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Black Or White To Kill A Mockingbird English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 4489 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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" Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away, and that in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty"  Martin Luther King, Jr.

Racism is a strong element that is portrayed in Harper Lee s Pulitzer Prize winning novel "To Kill a mocking bird". Harper lee was born in 1926 grew up in Monroeville (Alabama) and graduated from Alabama University. The book was published during the civil rights movement and exposed the dark elements of southern racist society.The story is set in Alabama, in the 1930. To kill a mocking bird deals with the moral teachings of a human being that is whether people are essentially good or evil. The book focuses to a large extent on a child's perspective in understanding the world. It clearly bridges a gap between a child's innocence and experience.Racism is a major theme of the novel. During that era, blacks were still highly dominated members of society. Blacks were not permitted to communicate with whites in public places, and there existed a clearly distinct black and white area of town.

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This research article deals with the concept, history and the major social issues related to Racism and racism in relation with "To Kill a Mockingbird".

The term "racism" is often used in a loose and unreflective way to describe the hostile or negative feeling towards another [1] .Racism has two major components -difference and power. It is not merely an attitude or set of beliefs but it also expresses itself in practices, institution, and structure that sense of deep difference justifies or validates. Racism has existed throughout human history. It may be defined as the hatred of one person by another. Racism is a word that can be defined in many different ways to people. To some, racism is a way of life, and to some, it is a repulsive term that represents closed or narrow mindedness. Racism comes from different cultural values, ethnic backgrounds, as well as the physical appearances. The conflict of racism occurs when the majority group of society feels that the different cultures and values of the minority group bring the change to the society. The United States of America, which brought people from all over the world, is stated as the land of opportunity and freedom, it is also the country that is famous for the racial discrimination. From the beginning of this country, there were conflicts with the Indians, slavery of blacks, and going against the people who immigrated there hoping to achieve their dream. Racism have been one of the most significant issues that people have been facing and fighting for, and is still occurring around us. Racism has killed and at the same time saved the people. It has killed the people as they have been discriminated in many ways. They have become the victims of the society. But in another point of view racism has saved the people, because through the discrimination, they have become stronger and confirmed about them. They have built the power to overcome the barrier of racism. Historically, almost every group of human beings who managed to cultivate a cultural identity did so partly by defining themselves as better than any other group, setting sharp boundaries to how much they would interact with other groups (including intermarriage) and limits to how much of their resources and power they would share.

Groups that were isolated by natural borders - like the Klingit (Eskimo), native Caribbean tribes, and Australian aborigines - did not have to develop traditions of hostility to strangers to protect their tribal identity. Natural obstacles provided all the hostility to invaders they needed; the people themselves could be generous and hospitable to the survivors, who often ended up absorbed into the tribe.

Those with extremely strong cultural identities - as, for example, Jews and Roma (gypsies) - have been able to exist within other cultures without behaving with hostility, although they have often suffered hostilities. This behaviour has changed, however, in the rare times when such a group has found itself in a position of power. In Moorish Spain and in modern Israel, for example, Jews have demonstrated that they can be as violent as anyone else in defence of "cultural identity" - persecuting heretic Jews as well as non-Jews.

Race"first appeared in the English language around the 17th century. North Americans began to use the term in their scientific writings by the late 18th century. Racism was developed and popularized by scientists in the 19th century, as they were regarded as the propagators of truth. At the time this ideology also explained political and economic conflicts in various parts of the world and legalised the dominant role of British in the world economic system. Racism is universal and is evident in many different racial and social groups. It is not limited to white groups. By the mid-19th century, there was general rule that the world's population was divided into a variety of races: groups of people who shared similar attributes like skin colour. This process of race categorization is referred to as racialization[2] and is necessary for the emergence of racism as an ideology. Racism is a product of capitalism. It grew out of early capitalism's use of slaves for the plantations of the developed World, it was solidified in order to justify western and white domination of the rest of the world and it flourishes today as a means of dividing the working class between white and black, and native and immigrants. Racism is commonly assumed to be as old as society itself. However this does not stand up to historical examination. Racism is a particular form of oppression: discrimination against people on the grounds that some inherited characteristic, for example, skin colour, makes them inferior to their oppressors.According to the United Nations conventions, there is no distinction between the term racial discrimination and ethnic discrimination.


 African Americans, who form a significant part of the American population were, and in some irregular cases, are subjected to tremendous discrimination. The Civil War fought in America was partly a movement to stand up to this unfair system but sadly racism continued to cast a gloomy shadow over the development of the American nation.

The Europeans, who settled in America in the early 1600s brought along the African black population, whom they had enslaved. Slowly, as the white population settled and flourished in America, slavery rooted itself in the US. The period from 1619 to 1865, especially witnessed a tremendously racist America grossly harassing the African American masses. After the Civil War, one law after the other was drafted by the government which severely discriminated the black community. It was a sort of wicked competition amongst the states to inflicting misery against their own population. Massachusetts state legalized slavery in 1641 and was the first to do so in America[3]. The latter half of the 18th century witnessed a big turmoil in America, against the British. The issues of human rights and independence began to gain position and hampered the British policies, a lot of civil rights for the African Americans were considered. Many were even untied but the status of the blacks never improved, especially once the Americans gained an upper hand in their search for independence. Since the elections of 1868, the Democrats who openly advocated discrimination against the blacks, used violence, corruption and intimidation to stop them from voting. Similarly, the Ku Klux Klan, founded in 1867, as a secret organization terrorized the African Americans and the black population at large. The group indulged in brutally murdering the black community and anyone socially advocating their cause. For every 3 whites killed in the fight, 40-50 blacks were killed. This was the real situation, but one which was suppressed and in fact popularized as atrocities against whites, until the 20th century.


Historical racismis based on inheritance and common decent. It identifies a population with a common origin in history, but not a population with a fixed biological character. It is also used to define nation states in Europe through national symbols, such as Nazi eagle, Aryan cross that believed in superiority of some nations over others.

Scientific racismbelieves that we can all be characterized by race with certain physical traits, such as brain size, sloping forehead. There is a hierarchy of races and claims that biology determines intelligence. It states that some races need to civilize others providing a justification for colonialism

Institutional racismaddresses those activities which are intended to protect the advantages of a dominant group and/or maintain or widen the unequal position of a subordinate group and certain structures in society that systematically discriminate against certain groups, such as apartheid in South Africa, Jim Crow laws in southern U.S.

New Racismasserts that no longer does any biological notion indicate cultural or other inferiorities. New Racism is not necessarily an assumption of inferiority or superiority; it is the emergence of new expressions such as immigrants, integration, cultural values, hide the racist text in our culture.


Racial violence differs from other forms of violence in that the root causes are to do with assumption of superiority and dislike of other people who are deemed to be inferior because of their identity, ethnic origin, nationality, national origins or descent; and because of their appearance and physical characteristics such as colour, language and dress. These are natural and normal attributes, and any attack on them is an attack of the very core of one's essence as a human being and as a member of the human race. Racial violence manifests itself in many ways. In serious cases it involves physical assault, arson, stabbing, rape, murder, attempted murder, and genocide.

Throughout the course of time, many a time racism has played an important role in shaping the history of the world. It has been a problem of the pre-modern world and continues to be a problem and a dilemma in the post-modern world. This problem is not something that can be solved by any number of discussions and debates held all around the world. As long as ethnic and individual differences in people exist, racism will continue to exist. It is not something that we can rid ourselves of. But instead what we can do is prevent it from becoming an issue over which the world gets divided to the point of no return. And also an acceptance in people of each other's uniqueness is something that will help tone down the great adverse effects of racism.

Racial Prejudice

Racial prejudice is an insidious moral and social disease affecting peoples and populations all over the world. It is diagnosed by the cataloguing of its various symptoms and manifestations which include fear, intolerance, separation, segregation, discrimination, and hatred. While all of these symptoms of racial prejudice may be manifest, the single underlying cause of racial prejudice is ignorance. Racial prejudice perverts this uniqueness of the races and takes the view that these differences separate individuals further into groups, with one group being inferior to the other. Racial prejudice affects everyone. Inasmuch as racial prejudice manifests itself in that people are "pre-judged" based on superficial characteristics, we must honestly conclude that all people "suffer" from this on various levels. These ideas have been formed from society, media, and our own upbringing. Maybe these ideas have been taught directly or indirectly, acted out by one's parents. Whatever the source, even the most enlightened member of a society will find that to some extent, he or she is judging another based on the superficial aspects of race.

Racial prejudice has shaped the form of our present day societies; indeed, prejudice has shaped societies since time began. To counteract the disease of racial prejudice, modern-day societies have drafted and enacted legislation to ensure that people "treat" each other with respect and dignity allowing one another their inalienable right to their pursuit of life and liberty. While man's actions can be legislated, their hearts and fears cannot. Thus, society continues to suffer from the disease. Forums, coalitions, and initiatives continue to be formed to foster unity, understanding, and tolerance.

Racism can only be stopped if all human races realized that we are all equal and that colours are only skin deep. Racism can have very simple solution; unfortunately it is complicated because of how one race discriminate others will cause both of the races to discriminate each other. For example, black people were being slaved during the 1800s and because of this, white people think that black people are inferior to them. During the 1900s many white people came to realize that black people are also human being and that they should treat them the same. This might seem like a happy ending but in reality, racism didn't fade because by then black people had hate white people and they think that white people is their enemy because of how they were treated. Therefore, I believed that the only solution to racism is an understanding among races that everybody is equal.

In conclusion, racism is a very important issue in United States. Racism is born when a certain people or organization feel that they are superior compared to other races. There are many historic figures that try to stop racism such as Martin Luther King JR and Malcolm X.

RACISM in "To kill a mocking bird"

"To kill a mocking bird" represents a major element of social inequality bringing out one of the most important themes of the novel that is Racism. Differences in social status are expressed through the overcomplicated social hierarchy of Maycomb, the "blacks' and the "whites" that continuously baffle the children. Atticus's family stood near the top of Maycomb's social hierarchy, with most of the townspeople beneath them. These rigid social divisions that make up so much of the adult world are revealed The title of To Kill a Mockingbird has very little literal connection to the plot, but it carries a great deal of symbolic weight in the book. In this story of innocents destroyed by evil, the "mockingbird" comes to represent the idea of innocence. Thus, to kill a mockingbird is to destroy innocence. Throughout the book, a number of characters (Jem, Tom Robinson, Dill, Boo Radley, Mr. Raymond) can be identified as mockingbirds-innocents who have been injured or destroyed through contact with evil. This connection between the novel's title and its main theme is made explicit several times in the novel: after Tom Robinson is shot, Mr. Underwood compares his death to "the senseless slaughter of songbirds," and at the end of the book Scout thinks that hurting Boo Radley would be like "shootin' a mockingbird." Most important, Miss Maudie explains to Scout: "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." That Jem and Scout's last name is Finch (another type of small bird) indicates that they are particularly vulnerable in the racist world of Maycomb, which often treats the fragile innocence of childhood harshly.

In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, racism, evil, prejudice or discrimination are present throughout the whole book. Racism affects many characters in the book and causes dreadful events to happen. Harper Lee illustrates her strong opinion on racism through view of a little girl, Scout (narrator), growing up in a small, southern community, Maycomb. Illustrating the story in a first person point of view, especially in situations like the trial, help one understand a child's point of view in order to understand the feelings of the little girl better. While growing up, Scout learns to take a positive view of the African-Americans in society. This is shown with the relationship with her maid, Calpurnia. However, this view contradicts the views of the other children living in her area. The other children her ages have adopted their ancestors prejudiced views, such as Cecil Jacobs announcing that "Scout Finch's daddy defended niggers". Another example is when Aunt Alexandria forbids Scout to play with Walter Cunningham because she sees them as "good folks, but not our kind of folks". Unlike most of the other characters in the book, Scout doesn't let things like race or wealth clouds her judgment of people. Tom Robinson losing his case, the prejudice against Atticus, and the church incident concerning Jem & Scout are all directly related to racism.

            Discrimination appears everywhere inside To Kill a Mockingbird, for example; Tom Robinson lost his case and got sentenced to life in prison, because he was black. The jury was very biased on this matter and so the result was inevitable. Even during the beginning of the trial, everything was a lie. "Mr. Ewell's face grew scarlet. He stood up and pointed his finger at Tom Robinson. '-I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin' on my Mayell'[4] Lee uses the word scarlet to show that Mr. Ewell was feeling angry at Atticus for contradicting him, yet was feeling guilty for telling a lie. Following his false accusation, Mr. Ewell exploded towards Tom and Atticus to reinforce his false statement.

           Similarly, Atticus defending Tom's innocence earned him continuous discrimination from local townspeople and even from his own family. His battle for justice caused more problems for Scout. She is continued defending him but the racist remarks did not stop. These remarks just showed how cruel children can be to other children. She feels the need to defend her father to Francis, her cousin. He was also taunting her with accusations: "At a safe distance her called, `He's nothin' but a nigger-lover'." The force of racism had disrupted their lives, especially Scouts, through the old fashioned and discriminative opinions of the younger residents of Maycomb. 

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   When Atticus decides to defend Robinson, he is cursed at by being called a "nigger-lover" by many people, including his nephew. "'Francis, what the hell do you mean?'/ 'Just what I said. Grandma says its bad enough he lets you run wild, but now he turned out to be a nigger-lover.'"[6] Atticus suffers every deep blow, being told that some of his family members don't support him. This indirect racism comes only from the equality that Atticus treats any enemy person with. Racism is the ultimate injustice to any person.

Furthermore, there is another event supporting the idea of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird. It is when Jem and Scout go to Calpurnia's church. There, they encounter discrimination with every step they take! '"I [Lula] want to know why you bringin' white chillun to nigger church'. [5] When Lula asks this, she says it with contempt. Harper Lee uses racism in both directions, whites to blacks, and blacks to whites. So, it implies that both are to blame for discrimination. Lula was trying to feel a sense of pride in having a black church to go to, and now, for her, it was like Jem and Scout came stampeding over that pride by entering the doors. Jem and Scout obviously felt that they did not belong and wanted to go home.

           The most important theme of Mockingbird remains the notion of prejudice in all of its forms.  Clearly, with the Tom Robinson case, Lee's characters deal with racial prejudice head on.  References to black men as "niggers" and "boys" persist throughout the book.  Black people occupy the lowest class level of Maycomb society as Maycomb's white population of every class waste no time reinforcing their rigid class rules. 

In To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, racism permeates every idea and inch of this book from the loss of Robinson's trial, the discrimination against Atticus, and the contempt for Jem and Scout. Racism affected everyone in this book whether they noticed it or not. This book is a warning sign, telling the word to take off its blindfold and to start seeing people for who they are.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a novel by Betty Smith published in 1943. It relates the coming-of-age story of its main character, Francie Nolan, and her Austrian/Irish-American family in Williamsburg, New York City. The novel is set in the first and second decades of the 20th century.A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a defacto novel. Although a dense novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is widely read by adolescents. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a naturalist novel and carries social realism of Racism to an extreme in depicting the rough lives of the characters.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn cannot be separated from class issues. Nearly every anecdote, character, and chapter represents or addresses the problem of poverty in early twentieth-century America. Being poor means that the characters constantly must think of being poor-how they will buy the next loaf of bread, or what one's house or neighbourhood looks like compared to another. Smith shows that poverty does not only imply the absence of food, heat, or comfort. Poverty results in Johnny's worthlessness and death, causes Uncle Flittman to run away, and means that Francie cannot attend high school. Every activity, game, action is planned around a limited pool of resources. In addition to the Nolan's life, Smith presents an entire poor community, and shows the close connection between poverty and exploitation. Store proprietors take advantage of children's innocence to lure money out of them; piano teachers beg for tea from their students. Smith's sympathetic treatment of her characters that poverty itself is the evil-not the people. Like the tree man, people just need to think first of their own families and children.

The author often juxtaposes the lower class with people of privilege to further develop this theme. Although having money makes for an easier life, in many cases, the most lovable characters in the book are impoverished, or come from a poor background. The rich doctor reigns as a villain in the book; the charity event is exposed as self-righteous and hurtful. By the end of the book, Neely and Francie pity Laurie for growing up without any hardship, saying that she will never have as much fun as they did. Like the tree, the author seems to be saying, she "likes poor people.


Hence Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others. Racism and discrimination have been used and will always be a powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and war, and even during economic downturns.

The most important theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is the book's exploration of the moral nature of human beings-that is, whether people are essentially good or essentially evil. The novel approaches this question by dramatizing Scout and Jem's transition from a perspective of childhood innocence, in which they assume that people are good because they have never seen evil, to a more adult perspective, in which they have confronted evil and must incorporate it into their understanding of the world. As a result of this portrayal of the transition from innocence to experience, one of the book's important subthemes involves the threat that hatred, prejudice, and ignorance pose to the innocent: people such as Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are not prepared for the evil that they encounter, and, as a result, they are destroyed. Even Jem is victimized to an extent by his discovery of the evil of racism during and after the trial. Whereas Scout is able to maintain her basic faith in human nature despite Tom's conviction, Jem's faith in justice and in humanity is badly damaged, and he retreats into a state of disillusionment.

The moral voice of To Kill a Mockingbird is embodied by Atticus Finch, who is virtually unique in the novel in that he has experienced and understood evil without losing his faith in the human capacity for goodness. Atticus understands that, rather than being simply creatures of good or creatures of evil, most people have both good and bad qualities. The important thing is to appreciate the good qualities and understand the bad qualities by treating others with sympathy and trying to see life from their perspective. He tries to teach this ultimate moral lesson to Jem and Scout to show them that it is possible to live with conscience without losing hope or becoming cynical. In this way, Atticus is able to admire Mrs. Dubose's courage even while deploring her racism. Scout's progress as a character in the novel is defined by her gradual development toward understanding Atticus's lessons, culminating when, in the final chapters, Scout at last sees Boo Radley as a human being. Her newfound ability to view the world from his perspective ensures that she will not become jaded as she loses her innocence.

Hence through this research article it can be seen how the evil element of our society. "Racism" has not only affected our society but in an abstract ideological manner but also warped the very mind-frames of the people at large. Racism has been and will always exist in the social strata killing and saving people and in its very nature contradicting itself.

[1] Racism in the world by Herbert Cole pg. 5

[2]Change in Racism by Chris Heath pg. 104

[3]Slavery in America-History by John Fricke

[4] To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee pg. 196

[5] To kill a mockingbird by Harper Lee pg. 135

[6] To kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee pg. 94

 "HYPERLINK "http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism"RacismHYPERLINK "http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/racism"". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

"HYPERLINK "http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006636"RacismHYPERLINK "http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=A1ARTA0006636"". The Canadian Encyclopaedia. Canadian Encyclopaedia. Retrieved 2010-07-23. "Racism was developed and popularized by scientists in the 19th century, as they were regarded as propagators of truth."

Wellman, David T. (1993). Portraits of White Racism.


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