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The End to One’s Beginning: A View on Racism, Gender, and Society in a Small Town
People of all ages and genders experience prejudice in their everyday lives, either as victims or being guilty themselves of using it towards others due to differences in between them. Prejudice is a presumption of a person based on stereotypes, rumors, the area they are situated in, and hearsay, without any solid facts. Inequity based on gender, sexuality, nationality, and skin colour also highly affects one’s opinions. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee denotes the evils of prejudice and the negative consequences of prejudice that lie in the town of Maycomb, Alabama. By taking the reader, page by page, through various current life situations, and analyzing the impact of prejudice on people’s lives, she manages to dig deep into the problem in an attempt to eliminate bias. Prejudice is the end of someone’s beginning, that also contributes to a larger problem in social behavior. In To Kill a mockingbird, Lee depicts the ways of how prejudice is demonstrated, through the characters Boo Radley, women of Maycomb, and Tom Robinson, based on discrimination by preconceived town opinions, gender, and skin colour. These different types of prejudice are illustrated in the book and show how unjust it is to adjudicate others based on these grounds.
Throughout the novel, it is clearly shown that Arthur Boo Radley does not fit into the typical Maycomb County society. It is due to his past and the current mentions of him that provoke the townspeople to think prejudicially and thwart him from having the chance to live normally. Boo was painted as a monster, one adults feared, and that children were told stories about so that they didn’t bother anyone, he is seen overall as a savage. It is said “Boo was about six and a half feet tall… there was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had where yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time”(13). By making reference to these exaggerated physical features, Jem easily depicts Boo to be a creature that is to be less than human. As Jem, a character who is trusted by Scout and Dill, tells these stories he is then passing ignorance forward. One is not able to truly see Boo as a soul, when there are more horror stories centered on him, than tales of happiness, joy, and the simple essence of being human. In another situation, the story is told “Inside the house lived a malevolent phantom. People said he existed, but Jem and I had never seen him. People said he went out at night when the moon was down and peeped in windows. When people’s azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them. Any stealthy small crimes committed in Maycomb were his work….Radley pecans would kill you. A baseball hit into the Radley yard was a lost ball and no questions asked.”(8-9)Though many of these acclamations are not physically possible, just the fact that the person telling the story is considered trustworthy, people are able to believe, without proof. Prejudice is driven by ignorance, and though Boo is quite the mysterious character, he has proven time and time again that he may seem scary, but really he is just mistreated and broken. Through small actions of kindness and gifts in the knothole(medals, gum, sewn pants, etc…), that is when Jem, and Scout came to the realization that Boo may not be the man, or monster they think he is. Boo may be an individual with a harsh past, but he is not the monstrosity that society depicts him to be.
Scout does not worry about her lack of femininity, however, her Aunt Alexandra does not condone the unladylike behavior, finding it worrying even. While Atticus shows nonchalance towards Scout’s nature, Aunt Alexandra makes it her mission to obliterate Scout’s tendencies. In this time era being a girl is often associated with being weak, less, dresses, and dolls, causing Scout to show acrimony towards being called a “girl,” always taking it as an insult. Throughout the story, there have been many counts where Jem has said that she is “gettin’ more like a girl every day!” (p52), making it hard for Scout to accept who she is, because of what is expected of girls at that time. Another example of gender prejudice is after the jury convicts Tom Robinson, Jem is upset and wonders why good people, “like us and Miss Maudie,” don’t “serve the jury” (252). Atticus explains that Miss Maudie cannot serve because she is a woman; since the jury consisted of men, this reveals gender discrimination. Like the African American population, the women in Maycomb suffer from ignorance, and what is prejudicially expected of them.
During this riveting tale, Lee has allowed the reader to interpret the dominant theme of racial prejudice through the use of innocent, pure, and untainted characters, Jem and Scout. It is made quite apparent to the reader that racial prejudice is incorrect and the treatment of African-Americans’ is cruel and unjust. Innocent Scout highlights the racial problems when she asked Atticus, “Do you defend niggers, Atticus?”(75) It is said often, that children are not born with ignorance, and hate, but rather grow up around it and follow the actions who they see important. In the novel, the author shows the innocence of Scout, Jem, and Dill on many occasions. Though these children are made to realize that prejudice, ignorance, and hatred will always find a victim, one who is slightly more vulnerable than the rest. One character who falls short of these beliefs in Maycomb County’s intrinsic discrimination is Tom Robinson. Tom is an African American male, which in Maycomb’s social structure, was seen as the lowest standing. When he was on trial for the alleged rape of a white woman, Mayella Ewell, he did not stand much of a chance of winning a favorable verdict. Atticus tries to explain the racist view of the town to Jem by saying, “Tom Robinson’s a coloured man, Jem. No jury in this part of the world’s going to say, ‘we think you’re actually guilty, but not very’ on a charge like that. It was either a straight or nothing” (219). He continues to say, “In our courts when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They are ugly, but those are the facts of life” (220). Atticus in a simple manner gave the hard truth to Jem, as grotesque as it may be. No matter the proof of his arm, who he was as a human, past records, or even the missing factor of a health record of Mayella, there was frankley nothing one could do. In this time period, it would be considered blasphemy to let a black man walk, while a white man takes his place on death roll. In the end, Scout is able to maintain her basic faith in human nature despite the shock and unfairness of Tom Robinson’s courtroom conviction. However, on the other hand, Jem’s faith in truth, justice, and humanity is immensely damaged. He does not understand why all of this is happening. Jem is yet too young to comprehend prejudice and racism, therefore does not make one ounce of sense to him as they are so foreign to his nature, as if they did not exist.
In conclusion, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee obdurately explores the moral state of human beings, especially the struggle in every human soul with discrimination. Through many real life situations, the readers are able to see that, racial prejudice is incorrect and the treatment of African-Americans’ is cruel. “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird,” said Atticus to Scout. Through many instances just like Boo Radley who does not harm anyone, and Scout, who is a brave character, one can connect justice with innocence to a certain extent and portrays justice as being easily detected. The problem is society, that is able to instil beliefs that can, and will, act as a veil and blind from justice. The only way to remove this veil is through people who will pass their morality and nobility to the young.

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