Social Inequality In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, racism and social inequality are two central themes. Many different forms of social inequality coexist in the society depicted in the book, as the people of Macomb are very rigid in their ways. This is because the book takes place in a time at which there was much racism and social inequality. In Macomb, firstly there is discrimination between rich and poor white people, who do not often interact with each other.
There is also racism against blacks by all white people in society, both rich and poor. Black people are denied basic rights and discriminated against in this town. Lastly, there is racism between the lowest classes of the community: poor white people and black people. In a small bigoted town like Macomb, social inequality is highly prevalent. Discrimination against poor white people in the community is evident through the treatment of the Cunningham and the Ells. The wealthy white people treat the poor whites with contempt.
This is clear when Scout asks to spend more time with Walter Cunningham, a member of one of the poorest families in town. Aunt Alexandra refuses to let her niece interact with someone of such low status and forbids Scout to have him as her friend. Further, the Ells have the lowest status of everyone in the town because they are poor; as a result, they are social outcasts in the eyes of white members of the community. The people of Macomb are very class conscious, because it is very important for each individual to feel as though they are better than someone else.
Therefore, people rarely challenge the social hierarchy and there is very little interaction between rich and poor whites. Despite their differences, rich and poor whites are united through one shared view: their prejudice against blacks. In a small town like Macomb, it is very difficult to contradict the discriminatory practices that have been upheld for so many years; as such, there is much racism in Macomb. During the time at which the book was set, blacks were at the very bottom of the social structure, below even white people of the lowest status, for example the Else’s.
Because of this unjust discrimination, blacks were stripped of all rights; white people were unwilling to accept blacks as their equals. For example, Tom Robinson, a benevolent and innocent black man, is accused of raping a poor white woman whereas in reality, it is the white woman, Malay Lowell, who makes advances towards Tom Robinson. During the time at which the novel is set, it was unacceptable for a woman to make advances towards a man. Further, it was completely forbidden for whites and blacks to have sexual relationships.
Bob Lowell is well aware of these unwritten laws and does not want his daughter to be outcast for defying the molly accepted social practices. Therefore, Bob Lowell places the blame on Tom Robinson instead, knowing that Tom will be found guilty even though he is innocent. Though the evidence is indisputable that Tom did not rape Malay Lowell, he is still found guilty by the all white Jury. This is because though Tom is innocent, the all- white Jury is too biased and prejudiced to believe the word of a black man. To do this would be to go against unwritten laws against interracial relationships.
To question the social structure during that time was unheard of; no matter how low in status social communication between white and colored people. The other apparent type of social inequality in the town of Macomb is racism against blacks by poor whites. This racism is especially obvious through Bob’s persecution of Tom. Lowell shows his contempt based on biases and prejudices by accusing Tom of raping his daughter. Any type of interracial relationship between a black man and a white woman is completely unheard of, and for a white woman to desire a black man is unimaginable.
Part of the reason for this racism is that impoverished whites feel that heir status is threatened by blacks, and want to feel that though they are not very high in the social structure, they are at least higher in status than someone: blacks. The last type of social inequality is the disparity between men and women. During that time, women were not considered equal to men and as such, there was a particular way in which women were expected to act and certain practices they had to follow. For example, women had to act in a very proper and ladylike way. This is evident through the treatment of Scout by Aunt Alexandra.
Aunt Alexandra is very milliamp with the expectations of women and how women are supposed to act. She attempts to shape Scout into the kind of lady that society will approve of. Aunt Alexandra believes that Scout is too boyish. Also, Malay Else’s sexual relations with Tom Robinson are unacceptable on two levels: interracial relations were evidently forbidden, as previously mentioned. However, this relationship was also unacceptable because for a woman to make advances towards a man was not socially acceptable at that time. Furthermore, if a man were to make advances towards a Oman, it was her duty to stop him.
As is evident, women had a predefined role that they had to fit into that society had created for them. It is very evident that Macomb is a small town in which there is much racism, and social status greatly determines what kind of life you will lead. The different types of social inequality are an important theme in the novel, and Harper Lee shows that a small town like Macomb that looks flawless on the surface actually has many imperfections and serious flaws like discrimination based on color, class and gender, incest, prejudice, and rape.