To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

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Why is Tom Robinson the target of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird?   Racism quotes. Why Tom Robinson?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Tom Robinson is the target of racism because he is a black man living in the segregated society of Maycomb, Alabama, who is accused of assaulting and raping a white woman. During the 1930s, Jim Crow laws were enforced, which discriminated against and marginalized the black communities in the South. Unfortunately, Tom lives in the prejudiced town of Maycomb, where the majority of the citizens automatically ascribe to the "evil assumption." Atticus describes the evil assumption as the belief "that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women . . . " (208)

In addition to the typical prejudice against black citizens that is prevalent throughout Maycomb, the seriousness of Tom's charges make him an enemy of the racist white community, which aims to convict Tom of the crime despite the overwhelming evidence that reveals his innocence. Essentially, Tom becomes the target of racism because he is the scapegoat, who suffers the consequences of Mayella and Bob's actions.

Before and after the trial, certain community members express their racist feelings towards Tom Robinson. Cecil Jacobs tells Scout,

"My folks said your daddy was a disgrace an‘ that nigger oughta hang from the water-tank!" (79)

After the trial, Scout overhears Miss Gates say,

" . . . 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." (250)

Following Tom's tragic death, Scout reiterates the community's racist feelings towards Tom by saying,

To Maycomb, Tom’s death was typical. Typical of a nigger to cut and run. Typical of a nigger’s mentality to have no plan, no thought for the future, just run blind first chance he saw. Funny thing, Atticus Finch might’ve got him off scot free, but wait—? Hell no. You know how they are. Easy come, easy go. Just shows you, that Robinson boy was legally married, they say he kept himself clean, went to church and all that, but when it comes down to the line the veneer’s mighty thin. Nigger always comes out in ‘em (244)

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bullgatortail eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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If I understand your post, you are wondering why Tom Robinson is a target of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird. First, racism was a fact of life in the 1930s Deep South, and Alabama was no exception. Many white people considered African-Americans as second-class citizens, and they were treated as such. Segregation--in schools, churches, neighborhoods and virtually all public places--was firmly established. As for Tom, he was particularly despised because of the charge against him: the rape and beating of a white woman. The "N" word is used often to describe Tom: More than once, Atticus is called a "nigger-lover" for his decision to defend Tom. The prosecuting attorney, Harry Gilmer, repeatedly calls Tom "boy" while he is cross-examining him. Perhaps the most memorable racist quote concerning Tom comes from Bob Ewell when he testifies that he

"... seen that black nigger yonder ruttin' on my Mayella!" 

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