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Racial prejudice and its terrible effects are emphasized in the novel through Harper Lee's development of plot and character. The main plot, Tom Robinson's trial and its aftermath, shows the ugliness and tragic injustice of racism. Tom is a good man, a kind man who tries to help Mayella Ewell. As a result, she accuses him of rape to avoid the shame of having been attracted to a young black man. Atticus raises serious questions in court that a rape ever occurred, shows that Tom could not have beaten Mayella, and establishes that Bob Ewell most likely had beaten his daughter. Despite the evidence, Tom is convicted of a capital crime; he is a victim of racism and centuries of Southern culture. In his desperation at the prison farm, he breaks down, runs with nowhere to go, and is shot and killed. The cruel injustice of the destruction of Tom Robinson serves as the novel's strongest and most compelling condemnation of racism.
Racial prejudice is also addressed through the development of the character of Atticus Finch. Through Atticus, the evils of prejudice are clearly and consistently brought into the novel. Atticus speaks often to his children of the prejudice that surrounds them, trying to protect them from Maycomb's "usual disease." By example, he teaches them that a good person will stand up against it. The most dramatic example of this is the scene at the jail when Atticus faces a lynch mob to prevent Tom from being lynched. His taking Tom's case is another example. He makes Jem and Scout understand that he must help Tom because taking his case and doing his best to defend him is a matter of moral principle. Atticus knows that his fighting for Tom will not be without consequence, and he is right. The manner in which most of his neighbors condemn him shows the prejudice he opposes. Also, Bob Ewell's attack on Jem and Scout show the near-tragic results of Atticus' hatred of racial prejudice and his devotion to justice.
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