How is the theme of racism presented in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird? How do language, structure, and form influence the portrait? What are those techniques?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Racism is a central theme in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and it manifests itself in a number of ways. However, it's often helpful to look at racism within the novel as it is represented through the rigid form and structures of language. In particular, Scout's teacher Miss Gates exhibits racism by using carefully formed and structured language, suggesting her prejudice subtly so that the true extent of her bigotry is hidden behind false manners.

Scout overhears Miss Gates' views on the black citizens of Maycomb as they both leave the courthouse after Tom Robinson's trial. Miss Gates' does not come out and admit that she's racist, however; instead, she uses carefully veiled language to tacitly deliver her opinions, saying, "'it's time somebody taught 'em a lesson, they were gettin' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us'" (249).The "them" in this statement refers to the black community. Notice here how structured the language is, how it sticks to a polite form so as to avoid the true nastiness of its own bigotry. In this scene, we're able to observe how the white citizens of Maycomb can, through the rigid structure and form of language, express racist views while still maintaining the facade of polite gentility. This technique allows them to further separate themselves from the black community, as the polite mask of language allows them to continue to imagine themselves as civilized human beings.  

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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