Racism in Maycomb Essay
Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, focuses on the development of a brother and
sister in the tired old town (Lee 3) of Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s. Maycomb is a classic
southern town full of gossip, tradition, and racism, and it seems to be strange place to stage a
drama which promotes equal treatment and non prejudice. However, the narrators naive outlook
on the town gives the reader a lot of viewpoints on civil rights. The traditional Southern racism
of Maycomb is looked at through the eyes of the young narrator, Scout Finch. Scouts innocent
perspective compels her to ask questions about why whites treat blacks the way they do. These
questions are very important in Scouts maturation. Scout must come to terms with the racism of
her town and how it affects the people in her life; she must find her own position and what role
she will play in the racial scene of her town. A number of people influence Scout, and the two
major role models in her life, her Aunt Alexandria and her father Atticus, pull Scout in two
different directions. Through their dealings with Calpurnia it is obvious to Scout what path
Atticus and Aunt Alexandria want Scout to follow.
Aunt Alexandra is brought into the Finch household to teach and act as a female role
model for Scout. In addition to showing Scout how to be a lady, she shows Scout Calpurnias
inferior position. Aunt Alexandra shows Scout Calpurnias inferior position. For Aunt
Alexandra, Calpurnia will not do as a role model for Scout because Calpurnia is black. Aunt
Alexandra from the beginning shows Scout who posses the power. Put my bag in the front
bedroom, Calpurnia (Lee 127), was the first thing Aunt Alexandra said to Cal. The first time
Aunt Alexandra appears in the novel, the lack of respect for Calpurnia is seen. Aunt Alexandra
does not say please or thank you, just a simple command telling Cal what to do. Cal has
symbolized strength and authority throughout Scouts childhood, by acting as a mother figure in
the Finch household. Scout has never seen Cal in such an inferior position, and Scout doesnt
know what to think about Cals new role.
Calpurnia has secured a respected place in the Finch family through years of dedicated
service and through the love she has shown the Finch children; Cal has acted as if Jem and Scout
wee her own children. Aunt Alexandra senses the family’s closeness to Cal, and she fears the
bond the family has with Cal. Aunt Alexandra thinks that any relationship with a black person
that goes further than employer and employee causes scandal in Maycomb, and shortly after her
arrival, Aunt Alexandra gives Atticus advice on what to do with Calpurnia. And don’t try and
get around it. You’ve got to face it sooner or later and it might as well be tonight. We don’t need
her now (Lee 157).
Aunt Alexandra obviously wants Cal out of the family because Alexandra sees the respect
and love that Scout feels towards Cal and fears Scout will learn to love what she considers
trash. Aunt Alexandras label of trashy does not only classify blacks but any group or person
that Aunt Alexandra considers to be a lower class. Alexandra regards herself and the rest of the
Finches as the classy people of Maycomb, and she tries to make Scout understand this idea.
Alexandra attempts to teach Scout how to be a Finch lady, and if Scout wants to be Finch
lady, she can’t care for and love people who are not Alexandra’s kind of folks (Lee 224).
The force pulling Scout in the opposite direction is her father, Atticus. Atticus through
both his actions and his words contradicts everything that Alexandra stands for. Atticus shows
Scout how to act without forcing his views on her, as Aunt Alexandra does. Atticus leads by
example, showing the highest respect for everyone in Maycomb, not distinguishing by color or
class. His serious defense for Tom Robinson proves his good ideals; Atticus fights a hopeless
battle against the racism in the town. Atticus not only shows his non prejudice ways through the
trial of Tom Robinson, but he also shows beliefs through his everyday dealings with Calpurnia.
Atticus shows his loyalty to Cal in this discussion with Alexandra.
Alexandra, Calpurnia’s not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think
otherwise, but I couldn’t have got along without her all these years. She’s a faithful
member of this family and you’ll simply have to accept things the way they are (Lee
Atticus counters Alexandra’s wish to get rid of Cal by showing the respect he has for her.
Atticus even says he regards Cal as a faithful member of the family (Lee 157), which goes
against all that Alexandra has tried to teach Scout. Atticus does not tell Scout to follow his lead
and reject the racism of Aunt Alexandra, but Scout sees what Calpurnia means to her family and
sees how Atticus respects Cal as an equal. Atticuss respect for Cal forces Scout to question
Aunt Alexandra’s low opinion of Calpurnia and of all black people.
Harper Lee uses the small town of Maycomb, Alabama as a forum for different views on
civil rights. On a smaller scale, Lee uses the relationship between Scout, her aunt, her father, and
her housekeeper, to show how racism affects everything. The question of civil rights plays out
not only through the trial of Tom Robinson, but also through the everyday interaction between
the Finch family and their housekeeper. In the process of growing up, Scout must choose where
she fits into the whole racial scheme, and her relationship with Calpurnia plays an important part
in deciding this. Atticus and Aunt Alexandra show her two different ways of acting, and Scout
follows the one that she considers right. She follows the role of her father and this shows through
her actions near the end of the novel. Scout sits in the colored balcony and bursts out in tears
when Aunt Alexandra says she cannot be friends with Walter Cunningham because the
Cunninghams are not our kind of folks (Lee 224). Lee begins the story with the innocent
perspective of Scout and ends the story with a Scout that has changed greatly but a Scout who
still retains her non prejudiced ideals.