Racism in Maycomb Essay
Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, focuses on the development of a brother andsister in the tired old town (Lee 3) of Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s. Maycomb is a classicsouthern town full of gossip, tradition, and racism, and it seems to be strange place to stage adrama which promotes equal treatment and non prejudice. However, the narrators naive outlookon the town gives the reader a lot of viewpoints on civil rights. The traditional Southern racismof Maycomb is looked at through the eyes of the young narrator, Scout Finch.
Scouts innocentperspective compels her to ask questions about why whites treat blacks the way they do. Thesequestions are very important in Scouts maturation. Scout must come to terms with the racism ofher town and how it affects the people in her life; she must find her own position and what roleshe will play in the racial scene of her town. A number of people influence Scout, and the twomajor role models in her life, her Aunt Alexandria and her father Atticus, pull Scout in twodifferent directions.
Through their dealings with Calpurnia it is obvious to Scout what pathAtticus and Aunt Alexandria want Scout to follow. Aunt Alexandra is brought into the Finch household to teach and act as a female rolemodel for Scout. In addition to showing Scout how to be a lady, she shows Scout Calpurniasinferior position. Aunt Alexandra shows Scout Calpurnias inferior position. For AuntAlexandra, Calpurnia will not do as a role model for Scout because Calpurnia is black. AuntAlexandra from the beginning shows Scout who posses the power. Put my bag in the frontbedroom, Calpurnia (Lee 127), was the first thing Aunt Alexandra said to Cal. The first timeAunt Alexandra appears in the novel, the lack of respect for Calpurnia is seen. Aunt Alexandradoes not say please or thank you, just a simple command telling Cal what to do. Cal hassymbolized strength and authority throughout Scouts childhood, by acting as a mother figure inthe Finch household. Scout has never seen Cal in such an inferior position, and Scout doesntknow what to think about Cals new role.
Calpurnia has secured a respected place in the Finch family through years of dedicatedservice and through the love she has shown the Finch children; Cal has acted as if Jem and Scoutwee her own children. Aunt Alexandra senses the family’s closeness to Cal, and she fears thebond the family has with Cal. Aunt Alexandra thinks that any relationship with a black personthat goes further than employer and employee causes scandal in Maycomb, and shortly after herarrival, Aunt Alexandra gives Atticus advice on what to do with Calpurnia. And don’t try andget around it. You’ve got to face it sooner or later and it might as well be tonight. We don’t needher now (Lee 157). Aunt Alexandra obviously wants Cal out of the family because Alexandra sees the respectand love that Scout feels towards Cal and fears Scout will learn to love what she considerstrash. Aunt Alexandras label of trashy does not only classify blacks but any group or personthat Aunt Alexandra considers to be a lower class. Alexandra regards herself and the rest of theFinches 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 Finchlady, 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 throughboth his actions and his words contradicts everything that Alexandra stands for. Atticus showsScout how to act without forcing his views on her, as Aunt Alexandra does. Atticus leads byexample, showing the highest respect for everyone in Maycomb, not distinguishing by color orclass. His serious defense for Tom Robinson proves his good ideals; Atticus fights a hopelessbattle against the racism in the town. Atticus not only shows his non prejudice ways through thetrial 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 thinkotherwise, but I couldn’t have got along without her all these years. She’s a faithfulmember of this family and you’ll simply have to accept things the way they are (Lee 157). 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 goesagainst all that Alexandra has tried to teach Scout. Atticus does not tell Scout to follow his leadand reject the racism of Aunt Alexandra, but Scout sees what Calpurnia means to her family andsees how Atticus respects Cal as an equal. Atticuss respect for Cal forces Scout to questionAunt 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 oncivil rights. On a smaller scale, Lee uses the relationship between Scout, her aunt, her father, andher housekeeper, to show how racism affects everything. The question of civil rights plays outnot only through the trial of Tom Robinson, but also through the everyday interaction betweenthe Finch family and their housekeeper. In the process of growing up, Scout must choose whereshe fits into the whole racial scheme, and her relationship with Calpurnia plays an important partin deciding this. Atticus and Aunt Alexandra show her two different ways of acting, and Scoutfollows the one that she considers right. She follows the role of her father and this shows throughher actions near the end of the novel. Scout sits in the colored balcony and bursts out in tearswhen Aunt Alexandra says she cannot be friends with Walter Cunningham because theCunninghams are not our kind of folks (Lee 224). Lee begins the story with the innocentperspective of Scout and ends the story with a Scout that has changed greatly but a Scout whostill retains her non prejudiced ideals.