Theme of Prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird

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Prejudice is a relevant and recurring theme in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The theme of prejudice is much like an application or software. People often browse the network of billions of apps and software, searching for the perfect one that fits their needs, however, there is not enough time to download and test each and every one of them. When deciding whether they should download the app, people decide whether or not to purchase an app on very little information but they are often the app’s experience and quality on the few pictures that are shown and the reviews that are written by members of society.

Although these images do not offer much insight into the app and its quality, they often dictate the decisions people make. Society too labels people by how they appear, or the sight, and almost never the insight. People cannot even begin to understand these apps until they test them, get to know them, and really tap into them. There are many similarities between how people are prejudice towards an app and the prejudice that occurs with characters in this novel, two of them being: the mysterious Arthur “Boo” Radley and Atticus Finch. The town of Maycomb heavily misjudges Atticus and Arthur, purely from the rumours they hear and their actions. Both characters stand for justice and are samaritans, yet society heavily pre-judges them on the choices they make, without understanding the reasons behind these choice.

At the beginning of the novel, Scout’s brother, Jem, describes Arthur to the other children, basing off of the rumours his neighbours tell him. Jem tells Scout: “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” (Lee 13).

This is an example of prejudice against Arthur because Jem has not seen Arthur. He obtains his information from rumours of Arthur that his neighbours are passing around. This description leads the children, Jem, Dill, and Scout, to fear Arthur and stay away from his house. Ironically, throughout this novel, Arthur continues to demonstrate his kind character. Specifically, he leaves various gifts in the hole of an oak tree. The gifts are chewing gum, an old spelling bee medal, and two soap carvings that represent the two children Jem and Scout.

Arthur also wraps a blanket around Scout when she has to stand outside of the Radley’s house while Atticus helps fight the ongoing fire at Miss Maudie’s house. This also shows that Arthur may not be the monster the community depicts him as since he felt empathy for Scout having to stand out in the cold. While Scout and Jem suspect Arthur is behind these kind acts, they never know for sure. Another example of how the town of Maycomb misunderstands Arthur’s character is when he makes his appearance during the climax of the story. Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout on their way home from a pageant because he is mad at Atticus for making him look like a fool in front of the town during the court hearing.

Bob Ewell injures Jem’s arm, so that leaves Scout to fend for herself. Luckily, Arthur is following them comes to the rescue. Arthur manages to kill Bob Ewell, and Scout finally is able to meet him after Arthur takes the children back to their house. The town’s sheriff Heck Tate, and the children’s father, Atticus Finch, discuss Bob’s death. Heck finds Bob Ewell dead, lying against an oak tree with a knife by his side. They decide to lie to the town that Bob falls on his knife and kills himself that way, instead of telling the truth, that Arthur is responsible for killing him. This is to keep away unnecessary attention from Arthur because he does not kill Bob for the fame or attention, he does it out of pure kindness.

It is clear that the town is prejudice against Arthur “Boo” Radley, because they spread rumours, and fail to see him commit small acts of kindness and they do not know he saves Jem and Scout Finch. Arthur Radley is one of the many characters that showcase and help the readers understand the relevance and severity of prejudice in this novel.

Furthermore, even those who are purely altruistic, honourable and equitable, for instance, Atticus Finch, also fall victim to it. A man of courage, Atticus is willing to do what is right, even if it is unpopular. The most notable act is when Atticus takes it upon himself to defend Tom Robinson in court. In spite of Atticus’s intentions, some people in Maycomb judge Atticus for his audacity to take a negro’s word over a white man’s word in court. Instantaneously, the townsfolk bombard Atticus with hatred and scorn. Atticus’s family judge him too.

During a visit at Francis, Scout’s cousin, tells scout, ‘Grandma says it’s bad enough he lets you all run wild, but now he’s turned out a nigger-lover we’ll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb agin. He’s ruinin‘ the family, that’s what he’s doin’” (Lee 83). This statement showcases people’s prejudice towards Atticus. His own family feels he is a reckless father and a negro supporter. Consequently, Bob Ewell, along with Aunt Alexandra and Mrs.Dubose, shames anyone that affiliates with Atticus, including his family members, and insults Atticus on a daily basis. But in reality, Atticus is only fighting for what he believes is right: to help someone in need and to ensure that Tom Robinson gets a fair trial.

Oblivious to Atticus’s true intentions, Bob Ewell, along with Mrs.Dubose, continue to discriminate Atticus on a daily basis. During the falling action of the story, Bob Ewell, the man accusing Tom Robinson of raping his daughter, confronts Atticus outside the post office. It is narrated that, ‘Mr. Bob Ewell stopped Atticus on the post office corner, spat in his face, and told him he’d get him if it took the rest of his life’ (Lee 217). This is another example of prejudice that Atticus must overcome. Bob Ewell hates Atticus; heir racist and prejudice towards anyone who is willing to support a black man over him. Atticus humiliates Bob Ewell and Mayella Ewell in court and despite being a dishonourable man, he expects Atticus to take his and Mayella’s side over Tom Robinson’s side.

As a result, Bob Ewell perceives Atticus as this nigger lover who must pay for humiliating the Ewells and favouring a black man. Surprisingly, during the entire confrontation, Atticus patiently waits and then calmly proceeds to wipe off the spit. Atticus does not let one man’s hatred and prejudice affect him. Unfortunately, many citizens of Maycomb agree with Bob Ewell’s prejudice point of view. Another example of prejudice towards Atticus is when Scout, along with her older brother Jem, foresees Atticus as an old and weak father.

Atticus was feeble: he was nearly fifty. When Jem and I asked him why he was so old, he said he got started late, which we felt reflected upon his abilities and manliness. He was much older than the parents of our school contemporaries, and there was nothing Jem or I could say about him when our classmates said, My father—. (Lee 89)

Throughout the entire novel, Scout and Jem constantly feel like if their father, Atticus, is embarrassing them since he is older than most parents and his favourite hobby is reading rather than sports. In Scout and Jem’s perspective, Atticus shows his feeblenesses in numerous ways, ranging from being unable to play football with Jem to his ‘boring’ job. Once again, these misconceptions are proven to be false as the complexity of Atticus’s character slowly starts to unravel. It is later shown that Atticus has the deadest shot in Maycomb when he was growing up and how he can play The Jew’s Harp, an instrument few people are able to play. Even though Atticus is one of many characters who fall victim to prejudice, his true character unveils: he is a man of ethics trying to give a black man a fair trial and he is a man of many hidden skills and talents. Moreover, understanding Atticus helps readers see that prejudice surrounds Maycomb in various forms.

The unravelling of Atticus’s and Arthur “Boo” Radley demonstrates the various forms of prejudice in Maycomb. In a small town like Maycomb, prejudice is prevalent in Atticus Finch and Arthur “Boo” Radley. The society of Maycomb perceives and labels its citizens on the basis of their race, morals, economic status, and beliefs. From misconceptions to rumours, Atticus Finch and Arthur Radley are mockingbirds, innocent and harmless creatures, who fall victim to prejudice and suffer because society sees them differently from how they actually are.

As judge Taylor says, “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for” (Lee 174). In other words prejudicial opinions forever blind someone from seeing past one’s exterior. Specifically, how characters such as Bob Ewell, struggle to see the individuality of others, such as Atticus Finch and Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley. Nonetheless, To Kill a Mockingbird shows the consequences of discrimination in its various forms.

Cite this paper

Theme of Prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird. (2021, Feb 05). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/theme-of-prejudice-in-to-kill-a-mockingbird/

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