To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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From Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, where is racism addressed through the characters of Atticus Finch, Bob Ewell, and Tom Robinson?  

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After the Tom Robinson trial, Atticus and Jem are discussing the laws surrounding rape. Jem wonders why a verdict of death was appropriate for the crime. Atticus explains the racism surrounding the trial was wrong, not the law. Atticus explicitly says the following:

"Tom Robinson's a colored man, Jem. No jury in this part of the world's going to say, 'We think you're guilty, but not very,' on a charge like that. It was either a straight acquittal or nothing" (219).

In the above passage, Atticus recognizes the prejudice that plagues the South and that there was no partial sentencing for Tom Robinson simply because he was black. Atticus also says later that capital punishment is an appropriate sentencing for rape as long as there are a couple of witnesses and proof that the crime was committed; but for Tom, that didn't happen and they still sentenced him to death.

Another example of racism is shown through the character Bob Ewell. Just the fact that Bob knew he could press charges on a black man and win the case because he is white proves he is racist. He even expected all of the white people in the community to support his side of the case even though he is the trashiest person in the county. When Atticus takes Tom's side seriously, and then makes Bob Ewell look like the liar he is, Bob seeks revenge. Bob also represents racist people like himself when he spits in Atticus's face and says the following:"Too proud to fight, you nigger-lovin' bastard" (217). Only racist people would say such insulting things like Bob Ewell does.

Finally, Tom Robinson is the victim of racism, but he is brave enough to take the witness stand and speak out against it by way of testimony. During cross examination with Mr. Gilmer, Tom is asked if Mr. Ewell ran him off of his property. Tom says Ewell didn't run him off because he got out of there as quickly as possible. Mr. Gilmer asks if Tom had a clear conscience, then why run away? Tom exposes the racism that blacks in the South face by saying, "Like I says before, it weren't safe for any nigger to be in a--fix like that" (198). Tom knows that when it comes down to a situation between different races in the South, white always wins, so he ran. Tom runs again, too, when he is sent to prison. He runs for the fence and gets shot because, as Atticus surmises, he must have tried the justice system and finally decided to take his fate into his own hands. 

 

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