What does Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird teach us about how people deal with issues of race and class?

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, the characters are generally blind about their biases about race. The people in Maycomb assume that Tom Robinson is guilty of having raped Mayella Ewell because Tom is a black man and Mayella is a white woman. The people in Maycomb follow preconceived ideas...

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In To Kill a Mockingbird, the characters are generally blind about their biases about race. The people in Maycomb assume that Tom Robinson is guilty of having raped Mayella Ewell because Tom is a black man and Mayella is a white woman. The people in Maycomb follow preconceived ideas about race, and they do not stop to reconsider whether they are being fair when Tom Robinson is on trial. In addition, people in the town are generally dismissive of people of lower classes, including the Ewell family (though poor whites are still considered superior to blacks in the town).

However, Harper Lee, the author, also suggests that people can get beyond some of these biases about race and class by examining them. Atticus tells his children, Scout and Jem, to consider another person's point of view—to walk around in their shoes, metaphorically speaking—before judging them. In this way, he encourages them to be open-minded.

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Characters are highly conscious of racial and class divisions in To Kill a Mockingbird. Even young children are not immune. For example, when Walter Cunningham visits the Finch house, his table manners strike Scout as odd and she berates him at the table for them. Calpurnia tells Scout that it's impolite for her to do so and that Walter cannot help it due to his poverty.

In terms of racial divisions, much of white Maycomb is prejudiced against black Americans. Some are outspoken in their prejudice, such as Mrs. Dubose and Bob Ewell, while others are more subdued. Regardless, racial hatred is so intense that even when Tom Robinson is accused of rape on the flimsiest of charges, a group of white men try to break into the jail to lynch him. These men are shown to be normal people, people with good qualities, but their prejudice is able to turn them into cold-blooded killers.

Harper Lee shows how these prejudices affect people. They not only dehumanize the victims of prejudice, they also turn those who hold prejudice in their hearts into unfeeling snobs at best and horrible monsters at worst.

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Harper Lee portrays how various members of Maycomb's community deal with race and social class issues differently. There are characters throughout the novel who are openly prejudiced towards African Americans and individuals from lower social classes. Unapologetic racists like Mrs. Dubose and members of the Old Sarum bunch proudly oppose Atticus' decision to defend Tom Robinson. They do not care about what other people think and are not ashamed of their prejudiced beliefs. They wantonly voice their opinions in hopes of restricting African Americans' rights. Aunt Alexandra also openly displays her contempt for individuals from lower social classes by not allowing Scout or Jem to associate with them.

Harper Lee also displays how morally upright individuals like Atticus proudly stand up for what is right in the face of adversity. Atticus opposes the prejudiced beliefs of Maycomb and refuses to give into the community's threats. Atticus risks his reputation in order to do what is right and courageously defends Tom. He also teaches his children the importance of treating people equally regardless of their family background or social class.

Lee also depicts how certain individuals choose to quietly support prejudiced views. Miss Gates and Mrs. Merriweather do not blatantly express their prejudiced views but make inconspicuous comments that depict their beliefs. Harper Lee also illuminates how individuals quietly oppose Maycomb's prejudice. Characters such as Miss Maudie, Judge Taylor, and Heck Tate keep their opinions to themselves and privately support Atticus' cause. They are aware of the prejudiced feelings throughout town and do not want to draw attention to their opposing views.

Harper Lee shows her audience that individuals deal with race and social class issues in various ways. Some people proudly support their views and take action, while others choose to hide their feelings. Every individual has an opinion, and it is the way in which they express their opinions which makes them different.

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This novel shows us that most affluent white people are unwilling to consider the experiences and feelings of those who are of a different race or class than them. Aside from Atticus Finch, most of the white people in town are quite ready to believe that Tom Robinson is guilty of rape, despite all of the evidence to suggest that Mayella Ewell is lying during his trial. In fact, many are willing to take the law into their own hands and lynch Tom even before he is tried. However, despite his position as Tom's lawyer, Atticus is still capable of feeling compassion for Mayella. It is no surprise that Atticus does not buy into the belief that people of color or of low social and financial status are worth less than others.

Mayella also clearly feels that she won't be believed because of her low status in town, and she calls all the men on the jury cowards if they refuse to prosecute Tom. In the end, it becomes clear that a person's class status is of less importance than their race: Tom is convicted because he is black, not because he is guilty; Mayella is vindicated because she is white, despite her low status, not because she is honest.

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