How does Harper Lee present inequality in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, and how does it affect Scout, Jem and Dill?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee presents inequality to Scout, Jem, and Dill in the novel by exposing them to the wrongful conviction of Tom Robinson. Prior to the trial, Scout, Jem, and Dill had never witnessed racial injustice. Because Tom Robinson is a black man living in the prejudiced community of Maycomb, he is found guilty of assaulting and raping Mayella Ewell. During the trial, Jem feels that Atticus is clearly winning the case based on the conflicting testimonies of the Ewells and the lack of evidence presented against Tom. When the prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer, questions Tom, Dill begins to cry uncontrollably, and Scout is forced to take him outside of the courtroom. Dill mentions to Scout that he couldn't stand the way Mr. Gilmer was talking down to Tom and treating him disrespectfully. When the final verdict is read, Jem is shocked and deeply upset. All three characters lose their childhood innocence by witnessing Tom's conviction.

As the novel progresses, Jem becomes jaded about his community and its widespread inequality and prejudice. Jem begins to understand the class divisions of Maycomb while Scout remains positive about their environment. Dill is so upset after witnessing the trial that he says he wants to become a clown. Dill's wish to become a clown is a naive expression of how he wishes to protect himself from further heartache. Scout, like her father, recognizes inequality and stands up for the oppressed and innocent. When Alexandra tells her that she can't play with Walter because he is "trash," Scout becomes upset and discusses her feelings with Jem. She also becomes cognizant of the overwhelming hypocrisy in her community regarding inequality, race, and religion. Despite Scout's loss of innocence, she is hopeful and tolerant of her community members. Scout does not become bitter like her brother or repress her feelings like Dill, instead, she chooses to follow Atticus' lead and view the town Maycomb for what it is.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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