What does the term "nigger" refer to in To Kill a Mockingbird?   Is is race or class and how do you know?

2 Answers | Add Yours

literaturenerd's profile pic

literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

The term "nigger", as used in To Kill a Mockingbird, represents the stereotypical thought of the people of the South during this time period.

While this term today represents a derogatory name, it did not originate in this fashion. The term originated as a description of skin color for slaves brought over to America. The term Negro comes from the Spanish word 'negro'-which means black.  Like many words over time, the word (and the meaning of the word) has changed.

Today, the term (depending on whom you are talking to) represents many different things-from terms of endearment (black to black) to a hated and controversial insult (white to black).

As for the historical relevance in the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird was written in 1960. Set in Alabama, the novel took place in an area of the country where segregation was still prominent, so it was used as a racial term. Blacks were just beginning to search out for their own personal rights (Civil Rights Movement; 1954 Brown vs Board of Education; and 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott through the acceptance of the 14th Amendment in 1964). This being said, the novel was placed in a point in American society where blacks were still looked at as secondary citizens not having the rights as whites.

Therefore, the word "nigger" was simply Harper Lee's adherence to the standards seen by the setting of the novel. By including this word in the text, Lee is able to show a historically valid use of the word. She is also able to show the change in mentality, by whites, through the use of Atticus' character and what he teaches Scout and Jem about acceptance and rights.

ms-einstein's profile pic

ms-einstein | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

Posted on

The term "nigger" is a racial slur leveled at Tom Robinson, the black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman in the segregated south.

Bob Ewell, a poor, white farmer, calls Tom a nigger. He also invented the story about Tom raping his daughter. Bob represents ignorant prejudicial hatred during segregation.

We’ve answered 318,969 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question