What are some examples of diversity in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Harper Lee explores diversity in regards to race, class, and social distinctions throughout her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird as Jem and Scout mature into tolerant, morally upright individuals with perspective. Racial diversity is most prominently explored through the interactions between Maycomb's racist white citizens and the discriminated black...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Harper Lee explores diversity in regards to race, class, and social distinctions throughout her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird as Jem and Scout mature into tolerant, morally upright individuals with perspective. Racial diversity is most prominently explored through the interactions between Maycomb's racist white citizens and the discriminated black citizens throughout the community. In Maycomb's segregated society, black people are treated like second-class citizens and suffer from racial inequality and injustice. However, Atticus is the exception and valiantly defends Tom Robinson in front of a racist jury. Jem and Scout experience diversity on an everyday basis while living alongside Calpurnia and even visit First Purchase African M.E. Church, where they interact with the black community, which is an enlightening experience. The Finch children also experience diversity by sitting in the Negro balcony during the Tom Robinson trial and witnessing how the trial affects Tom’s family.

In regards to class diversity, Jem and Scout interact with the poor Cunninghams several times in the story. Scout stands up for Walter Jr. during lunch and witnesses his strange eating habits when he comes over to eat. The children also witness their father barter with Mr. Cunningham and Scout attempts to hang out with Walter Jr. outside of school. Unfortunately, Aunt Alexandra denies Scout's request because she believes Walter Jr. is "trash," which highlights her prejudice against members of the lower class. The Ewells are also considered lower class citizens but lack social graces and are depicted as malevolent, dirty individuals. The Finch children have several negative interactions with members of the Ewell family, which include surviving Bob's vicious attack.

Scout also interacts with people who are considered outcasts in Maycomb's society and are discriminated against for their unorthodox behavior. Boo Radley is a shy, benevolent man, who is discriminated against because of his extreme reclusiveness. Although Boo causes no one harm, he is blamed for every small crime, and unfair rumors are spread about him. Scout receives small gifts from Boo and interacts with him at the end of the story. Scout discovers that Boo is a genuine, compassionate neighbor and is lucky to know him. Scout also interacts with Dolphus Raymond, who is an outcast because he associates with black people. She is also best friends with Dill, who is considered an outcast in his own family. Scout learns that Dolphus is a tolerant, peaceful man, who feigns alcoholism to live independently. Scout also appreciates Dill, who is a fun, unique child with many talents. Overall, diversity plays a significant role in the story and corresponds to Harper Lee's theme regarding the importance of tolerance and perspective.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Diversity and intersections of difference are indeed fundamental elements of To Kill a Mockingbird, particularly as they relate to the coming of age of Jem and Scout Finch.

In the early chapters, Scout demonstrates very little awareness of difference. In the classroom, for example, she struggles to understand why she is reprimanded for explaining Walter Cunningham's lack of shoes or lunch. Similarly, she has trouble understanding why Walter's father anonymously leaves goods in exchange for Atticus' services, rather than deliver them in person. Scout sees Walter only as her friend and classmate, not as someone from a different social class whose poverty could be a source of embarrassment or shame.

The most obvious example of diversity and difference throughout the book is race. In addition to the court case at the center of the story, racial difference and discrimination are present in many other aspects. For instance, the children see Calpernia as something of a mother figure whose authority is to be respected. However, in later chapters, particularly when they attend Calpernia's church and sit with her in the court house, Scout and Jem begin to see the various ways in which African-Americans were treated or spoken of differently by white people. This difference in treatment becomes more apparent when Atticus agrees to represent Tom Robinson. Atticus' decision changes the ways in which he is viewed by both black and white members of the community, most notably his sister, who fears how his decision will affect their family's standing in the community.

Finally, Boo Radley is one of the less obvious but no less important examples of difference present in the book. To the children, Boo is a source of mystery and excitement because he is a recluse who has achieved legendary status in their minds. The reader understands fairly early on that Boo's behavior makes him very different from the other characters, which shapes the way that he is perceived by others. To the other townspeople, he is a sympathetic if not tragic figure, whereas the children see his difference as a source of excitement and danger.

Over the course of the book, Scout and Jem develop greater understandings of how differences of race, class, and social position shape a person's identity. Ultimately, these aspects of identity shape the community in which they live, which is a hard lesson that each character grapples with throughout the novel.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team