With close reference to the text, discuss the idea that To Kill a Mockingbird is an indictment (criticism) of the white man's treatment of blacks.
Written in the wake of the Emmett Till trial, which involved two white men's killing of Till, a fourteen-year-old black male accused of harrassing a white woman, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird creates significant parallels between this real-life trial with a jury of twelve white men who acquit the accused and that of Tom Robinson who also becomes a sacrificial victim to racism. In addition, her novel's manuscript was approved in 1957, the same year that Congress passed The Civil Rights Act, so the fact that Tom is found guilty is especially pronounced as an act of racial prejudice on the part of Maycomb's jury.
Other examples of the poor treatment of the blacks:
- The relegation of Mr. Dolphus Raymond to the fringes of society because of his black family.
- The demeaning of Calpurnia at the missionary tea in which she is not allowed to make the teacakes for the women. Mrs. Merriweather's disparaging remarks about her maid within Calpurnia's hearing is very demeaning, as well.
- The fact that the Ewells, "white trash," are allowed to lie and slander Tom Robinson with impunity points to the terrible social inequality in Maycomb.
- The reluctance of anyone to hire Tom's wife, Ruth, is indicative of prejudice.
- The area in which blacks must live, the worst part of Maycomb, indicates their social inequality, also.
- The blacks have positions only of maids and lower levels; they must come to the back doors of homes as they are in subservient positions, economically and socially
This novel highlights how different people have different responses to the society they live in. There are characters such as Aunt Alexandria or Mr. Cunningham who have very negative attitudes towards the blacks, but the point of the novel is how better characters such as Atticus, Miss Maudie, and Heck Tate show that those prejudices don't hold up. The novel shows by the example of those and other white characters how people should be treated, whether black or white. Atticus and Calpurnia teach compassion for Walter Cunningham and Authur "Boo" Radley as well as for Tom Robinson. It isn't about how white people should or shouldn't act, it is about how everyone should treat his fellow man. It is perhaps a criticism of some whites, but is more importantly a celebration of justice and fairness. The lesson learned is change can start with one person's actions.