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Discuss the theme of prejudice in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

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Introduction

Discuss the theme of prejudice in 'To Kill a Mockingbird' To Kill a Mockingbird is an influential American novel written by Harper Lee which deals with the issue of prejudice as its main theme. Prejudice is the unjustifiable unfairness to a particular individual or group based on their background or lifestyle. This subject is explored in the novel in different forms; racism is the main type but prejudice of class, sex, family and age are also looked at. The social and historical milieu of the novel's release is very significant to the storyline and important in terms of world history. It was published in 1960 with a very popular response from the public. The '50s was the decade of change when civil rights in America was progressing further than ever before with Civil rights bills being discussed for the first time and demonstrations by historical figures such as Martin Luther King winning support from all over USA. It was a time when people were generally realising their mistakes and looking back at the prejudiced attitudes of white people toward black people in the 1930s and before. The novel is actually set in the early 1930s in Maycomb, Alabama when things were not so good for the black population in America. Despite the Civil War being won in 1861 by the Union (Northern states) in support of abolition of slavery, the Southern states (Confederates) refused to accept the black community and most of the Southern population and many in the North were still very racist. Since Alabama is in the South, the people of Maycomb can be expected to be predominantly racist. Segregation still existed all over America and there were many 'Jim Crow' laws which enforced this segregation. Blacks had different and lower quality schools, churches waiting areas, bars and places on buses. Groups like the Klu Klux Klan took the law into their own hands and often lynched black people accused of wrongdoings to white people. ...read more.

Middle

Scout "'He is not!' I roared. 'I don't know what you're talking about, but you better cut it out this red hot minute!'" When her cousin, Francis calls Atticus a nigger-lover, she is filled with anger despite not knowing what it means. This shows that she is a very protective and also short-tempered girl. It also shows her innocence. Later on though, she learns about it and declares that "there's just one kind of folks. Folks." This shows her maturity and her belief that everyone is the same inside. Another example of her learning more about prejudice is how she and the boys get engulfed by the Maycomb rumours of 'Boo' Radley and become obsessed with him. They play games re-enacting what they've heard and they try to make contact with him but they do not know that they are distressing him. This is prejudice on an individual basis. People are prejudice towards Boo Radley because they are scared of him and he is different to the rest of them. However, near the end, we see that scout has changed and taken Atticus' advice about stepping in people's shoes by looking at the world from Boo's point of view: "One time he (Atticus) said that you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough." This shows that Atticus has taught her well and we know that it is unlikely that she will grow up to be prejudiced. Jem also showed that he gained more understanding about Boo Radley by telling Scout this: "I'm beginning to understand why Boo Radley's stayed shut up in the house all this time...it's because he wants to stay inside." He says this because he understands that there is a lot of prejudice in the world after watching Tom Robinson being found guilty and Boo Radley would just become a victim of it if he went outside. ...read more.

Conclusion

Speech by influential characters like Atticus who described him as a 'quiet, respectable humble negro' is used to try and change the image that white people had of black people. It was released when the Second World War was over and Hitler had been defeated. She used irony to try and make people see that prejudice had to be defeated at home too. Although this was a massive part of the novel, the actual story was about children growing up and maturing. It was about seeing the world through the eyes of a young girl. It showed the readers that the world seems simple and straight forward when you are innocent and have not witnessed the harsh cruelties in it. The book is also very useful for children because it teaches them a lot of things about society that are perhaps not discussed in school, not including prejudice. These things are still relevant today because although rules and the ways of life may have changed, people are still the same. Racism, sexism and other prejudice have not been wiped out so people can still relate to it. They can see how it has changed over the decades. The book is also useful for kids growing up because children still go through the same things as they are maturing. The ending offers an optimistic future for the people of the '50s and even us. The most interesting thing is how Scout stands outside the Radley place and recaps the past two years through Arthur Radley's eyes. "It was fall, and his children fought on the sidewalk...Winter, and his children shivered at the front gate...Summer, and he watched his children's heart break..." This offers hope because it shows that people in the end will have empathy just like Scout did with 'Boo'. They will see things from others' points of view and judge them differently. This is a great technique that Lee used and it sums up the book for the reader and makes them think about the topics involved in the novel. Kaushal Bhagat 11BN 1 ...read more.

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