What are some quotes on racism, prejudice, and intolerance throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are plenty of quotes the deal with racism, prejudice, and intolerance throughout the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout and Jem become the target of several racist comments from various community members in Maycomb. In Chapter 11, Mrs. Dubose says,

"Your father's no better than the niggers and trash he works for!" (Lee 135)

Mrs. Dubose is not the only character throughout the novel that uses derogatory racial slurs. In Chapter 9, Scout's cousin, Francis Hancock, is talking about her father Atticus and says,

"He's nothin' but a nigger-lover!" (Lee 110)

There are several scenes throughout the novel where Harper Lee illustrates the prejudice amongst the citizens of Maycomb's community. In Chapter 20, during Atticus' closing remarks he says,

"The witnesses for the state, with the exception of the sheriff of Maycomb County, have presented themselves to you gentlemen, to this court, in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption---the evil assumption---that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption one associates with minds of their caliber." (Lee 273)

People are not only prejudiced towards the opposite race in Maycomb, but are also prejudiced towards others in regards to social class. This is evident when Scout asks her Aunt Alexandra if Walter Cunningham can come over to play. Alexandra refuses to let Scout play with Walter. When Scout asks why she can't play with Walter, Alexandra says,

"Because---he----is----trash, that's why you can't play with him, picking up his habits and Lord-knows-what." (Lee 301)

Intolerance is defined as an unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect persons from a different social group and opinions contrary to one's own. In Chapter 24, the ladies of Aunt Alexandra's missionary circle display their intolerance towards the Mrunas in Africa. Mrs. Merriweather says,

"Out there in J. Grimes Everett's land there's nothing but sin and squalor." (Lee 309)

Mrs. Merriweather is ignorant and intolerant towards cultures that contrast with Western civilization and her religious beliefs. She also comments,

"I tell you that there are some good but misguided people in this town. Good, but misguided. Folks in this town who think they're doing right, I mean." (Lee 311)

Mrs. Merriweather believes that Atticus' defense of Tom Robinson is wrong. She is unwilling to respect his opinion that all men should be treated fairly regardless of race.

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many quotations in To Kill a Mockingbird that illustrate racism, prejudice, and intolerance. The fact that there are so many of them gives you some idea of the prevailing social attitudes of the time. However, let's start off with a quotation that highlights an unusual example of prejudice in the story. In Chapter 12, Atticus is out of town on state legislature business, so Calpurnia takes Scout and Jem to her local church, one with an exclusively African-American congregation. The kids stick out like the proverbial sore thumbs, but they receive a warm welcome from the folks at the church. All except Lula, who thinks that Calpurnia has no business bringing white kids to a black church:

Lula stopped, but she said, "You ain't got no business bringin' white chillun here—they got their church, we got our'n. It is our church, ain't it, Miss Cal?"

As well as racial prejudice, there's an awful lot of social snobbery in Maycomb, much of it emanating from Aunt Alexandra. She's obsessed with the notion of good breeding, and unthinkingly accepts the town's rigid social hierarchy. Through the innocent eyes of a child, Scout cannot understand any of this:

Somewhere, I had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had, but Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land the finer it was.

But it's racial prejudice against African-Americans that predominates in the book, and there are depressingly numerous examples of this. Racial prejudice is so bad in Maycomb that there was no way in a million years that Tom Robinson was ever going to get a fair shake at his trial. In the South at that time, a charge of raping a white woman made against an African-American male was tantamount to a death sentence:

Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.

Life gets difficult for the Finch family after Atticus agrees to represent Tom. Children can be very cruel, and in Maycomb, racial prejudice makes them crueller still, as Scout discovers in the schoolyard one day:

My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an’ that nigger oughta hang from the water tank.

This is Cecil Jacobs. But notice how he's simply repeating what his folks have told him. This speaks volumes about how the deeply-ingrained prejudices of adults are passed on to their children in Maycomb. In such a toxic environment, it's an uphill struggle for anyone to achieve justice and racial equality.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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