To Kill a Mockingbird Themes: Race and Prejudice

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Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that black people undoubtedly commit crimes, as do all people of America, but most crimes they are convicted of are derivative. To Kill a Mockingbrid is set during the 1930s, but written and published in 1960, during which the Civil Rights Movement was a momentous protest that was sweeping the nation. To Kill a Mockingbird is a historic, fictional novel that outlines the hardships of a wrongly accused black man living in an America full of prejudice, and, how his case affects the lives of those around him. Harper Lee used her knowledge as a lawyer and experiences from her past to bring the social injustices that arise in the book come to life (Lee, Harper 1926–). Harper Lee uses her literary work to give an accurate depiction of the effect of social injustice during the 30s by using realistic character struggles to provoke the reader’s emotions.

Harper Lee was born on April 26, 1926 and raised in Monroeville, Alabama. (Lee, Harper—”). As a child, she experienced many activities a child should experience, such as adventures with her brother, Edwin, and their friend Truman, but, Harper also also witnessed the worst of mankind (“Lee, Harper 1926—”). Growing up in Alabama, a southern state, during the 1920s exposed her to discrimination of no end, mostly through her father, Amasa Coleman, a lawyer in the Alabama State Legislature (“To Kill a Mockingbird. Literary Themes for Students: Race and Prejudice”). He brought home many cases in which he would have to defend black men accused by the white majority for foolhardy crimes. Growing up, Lee was so literarily advanced that she was apathetic towards elementary school. Many years later, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a lawyer. She graduated from Alabama University and studied law soon after, but dropped out one semester before she could earn her law degree to pursue writing (“To Kill a Mockingbird. Literary Themes for Students: Race and Prejudice”).

The main characters in To Kill a Mockingbird each overcome an internal struggle that evidently traces back to racism. Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Alabama State Legislature and father to Scout and Jem, is torn apart by his decision to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of rape as best he can, especially when the whole town frowns upon him for doing so. Every passing day Atticus fights for Mr. Robinson his kids are tormented at school because their father is a “nigger-lover”, and, his life is threatened by his friends who have been driven mad by “something in our world that makes men lose their heads— they couldn’t be fair if they tried,” (Lee 295). Jem Finch, the son of Atticus, witnesses the trial of Tom Robinson, and is beyond sure his father will win the case due to his opposition’s lack of evidence. When Mr. Robinson is found guilty regardless and sentenced to death, Jem learns the hard way that “...when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins,” (Lee 295). Jem, only twelve at the time, almost never recovers from the shock and anger afterwards, which he accidentally releases on his sister when he yells, “I never wanna hear about that courthouse again, ever, ever, ever, you hear me? You hear me? Don’t you ever say one word to me about it again, you hear?” (Lee, 331) Scout Finch, less than ten years old, is constantly trying to grasp for answers to satisfy her inquisitive mind; especially after experiencing harassment from her classmates, participating in mass at a negro church, hearing the verdict of Tom Robinson’s case, and hearing those around her express their feelings about Hitler’s current persecution of Jews. Towards the end of the novel Scout struggles to understand how her teachers and neighbors can feel such hatred towards Hitler, and then, “turn around and be ugly about folks right at home,” (Lee 331). All three characters’ turmoil increases when Tom Robinson is shot and killed in prison (Lee 315).

Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, shows us both points of views during a time of discreet racism, the oppressed and the oppressors. Harper Lee achieves this by utilizing past experiences and producing life like character obstacles. A few, brief, examples are the obstacles in which the main characters must overcome. In order for Atticus Finch to defend Tom Robinson, he must use his calm-headed nature to ignore the threats on his life, and, he teaches his kids to not fight back when their classmates call Atticus rude names. Jem Finch must subdue the loathing he feels for the people in his town after the jury reaches a verdict. Lastly, little Scout Finch searches to find answers for her numerous questions and has to learn to come to terms with the pitiful answers. Throughout the novel, all the characters are faced with unavoidable internal battles that some win, and others lose horribly. These internal battles are still relevant today, mostly having to do with issues such as racism and prejudice, that touch the reader’s heart.

Works Cited

"Harper Lee (adapted and illustrated by Fred Fordham): To Kill a Mockingbird--Graphic Novel." The Bookseller, 15 June 2018, p. 26. Student Resources in Context, Accessed 30 Nov. 2018. "Lee, Harper 1926–." Concise Major 21st Century Writers, edited by Tracey L. Matthews, vol. 3, Gale, 2006, pp. 2136-2140. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 30 Nov. 2018. Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. "To Kill a Mockingbird." Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them, vol. 3: Growth of Empires to the Great Depression (1890-1930s), Gale, 1997, pp. 390-396. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 30 Nov. 2018. "To Kill a Mockingbird." Literary Themes for Students: Race and Prejudice, edited by Anne Marie Hacht, vol. 2, Gale, 2006, pp. 470-483. Literary Themes for Students. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 30 Nov. 2018. "To Kill a Mockingbird." Novels for Students, edited by Diane Telgen, vol. 2, Gale, 1997, pp. 285-307. Gale Virtual Reference Library, Accessed 30 Nov. 2018.Works Cited Page

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To Kill a Mockingbird Themes: Race and Prejudice. (2019, Feb 20). Retrieved May 22, 2024 , from

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