty” of the Tom Robinson trial as they can relate to Tom Robinson’s injustice and respecting Atticus as a citizen and a lawyer, Aunt Alexandra does not recognise their dignity and integrity. This can be related to how the black community are, that because of the skin colour, the person beneath them is already defined.

However, Maycomb does have a good side, a side that is not entirely prejudiced and hypocritical. This can be seen from the court case, as Judge Taylor firstly chose Atticus as the lawyer for a reason, so Tom Robinson would have his best chance. “Judge Taylor would have had reasons for naming Atticus…It was no accident because he’s the only man in these parts who can keep up a jury out so long in a case like that” Ignoring racist perceptions on the black community, Judge Taylor did something that many people in Maycomb wouldn’t have done – he appointed Atticus to give Tom Robinson the best chance to win. Judge Taylor believes that Tom Robinson was innocent in the first place, and does not deserve to be found guilty for a crime he certainly didn’t commit.

Other signs of hope are seen when innocent children Jem and Dill are utterly disgusted by the way black people are being treated. “It makes me sick” and “It ain’t right” These two quotes from Dill and Jem suggest that they believe that it is not right to treat someone with different skin colour badly. Jem and Scout both are able to recognise the injustice of Tom Robinson’s persecution.

After the case, even Mr Underwood, who is totally irritated by black people, still sees that it is wrong to treat someone badly due to their race. “Mr Underwood didn’t talk about miscarriages of justice, he was writing so children would understand…senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters” Mr Underwood writes to children so that the future generation would understand, there is no way to change the stubborn minds of the current generation, as gives more hope and faith in the younger generation, and attempts to change the face of the community. Also, Tom Robinson’s death was of no apparent reason, but was harmed due to prejudice and strong racism.

In this novel, we see an upright, clean and respectable black man charged for a crime that he clearly didn’t commit, which epitomises how prejudice and hypocrisy is naturally adopted in human nature. Fortunately, as time progresses, we have seen and experienced many glimpses of hope for a world with less of these qualities, but we must admit the fact that it will never be ceased, that we faced it right from the dawn of human history and would still face it till the end.

The court case effect on Atticus. “Ruining the family” Francis “Nigger lover” Cecil Jacobs “Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!” Mrs Dubose. Atticus and his children have already received discrimination prior to the Tom Robinson court case, even worse, he also receives volleys of hideous insults from his own family. We can see that the community not only does not support Atticus defending a black man, but also despises him.

Mr Underwood also adds “Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters” A senseless slaughter of songbirds suggest that Tom Robinson is a Mockingbird, who was innocent and was killed for no apparent reason, but died because of racism and injustice. He is trying the shame the whole community. People understand this, but don’t take them seriously.

Also, Link Deas, the boss of now deceased Tom Robinson, makes a job for Helen Robinson. “Mr. Link Deas made a job for Helen. He didn’t really need her, but he said he felt right bad about the way things turned out.” When Mr Link Deas “Made” a job for Helen, this tells me that although he didn’t need her, he still felt sorry that Tom Robinson died wrongly and offered her a job so that she will be financially stable to raise her children and family.

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How Are Prejudice and Hypocrisy Explored in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”?. (2017, Oct 27). Retrieved from

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