To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel, written by Harper Lee and it manages the subjects of race, class and gender roles. It is the story of a brother and sister, Jem and Scout Finch, who live in a small Alabama town with their lawyer father, Atticus. The two siblings, along with their friend Dill, become fascinated with a scary old house on their street called the Radley Place. The house is owned by Nathan Radley, whose brother, Arthur (nicknamed Boo), has lived there for many years without ever coming out. The narrator in the novel is called Scout Finch, and the story is told from the perspective of her. Since she is a child, she is, naturally, prone to ask questions about why whites treat blacks the way they do. Scout wants to comprehend what racism means and how it affects the people in her life. The vast majority of the general population are supremacist and prejudicial. They have pitiless sentiments and judgments about black people in the town. The main subject of the novel is prejudice and forms of prejudice including racism, classism, and sexism are portrayed by Maycomb’s citizens.
Pierre Berton, a noted Canadian author’s well-said quote; “Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out.” demonstrates the destruction of the 1930s’ occurred by the racist thought. Racism and its destruction never ceased during this time, it continued moving. Therefore, the 1930s’ racial separation made it a tremendous battle for the African Americans in their every day life.
There was no justice for a black man in 1930s’ Alabama town as well. In the book, almost every character is either exposed to prejudice directly or involved in a situation that contains prejudice. For instance, Tom Robinson who is a kind person, helps Mayella, a white woman, at whatever point she required help (Lee, 197). Scout became more acquainted with Tom a superior than previously and turns out saying to his father that Tom was a kind and nice guy (281). Tom helps Mayella by fixing a door and wardrobe for her. He feels sorry for her and fixes whatever needs to be fixed for her without hesitation. Tom’s being so kind to a white person, astonished others on the grounds that typically black people are not all that kind to a white person like Mayella. The primary feeling in this is Tom is feeling frustrated about Mayella that nobody is helping her. On the other hand, according to others Tom raped Mayella and harassed her physically because she has marks on her face and neck (185).
Then this case is brought to trial. Meanwhile, Atticus agrees to defend him. He provides enough evidence to prove that Tom is innocent and that Bob Ewell, Mayella’s father, is responsible for the marks on her face and neck. However, the jury consists of all white people that convicts Tom any way. Even though Atticus’s evidence was pretty powerful and enough to prove that Tom is not guilty, the jury made a decision against Tom. However hard they tried to convince jury that Tom is not guilty, they could not succeed in convincing. During the time of the book, it was the time of 1930s’ when separation and racism was happening. Before Judge Taylor reads Tom’s guilty verdict, Scout notices that the jury refuses to look at Tom Robinson. Sheriff Tate then hands Judge Taylor a piece of paper with the jury’s final decision written on it. Judge Taylor then reads the verdict by saying, “Guilty…guilty… guilty…guilty…” (233). Scout says that each “guilty” is a “separate stab” between Jem’s shoulders. Jem and other children lost their innocence as they see how things work. They witnessed that it does not matter whether a person is really guilty or not even in the court of justice, what matters only is skin color. In the end, Tom lost the battle against society because of his color. He is shot while he is trying to “escape” from prison.
During his testimony against Tom, Bob Ewell shows how racist he is by saying, “I’ve asked my county for fifteen years to clean out that nest down yonder, they’re dangerous to live around sides devaluing my property” (175). He reflects his feelings towards black people including Tom. According to him, they are useless, rude and they can also steal the belongings of the Maycomb folks. He introduces them as they are posing danger so they should be wiped out of Maycomb.
After the trial and death of Tom Robinson, Bob Ewell nourishes Atticus, Judge Taylor, and Tom’s wife, Helen, hatred groundlessly. He attempts to rob Judge Taylor and to kill Scout and Jem just because their father defended Tom Robinson in the trial. But he fails and in the end, he is the only one who passed away. His hatred of black people leads him to his own that.
When it comes to the white side, Bob Ewell is the most racist, but there is another side, and Lula is the racist in this side. There is a church that called the First Purchase Church and only black people are permitted to attend the church. One day, Calpurnia wants to take Jem and Scout with her to the First Purchase Church but Lula stops them and says Calpurnia, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white children here – they got their church and we ours'” (119). Lula’s objection to Jem and Scout shows that she accepts black and white segregation in the town. Racial prejudice is the main theme in the book. During the trial Bob Ewell and at the church Lula present their racist and ill thoughts.
Separately, what Calpurnia experienced in the book is another example. She is the faithful housekeeper for Finch family and mother figure to Jem and Scout. Since she is black, Aunt Alexandra thinks that Calpurnia is not a good role model for Scout. Calpurnia is a black woman and a mother figure to Atticus’ children, but Aunt Alexandra thinks she is not a good role model for Scout and asked Atticus to tell Calpurnia that there is no need for her to remain in the house anymore. Knowing Calpurnia’s good influence on his children, Atticus got very angry with his sister and told her that Calpurnia was a member of the family and would not be leaving until she wants to leave. He knows that Calpurnia has an undeniable positive impact on raising Jem and Scout. Additionally, Aunt Alexandra feels uncomfortable talking serious matters when Calpurnia is around. At every opportunity, she otherizes her and tries to make her feel like an outsider. Abraham Joshua Herschel, a Polish-born American rabbi, by saying “Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” illustrates how nonsense to bear grudge against someone because of his or her skin color.
According to the book, there are different types of social classes can be seen in Maycomb county. What separate Maycomb’s people into these classes are their skin color and their occupation. For example, Atticus, Jem and Scout belong to the highest social class. They belong to this social class because Atticus is a lawyer. Being lawyer, makes him a highly respected person in the community. He is also white, which, at that time was a very important factor that those who belonged in what social class. Scout and Jem are his children and therefore are also part of this social class.
Another person who belongs to same social class is Miss Maudie Atkinson, a gentle, ladylike and spunky woman. She is grown up with the Finch’s and old friend of theirs. She is now Atticus’s neighbor, and also Scout and Jem count her as a friend.
Since she acts as an ideal southern lady, Aunt Alexandra also belongs to this highest class. In this social class, it is important to be kind to other people regardless of their occupation. Treating them with appreciation and being hospitable to them is unwritten but important as a written law among white people.
Invitation of Walter Cunningham by Jem to the dinner is an example of this rule. During dinner Scout notices that Walter is using syrup generously and she says rudely, “But he’s gone and drown his dinner in syrup,” “He’s poured it all over-” Calpurnia interrupts by requesting her precence to the kitchen (27). Scout is punished by Calpurnia. Walter belongs to a lower class and he is their guest. It was rude to begrudge him syrup. She should be thoughtful and should know that every one is just not the same and their eating habits can differ.
Mrs. Henry Layafette DuBose is one of the people who belong to the lower class. She is a woman who taunts children when they pass by. She is a rude woman and the way she talks to her community members reveals that she is not a part of the higher social class. She should be nice and respectful to the white people of Maycomb, like Jem. Even though she is kind to Atticus’s face, she backbites him. This is not a proper behavior which is expected to be displayed by a member of the highest social class.
Another social class consists of the poor. They are respected because they are white. After all what determines one’s social class primarily is his or her skin color. The Cunningghams belong to this social class. They maintain their life with the money borrowed. In return for the money borrowed, they give items from their farm.
Under them, in terms of status, are the Ewells, who are poor and disgusting. They are completely rude and so are their children, but they are still in a higher social class than black people since they are white.
There is another class of wealthy or middle-class black people. The reason why Calpurnia belongs to this class is her skin color. She has the same qualities as Aunt Alexandra. She can be counted as an ideal southern lady. She is a part of the Finch family and is respected. Had she not been a black person, she would be in the highest social class as Atticus Finch is.
Reverend Skyes is another member of the middle-class black people.
Another person who is in this class is Reverend Sykes. He met Jem and Scout in church and showed his respect for them and their father for defending the Tom Robinson case. He welcomed them and was very friendly, therefore in the same class as Calpurnia.
The lowest social class consists of poor and black people. Lula is in this social class. She is disgraceful to the black people and her motto is that the black people should stick to own community and the white should stay with theirs. She was harsh and shallow to someone who is of her kind (Calpurnia) and she was harsh to two innocent kids just because they are white.
There is a very interesting relationship between the white people and black. The majority of the black people is more mature and has much more class. They accept themselves and their status. They accept how they don’t get credit for all their work. They accept always having the worse of things, like the First Purchase church, which is a very beaten down church. They accept not getting an education with barely any complaints. No matter how much they tolerate, the white people cannot stand them at all and are so afraid of the truth because it means going against a white person’s word. The fact that white people don’t treat white people equally contributes greatly to the way the social classes are separated.
Scout does not conform to gender roles, and is upset when she is made to. As she grows up, she has to begin attending the local school. On her first day of school she is forced to wear a dress, much to her displeasure. She feels uncomfortable in it, and unlike herself. However, she has no choice as it was deemed the appropriate clothing for girls.
She is always in the company of Jem and Dill, and as the children grow up, she finds herself on the receiving end of comments from the boys such as, “Scout, I’m telling you for the last time, shut your trap or go home-I declare to the lord you’re gettin’ more like a girl everyday”. When she warns her brother against sneaking out at night and accepting foolish dares, he retaliates with comments such as the one above, fueled by gender prejudices insinuating that girls are weak and easily scared. This ensures that she is silent and doesn’t voice any more concerns lest she is forbidden from joining their adventures in the future.
Over time, she is distanced from the two boys, who begin to exclude her from their games and spend their time together. This brings her into closer contact with the other strong female character of the book, Miss Maudie Atkinson. Miss Maudie is the Finch’s neighbour, and becomes Scout’s friend when she is left out of games by Jem and Dill. Miss Maudie is continuously optimistic, and sees the bright side of every situation. When her house is half burnt down in a fire, she comments, “Always wanted a smaller house, Jem Finch. Gives me more yard. Just think, I’ll have more room for my azaleas now!” She faces every situation with practicality and unwavering positivity.
When she is insulted by foot-washing Baptists for gardening, she quotes the Bible right back at them and wears a “grin of the uttermost wickedness”. She is a strong female figure in Scout respects and trusts for advice, unlike other ladies in the town, who spend their time discussing others’ lives and problems.
Scout confides in her and values her opinions, and Miss Maudie is almost a mother figure in Scout’s life. Scout reflects upon her relationship with Miss Maudie, saying, “She had an acid tongue in her head” but “Jem and I had considerable faith in Miss Maudie” as “she was our friend”.
While being optimistic and kind, Miss Maudie is not afraid to voice her beliefs or move against the tide of popular opinion. At a ladies’ tea, she is upset by the women being intolerant and racist towards their black help and snaps at one of the women complaining about her cook.
Scout recollects that, “When Miss Maudie was angry her brevity was icy. Something had made her deeply angry, and her grey eyes were as cold as her voice”. Miss Maudie is disgusted by the prejudiced opinions of people and does not subscribe to them. She also supports Scout and helps her to stand up against forces that try to push Scout into stereotypical assumptions and judgments about others.
In contrast to Miss Maudie, Scout’s Aunt Alexandra represents the ideal Southern family-oriented woman. She is at the other end of the spectrum, with her conventional beliefs and constant disapproval of Scout’s tomboyish behavior. She complains about Scout wearing overalls to Atticus who is frustrated by her frequent criticism, and Scout describes the exchange as “The only time I ever heard Atticus speak sharply to anyone”.
Scout does not understand her Aunt’s obsession with her clothing. Aunt Alexandra repeatedly tells her that she cannot be a lady if she does not dress like one and that she should engage in more ‘girly’ activities. Aunt Alexandra also says that as a girl, Scout should “be a ray of sunshine” in Atticus’s life, reinforcing the patriarchal expectation that all girls must be positive and happy continuously and brighten up the lives of their husbands or fathers.
She enforces this and tries to get Scout to conform to gender roles despite seeing how resistant she is to them. She takes part in all the ‘right activities’, such as hosting missionary circles, joining clubs and gossiping with a passion. She is portrayed as judgmental and is quick to create prejudices in her mind about others.
Scout reflects upon her Aunt’s attitude and says, “When Aunt Alexandra went to school, self-doubt could not be found in any textbook, so she knew not its meaning”. Aunt Alexandra takes it upon herself to exert a ‘feminine influence’ on Scout’s life as she grows, and Scout resents her interference. She does not support or guide Scout as Miss Maudie does, and tries to make her change.
While Scout tries to remain indifferent towards her Aunt and her efforts, at a point in the novel, she begins to respect her. When dealing with a crisis during her ladies’ tea, Aunt Alexandra regains her composure and handles it gracefully, resulting in Scout remarking, “If Aunty could be a lady at a time like this, so could I”.
As we watch Scout mature and gain a deeper understanding of the adult world, we see how her environment influences her opinions. The roles of Miss Maudie and Aunt Alexandra are the most significant in Scout’s upbringing and perspective of the world. To Kill a Mockingbird covers several themes that are challenging and often uncomfortable to encounter and explore, such as racism and loss of innocence.