Racism in To Kill a Mockingbird

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Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird focuses attention on the theme racism in several interactions between characters. Scout, the protagonist in the story, resides in Maycomb, Alabama, with her father Atticus (and brother Jem). The novel depicts various vices, most notably the conflict between the African-American community and whites. Stereotypes are often used to explain the misunderstandings in the town. It also explains how prejudices can lead to social discord.

Racial prejudice is discrimination against someone based on their skin color. Tom Robinson was convicted during his trial. Tom was convicted as he was black, and his word was not taken as seriously or as truthful by white men. To Kill a Mockingbird shows Atticus and the children of Tom Robinson being exposed to this form racial bias before and during Tom Robinson’s trial.

Several white characters in this novel are clearly depicted in a negative light. Aunt Alexandra, the Ewells, and other white characters are two examples of those who freely declare their superiority towards black people. Bob Ewell shows that he has racial prejudice when he accuses Tom Robinson raping Mayella. Bob Ewell also ridiculed Tom Robinson’s racial prejudice. He called Tom Robinson a “nigger”. It is offensive to call blacks niggers.

He cursed blacks just like animals, and considered Blacks trash. Aunt Alexandra also reveals her distaste for Maycomb’s disregard for black people in various ways. Aunt Alexandra is against Atticus’ children visiting Calpurnia’s because it would not be appropriate for white children interact with black people in their community. Aunt Alexandra claims that black and non-white people cannot be treated equally 13 and she attempts this to inflict her view on the Finch clan.

Another example: Blacks must be seated in a separate area of the courtroom from whites. Blacks are required to sit in a separate area of the courtroom because white people consider them superior. Maycomb already has Blacks on a lower level than any other white man because of their skin color. Whites believe that they are more superior than Blacks. They are blinded into believing that Blacks don’t deserve to be in the same church as they are. Although Blacks cannot be allowed in a church with Whites they can start their own churches.

In the 1930s, discrimination on the basis of race was quite common. In the past, people of color, especially blacks were not accepted in white societies. The white majority ruled supreme over the black minority and they were mostly involved in manual labor. Lee and colleagues claim that discrimination against the African-American community was concentrated in part because they comprised the largest minority of the white population (13).

To Kill a Mockingbird focuses attention on this practice in a small Maycomb community through various characters with different perspectives. Scout’s family includes her brother Jem, Atticus, cousin Francis and her father. They are shown as being non-racist in a community with racial divisions. Scout’s Cousin Francis describes Atticus in a negative light and calls it a “nigger-lover”. Scout admitted that she does understand the meaning of it, but she did not like Francis’s use.

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Atticus explains that the word means nothing. “Nigger lover is just one term that doesn’t really mean anything-like snotnose it’s slipped in usage with people like ourselves, who want a simple, ugly term to identify someone” (Lee113). This term was meant to denigrate Whites and their support.

To Kill a Mockingbird took place in the 1930s. This was a period marked by the Great Depression as well as economic hardships. Maycomb was a small community inhabited by members of the lower social classes and people of various ethnicities. Scout lived in an egocentric and selfish society, which only supported their own. Many atrocities were committed to African Americans by whites, as they were the majority.

Atticus’s family didn’t view color as a socially divisive aspect. The family was open to coexistence with other races and often showed empathy for the oppressed. Atticus even offered his legal services in a case of alleged sexual assault against Tom, an African-American man. This action provokes anger from the Maycomb Society.

In chapter nine Cecil, Scouts classmate declares that Atticus defended a Negro. “Does Atticus defend niggers? I asked him the same evening. “Of course, I do. Scout, don’t say nigger. That’s common” (Lee 79). Cecil and Scout end up fighting over the assertion. Scout felt so insulted by this racist claim, that she decides to lose her temper and confront Cecil. Critically, the incident is consistent with multiple connotations in The Book.

After slavery was abolished during the nineteenth century, members of the society who were colored were considered equals to white counterparts. Because of this, segregation was perpetuated by the inequalities in the facilities that were available to different ethnicities. Because minority groups were perceived to be inferior, their rights were violated. Tom’s is an example of this. Tom was accused and convicted of rape by his white father, and his white daughter. It is possible to say that he was unfairly sentenced because he was black.

Lee employs an anti-racial strategy to condemn injustices done to minority groups by a prejudiced society. The irony can be applied to the theme as well as depicting the ignorance among certain community members. Atticus is partially-blind in his left eye. He needs glasses to see clearly. Although he is partially blind, he still has the most insight about equality in Maycomb. Scout, Jem, Dill, and Jem are all fair to everyone in the community regardless of their skin color or their knowledge of various societal virtues. According to the author, those who ignore racial differences and live in harmony can do so regardless of their ethnicity.

Maycomb’s residents are so prejudiced that they exclude people of different ethnicities from socializing activities. Scout asks her dad why he decided on Tom Robinson representing him in court. He was originally from the black community. Atticus answered, “For several factors… The most important one is, if it didn’t, then I couldn’t hold my heads in town, so I couldn’t represent our country in the legislature. Jem and I wouldn’t be able to tell you or Jem not again.” Every lawyer has one case that directly affects him in his lifetime. This one’s mine I guess.” (Lee 80). Atticus was clearly influenced by this incident. He believed that every person should be treated equally, regardless of their skin color.

Contrary to Atticus, the problem of color-line discrimination leads mostly towards discrimination toward a specific ethnicity. Thus, the oppression is imposed on the most vulnerable group and they are denied rights, amenities, justice and justice. The authors state that people with non-white skin were oppressed by the Whites as they were perceived as inferior and uncivilized due to their skin color. 48). Black people were considered inferior, uncivilized, and savages. This portrayal shows how various societies still have stereotypes of each other, just as it is in To Kill a Mockingbird. Racism can be defined as a topic that is in line with the main theme of the novel.

According to the novel Maycomb could be considered a microcosmof racism in modern society. The author’s multi-cultural approach and choice in character traits seem to have stood up to the test of the times, as they still apply today. Despite numerous international efforts to promote equity, racism is still prevalent in certain regions and among certain people within the community. Lee may use Maycomb town to convey an anti-racism message. But, it could also be argued, that the book encourages white superiority that can lead to prejudice.

Atticus, his family and friends are heros primarily for their efforts in saving Tom from rape accusations. They were also subject to an angry Maycomb society threat. Scouts provide a remarkable response to angry people with this amazing answer. This situation is indicative of the racist mentality that existed at the time. Macaluso stated that Atticus, which is a white man is the hero, and Tom, which is an African American man is the helpless, crippled Victim” (280).

The plot centers on Atticus and his family’s heroics. It might be criticized for the author’s tendency to minimize racial diversity. However, the critic perspective may not hold water because To Kill a Mockingbird conveys Maycomb’s intended messages to modern neighborhoods.

Scout, Jem, Dill, and Jem are fascinated by Boo. Boo is a shy character who lives at Mr. Radley. Boo’s strange stories drive the children to his yard to catch a glimpse. Radley spots Jem’s shadow and mistakenly shoots at the shadow. Maycomb’s people assume Radley shot an African American. Radley then shoots at Jem’s shadow (Lee 11).

80 To Kill a Mockingbird Book Quotes From Harper Lee (2021)

These racists accuse the “blacks”, claiming that they are responsible for any crime in the area. They also consider them to be inferior people. Similar cases have been reported in contemporary societies of minorities being wrongly injured or killed because they are ethnic. After cases in which African-American youths were killed, especially by police officers who didn’t have a valid reason, there was a protest called “Black Lives Matter”.

Studies have shown that white people are more likely to suffer from discrimination than their white counterparts when they encounter similar situations. “Whites think they are more advanced and more human than darker skinned people (whether Africans or indigenous) who they rule” (Salter et. al. 153). Claudia Gomez (a young Mexican lady) was shot by an officer. He believed she was armed since she was in the company other migrants. These events prejudged the deaths, similar to those witnessed in Maycomb by some residents.

When there has been any questionable or criminal activity, blacks were often blamed and held it as their fault. There was no proof, report or inquiry against them. The blacks were blamed for violence that was committed against anyone.

The majority of people jumped to a quick conclusion whenever the matter had anything to do with blacks. They assume that any bad things they experience are due to them. (Faizah (2016) White people who were racists or accepted racism would not have any relationship with or work for suspect black persons. Tom’s case was different. Tom’s spouse wasn’t offered a job.


African Americans have always faced discrimination, racial injustice, and prejudice because of their skin color. Because they identified as unsuitable and uncivilized persons, they were segregated. They were verbally and physically abused. Racial segregation was thought to conceal the humanity of African Americans.

In To Kill a Mockingbird the effects of discrimination or bias can significantly affect blacks’ lives. Lee is determined to eradicate racism, segregation, and injustice. The moral message in the novel is that it teaches people to live together peacefully through cooperation, kindness and respect. Lee allows children to ask questions, even though they are not aware of the prejudices. On one side, Lee forces adults to reconsider their racial prejudices while responding to children.

How far has To Kill a Mockingbird taken us? 60 years after the original publication, Americans continue to see racial profiling of their citizens, inequalities and prejudice based on their skin colour. Both judicial and police actions have unfairly targeted blacks. This has led to the mass imprisonment of young men from black backgrounds. Institutional racism persists.

Racialization and categorization among our fellow humans is a social construct that can’t be ignored. Both professionally and personally, we must all decide what steps to take in order to end disparities and institutional racism. It will take grace, humility, and a greater sense of responsibility to do this.


  • Lee H. To Kill a Mockingbird. HarperCollins Publishers. New York. NY2006
  • Sarat, Austin Umphrey and Martha, ‘Temporal Perspectives’ in Reimagining TO Kill a mockingbird: Family Community and the possibility of equality justice under law, (United States of America University of Massachusetts Press, 2013), pages. 20-1.
  • Faizah S. (2016) Racial prejudice in Lee’s to kill A Mockingbird. Skripsi: Fakultas Ilmu Budaya.

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