In the book, To Kill A Mockingbird, we are told by the narrator that Maycomb County had nothing to fear but fear itself. We are told this because fear is an important aspect of the novel, it is the cause of many actions of the people of the town. This particular quote also expresses that the only thing that the people of Maycomb County had to fear was their own ridiculous fears, which was mainly the fear of the black community. Ultimately, Harper Lee is trying to convey through this quote that the town’s prejudice is the only thing that the people should have been scared about. The people of Maycomb County suffered from many fears which was the sole cause of their ignorance, hatred and prejudice.
The fear of the black community is a central theme of the novel. Most of the town’s white community showed some sort of prejudice toward black people. This is shown throughout the novel, such as when Mrs Dubose makes the remark to Jem: “Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!”. Members of the black community are referred to as ‘niggers’ and other derogatory names by the white community. The white community creates the illusion that the black people are completely different to white people, by referring to black people with words such as ‘nigger’ or ‘darky’. This then leads to the illusion that black people are sub-human, and they are to be treated as such. Even children in the novel refer to blacks as ‘niggers’ emphasising that racial segregation was so common that even children were developing these prejudice views from an early age.
Another example of prejudice towards black people is in Tom Robinson’s trial when he is being cross examined. In the dialogue that takes place between the prosecutor and Tom Robinson, Tom is asked why he wanted to help Mayella with her chores, Tom explains: “I felt right sorry for her”. To which the prosecutor replies: “You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?”. The prosecutor emphasised this in order to convey the disgracefulness of a black person feeling sorry for a white person. Harper Lee also states: ‘Below us, nobody liked Tom Robinson’s answer’, this shows that the courtroom also felt the same disgust as the prosecutor. Black people were seen as below white people because of the fact that a black person feeling sorry for white person was unspeakable.
Perhaps the most obvious case of prejudice against blacks in the novel is when Tom Robinson is found guilty in his trial, even when it is obvious to the jury, and everyone in the town, that he was innocent. Tom Robinson was found guilty because it was a black man’s word against a white man, even when the evidence clearly showed he was innocent. The prejudice of the jury was the cause of the injustice. This prejudice was formed from fear.
The white community feared the black community because they themselves created the illusion that black people had to be feared, just because they were different. Rather than trying to understand the slightly different nature of a darker skinned person, the white community deepened their fear of them by separating themselves from the blacks, creating even more of a gap between them. This gap between the two communities led to more mis-understanding, which hatched the ignorance, intolerance and prejudice toward the black people.
Other than the black community, the people of Maycomb County also feared poor people, who they referred to as ‘trash’. This links to the idea that these fears were created out of mis-understanding of minorities in society. Prejudice against poor people is shown in the novel such as when Scout wants to play with Walter Cunningham and is told by her aunt: “He-is-trash, that’s why you can’t play with him!”, she goes on to explain: “I’ll not have you around him, picking up his habits and learning Lord-knows-what.” This shows that Aunt Alexandra assumed that just because Walter Cunningham was poor, that he would be a bad influence of Scout.
The fears of the people of Maycomb County were all stemmed from fear of the unknown. The white community of the town did not understand that black people were just as human as them. Because their skin color was different, they separated themselves from them, they never tried to understand them, thus making the true nature of the black community unknown to them. Because they were unknown, the white community invented and spread ideas that black people were subhuman, so the black community became feared. Much in the same way that Jem, Dill and Scout invented ideas about Boo Radley.
Boo was unknown and mysterious to the children, so they invented stories about him. Such as when Jem describes Boo Radley: “Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.” And while the children know that this depiction of Boo is untrue, they force themselves into believing it is true, because it is a satisfiable answer to the question of who Boo is. They would rather believe a lie, than face up to the fact that they know nothing about Boo Radley. Much in the same way that the white community would rather believe the lie that black people are subhuman, than face up to the fact that they are just as human as everyone else. Atticus explains this in his speech when he talks about: “the evil assumption that all negroes are immoral beings”, going on to say: “which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie”.
Fear is the root of the injustice that goes on in the story of To Kill A Mockingbird. Fear of the unknown and people who were different created false beliefs that some people in society were below others, assumptions that black people were ‘immoral beings’, assumptions that poor people were ‘white-trash’. The novel shows these fears and how destructive they can be. The only thing that the people of Maycomb County had to fear was their own ridiculous, destructive fear.