How does Harper Lee present the black community in the book To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Author Harper Lee treats Maycomb's black community in a highly sympathetic manner during To Kill a Mockingbird. This is not to say, however, that she does not present them in a realistic manner: After all, it is the 1930s in the Deep South, and most of the white population treat African Americans as second-class citizens at best. Segregation is the norm, and most of the white characters react in a manner expected of the time period. There are a few completely enlightened characters, such as Atticus, Miss Maudie and Dolphus Raymond, but even the Finch children use the "N" word, and Scout often describes the "colored folks" in a condescending manner. Blacks are treated as childlike, falling for the superstitions surrounding the Radley House; they are blamed for unexplained crimes not accounted to Boo; they are not fit to share jail cells with white criminals; and they are even the butt of off-color jokes, such as Miss Stephanie's "white nigger" remark following the children's raid on the Radleys' back porch.

Nevertheless, the narration is generally critical of the white citizens' perception and treatment of black men and women, and Scout gets to see for herself that the congregation of the First Purchase Church is peaceful and God-fearing. Tom Robinson is presented as honest and hard-working, and his death proves to be a tragedy to the people who can see past his skin color. His friends heap piles of food at Atticus's doorstep in appreciation for his efforts to free him. They recognize that Atticus is their friend, and Atticus attempts to convince the jury that it is a case that "is as simple as black and white." He begs them to ignore the

"... evil assumption--that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted..."

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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