In To Kill A Mockingbird, what incidents and characters are there to emphasize the theme of racial injustice?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The setting of Macomb, Alabama, in the 1930's, an era in which Jim Crow Laws were in existence, creates an environment in which there is racial injustice.


  • Under these laws, blacks were not allowed to eat in certain places or to enter the same parks, restrooms, etc. that whites could. They were not addressed by any title such as Mr. or Mrs.;instead, they were addressed by their first names, as, for instance, is Calpurnia and Tom Robinson. 
  • Among the laws, there was a required etiquette for blacks, too, as, for example, they were not to offer their hands to any whites to shake as this gesture connoted equality, nor were they to express any sentiments for whites. Therefore, when Tom inadvertently says that he "felt sorry" for Mayella, he breaks one of the Jim Crow Laws.
  • This divisional thinking is apparent in the remarks made by Mrs. Dubose, Aunt Alexandra, and Uncle Jack who do not think that Atticus Finch should defend a black man on trial.
  • The sense of position is also evinced by Aunt Alexandra who will not permit Calpurnia to bake for the Missionary Tea, and does so herself, instead. She also feels that Calpurnia plays too large a role in Atticus's family for just a maid, but Atticus informs her that Calpurnia is a member of his family--a remark not to Alexandra's liking. Similarly, while at tea with Aunt Alexandra and others, Mrs. Merriweather complains about her maid who has become "stirred up" by those who "thought they (implying Atticus) were doing the right thing a while back."
  • Mr. Dolphus Raymond is ostracized from white society because he has a black mistress and children with her.
  • The Old Sarum Bunch, of which Mr. Cunningham is part, represent the vigilantes of old who would hang blacks for their involvement with whites.
  • Bob Ewell epitomizes the racial bigot as he feels no compunction about implicating the innocent Robinson in a charge of rape. a charge which portends a death sentence.
  • Mayella represents those whites who feel they can fabricate things a black has purportedly done.
  • Miss Stephanie Crawford and others represent those who fear the supposed threat of black men against their womanhood in the "white goddess" concept
  • Mr. Underwood is known for his dislike for blacks
  • Miss Lula exemplifies a hatred for blacks as she insists that Jem and Scout leave her church.


  • Mrs. Dubose insults Atticus for defending a black man
  • The men of Maycomb come to Atticus's home to ask him to procure a change of venue for the trial
  • The old Sarum Bunch show up at the jail in order to lynch Tom.
  • During the trial, Mr. Gilmer is hostile toward Tom.
  • Bob Ewell spits upon Atticus after his cross-examining and before the courthouse. Later, he tries to kill the children as they walk to a school play.
  • Bob Ewell tries to murder Jem and Scout
Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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