In the world people are always preconceived based on who they are or what they look like. Even thought it isn’t as big of a problem in some areas as in others, we need to fight it. If we don’t then it will continue to get more serious and at times lead to death. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Alexandra tells her niece that she can’t play with a schoolmate simply because of his class.
“? You can scrub Walter Cunningham till he shines, you can put him in shoes and a new suit, but he’ll never be like Jem? Because? he? is? trash. ‘” (224). This prejudiced state of mind is the foundation for the plot events of the novel.
By way of experiences, a young girl, Scout Finch, must learn about the part prejudice plays in the everyday life of Maycomb County. Through settlement patterns, justice, and social stratification Harper Lee reveals the ways of prejudice.
The first instance of prejudice, settlement patterns, greatly affects how people of Maycomb are prejudged, not just where they lived, but also where they dwelled. The Ewells are considered the lowest class of Maycomb, aside from the blacks, which is shown by the fact that they live at the edge of the town, right next to the black people.
“? He would show me how where and how they lived. They were people, but they lived like animals’” (30). The author describes where people live as a sort of divider among them, the Ewells not only live near the blacks, but also right next to the garbage dump. Not only was the location of one’s residency used to prejudice them, but also where they would dwell. The blacks’ church, as described by Scout, was, “unceiled and unpainted within? pine benches served as pews? there was no sign of piano, organ, hymn-books, church programs” (120).
Through her description of the church, Harper Lee allows you to know, without having to read any other section of the book, that the black people of Maycomb are of low class. The people of Maycomb are so prejudiced that they live in separate areas of the town from people who differ in social class. Furthermore, there are two types of justice in Maycomb. There is formal justice, what the court or law decides, and informal justice, the decisions, or “verdicts”, the people of Maycomb make about other people. Both are often tacitly bound by a mindset of prejudice.
When Jem is upset about the conviction of Tom Robinson, he asks his father how the jury could possibly do it, when he was obviously innocent. “? I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it? seems that only the children weep’” (213). Atticus means that only children become upset over a black man being convicted simply because of his race. While the older people are so accustomed to it that it is not even unexpected, let alone unsurprising. Likewise, informal justice is very hard for Scout to understand.
She questions her father about why the Ewell children are allowed to skip school even though it is illegal. As Atticus explains it, “? Sometimes it’s better to bend the law a little in special cases” (30). People let the Ewells do what they want simply because they are Ewells. The people assume that none of them could ever become anything anyway, so why bother trying to force them to waste their time in school? The people made this “law,” and even though it is illegal, nobody fights it because there is an understanding about the Ewells. The people created laws, whether official or unofficial, that were based on prejudices.
Last, the largest factor affecting prejudice, is social stratification. The citizens of Maycomb are very quick to make conclusions on a person based on their social class. People are immediately judged based on whom their family is. “Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land, the finer it was” (130). The personality of a person is already decided in the minds of many Maycomb citizens just by looking at what their family did in previous generations. In addition, if you are black, you are instantly considered trash and below everybody else.
“It was all over town this morning that you were in the Colored balcony. Wasn’t it right close up there with all those?? ” (214). This statement demonstrates how the people of Maycomb all assume that if you are black then you are lower than they are. The people of Maycomb County almost always jump to conclusions about people just because of who they are or their family is merely because they are so accustomed to it. Concluding, Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, uses many factors, including where people live, the justice system, and social stratification, as items of which her characters use for their prejudices.
Through these elements, the plot demonstrates how easy it is to prejudge somebody. While discussing why people fight so much, Jem wonders, “? Why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other? ‘” (227). People fight because they are so vastly different. The answer to the fighting, which is found in this quote, is to stop judging each other on our differences and to start looking for our similarities. We need to all try a little harder to not prejudice different people if we are to achieve the goal of improvement in our lives.