Prejudice in to kill a mockingbird

Table of Content

Prejudice, which is arguably the dominant theme of the novel, is directed at both groups and individuals within the Maycomb community. This prejudice is intertwined with notions of fear, superstition, and injustice.

The mob on page 166 was consumed by racial prejudice, with the goal of denying Tom a fair trial, which is considered the most fundamental form of justice. In the novel, this prejudice is portrayed as particularly intense. The abolition of slavery following the civil war granted blacks a legal status equal to many whites in America. However, this actually made life more difficult for blacks initially, as whites began to view them as competition for jobs during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Fear and paranoia led white individuals to believe that blacks desired everything that white people had, including their women.

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Aunt Alexandra’s attitude towards Calpurnia, the comments of the Missionary tea ladies about Blacks, the segregation between White and Black in Maycomb, a White man named Dolphus Raymond living with a Black woman, the classification of people into different groups mentioned by Jem on page 249, including the Finches as White middle-class and their neighbors, the Cunninghams as a badly hit farming community, the Ewells as the lowest class of whites known as “White Trash,” and the Blacks being seen as at the bottom of the social hierarchy. With the abolition of slavery, there was no longer a clear distinction between the Ewells and the Blacks, as skin color did not determine their worth.

During the trial, Tom expressed sympathy for Mayella, which was perceived as a more heinous crime than rape by the jury. This act challenged the social order, with the lower class showing compassion towards a higher class. The white community was unsettled by this, fearing it would threaten their own position in society. Consequently, Tom’s guilt was established solely to preserve the established hierarchies.

Alexandra is highly concerned with heredity and is determined to teach Scout and Jem about their privileged family history. She prohibits Scout from inviting a Cunningham to play and even restricts her from visiting Calpurnia at her own house. In Maycomb, every individual possesses a distinct characteristic or behavior pattern, such as being mean or having a tendency to drink excessively. The community tends to categorize families based on these traits.


During the time of the novel, women were considered inferior to men. Scout gains this understanding from Miss Maudie’s teachings on religion (pg 50), Atticus’ explanations about the law and the absence of women on juries, and Alexandra’s expectations regarding attire and behavior. However, there was a romanticized notion surrounding women during this period, with the Southern Gentleman expected to show chivalry towards Southern Belles and treat them with reverence. Mayella manipulates this perception during the trial in order to influence the jury’s decision in her favor.

Thus, the hearing of Tom Robinson encompassed not only racial prejudice but also class and gender bias.


Prejudice is targeted at characters in the novel who do not conform to society’s expected behavior patterns and of whom little information is available.

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  1. Fear

    – Children are frightened of Boo Radley; an outsider to society whom they have never seen

  2. Rumour

    – Children have heard rumours from Miss Stephanie and other children about Boo

  3. Superstition

    – Views such as ghosts and stories they have been told whilst growing up feed their fears of BooWhen the children mature and realise that Boo is a real person, capable of suffering like everyone else, the prejudice dies.

Miss Maudie and Atticus are both targeted by different groups for their beliefs and actions. Miss Maudie, for her love of nature, is criticized by the foot-washers. Atticus, on the other hand, is condemned by the community for defending a Black man. Harper Lee suggests that dismantling prejudice requires targeting individuals first, such as the Cunningham man during the trial. As Miss Maudie points out, it is important to take small steps instead of attempting to resolve all prejudice at once.

Solutions to prejudice can be found through Atticus’ Maxim. It suggests that if one tries to empathize with another person and see things from their perspective, there will be understanding and tolerance, leading to the elimination of prejudice. Atticus applies this principle when interacting with Mrs Dubose and Mr Ewell. As the children grow older, they also learn to adopt this approach with different individuals, including Mayella Ewell and Boo Radley. Despite his efforts, Atticus finds it challenging to understand the mindset of Robert Ewell, which could be seen as a sign of his own humanity. Surprisingly, Harper Lee does not provide any guidance on how to handle inherently evil characters like Mr Ewell.

Challenged Stereotypes – Blacks – Some people perceive Blacks as either evil or stupid but lovable and childlike. However, Tom & Calpurnia are portrayed as ordinary human beings, just like Whites, and they are often more law-abiding and hardworking than certain Whites.

Southern Gentleman – Atticus is courteous to everyone, regardless of gender or social status, without idolizing Southern Belles. He values the preservation of human life over maintaining polite facades.

Southern Belle – Scout, on the other hand, does not conform to the societal expectations of a young Southern Belle and is therefore subjected to ridicule by the Missionary Circle. Atticus, however, is not interested in transforming Scout into a perfect embodiment of femininity and charm. However, Harper Lee does acknowledge that Scout possesses some sympathy towards the idealized image of a Southern Belle.

Harper Lee’s intention seems to be for her readers to immerse themselves in the lives of her characters, experiencing Atticus’ Maxim and thus gaining an appreciation for similar individuals in their own communities, particularly those they are less familiar with. To harm an innocent (mockingbird) is considered a sin by Lee. The author does not propose a swift resolution to prejudice, which is what lends the book its realism.

Symbolism – The novel emphasizes the importance of the mockingbird as a symbol. The recurring portrayal of this innocent creature serves as a powerful motif. The mockingbird, a type of Finch (which is significant due to the family name), can be seen as part of Atticus’ family that he feels compelled to protect. This symbol is first introduced in Chapter 10, where Atticus remarks, “shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (possibly symbolizing Mr. Ewell?). Mockingbirds are harmless and bring joy through their melodic songs for others to appreciate.

At the end of the book, Scout realizes that the public exposure of Boo Radley and Tom Robinson would be comparable to shooting a mockingbird.

Both Boo and Tom demonstrate acts of kindness. Boo shows kindness towards the children while Tom shows kindness towards Mayella. Both individuals are innocent, as Boo sheds his evil persona and Tom is innocent of the crime of rape. They are both victims of prejudice and experience imprisonment, making them vulnerable. Boo is imprisoned to protect him from prejudice, while Tom is imprisoned and ultimately killed due to prejudice. Atticus can also be seen as a mockingbird, as he has sung Tom’s song of truth to the people but has been disregarded. The symbol of the mockingbird is referenced multiple times throughout the novel. It is mentioned after the Mad Dog incident, while waiting for the jury’s verdict, in Mr. Underwood’s article about Tom’s death, and when Scout & Jem are going to the pageant. Even in tense moments, the mockingbird remains silent, while in moments of descriptive beauty, it is mentioned lurking in the background.

Mockingbird – Children mock Boo’s life as they make fun of it and intimidate it. Mayella accuses Atticus of mocking her. Trial is a mockery of justice. Other symbols are the snowman, showing how superficial skin colour is; Mrs Dubose’s camellias showing deep-rooted prejudices that must be tugged from the roots; Boo’s tree as his desire to communicate with the innocent’ children which is broken by the cement then re-established after the fire.

Courage – Jem demonstrates bravery by saving his trousers, Chuck Little shows courage by confronting Burris Ewell in class, Maudie maintains an optimistic attitude despite her house burning down, and Link Deas stands up for the Robinsons.

Real courage: Mrs Dubose continues to fight her losing battle with addiction while still persevering. She demonstrates bravery by battling against evil and prejudice.

Mr. Underwood’s article discusses how Atticus represents TomBoo, despite the unlikelihood of success (which is a display of real courage). Additionally, Atticus takes a stand against racial prejudice in the community, which can be seen as a courageous act.

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Prejudice in to kill a mockingbird. (2019, Apr 02). Retrieved from

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