In a novel that focuses on racial tensions in the South, specifically Alabama, there are a myriad of quotes and conversations between the characters which acknowledge direct and indirect prejudice. One of the central characters of the book, Atticus Finch, provides great instruction and admonition to both Scout and Jem throughout the novel, as the children learn about their town and racial differences.
As Atticus’s lessons on life in Maycomb cover many aspects of humanity, he provides a clear moral compass for Scout and others.
Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong ...They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions, but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.
Atticus is a lawyer who is representing a Black man who was falsely accused of a crime, and he wants to make it very clear that for far too long, racism and corruption have been tolerated in America, especially in the South. He boldly declares, similarly to Martin Luther King, that it is a person’s character that is most important, not the color of one’s skin.
The older you grow the more of it you’ll see. The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.
Likewise, Atticus asserts that all citizens must be able to find justice in the legal system, where race should not be a factor. As Lady Justice is blindfolded, carrying her balanced scales and a sword, she represents Atticus’s statement:
But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court…Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.
Encouraging Scout to not only consider others, but to recognize prejudice before it seeps in, Atticus teaches Scout about rushing to judgment.
If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
Atticus also instructs Jem to truly look at a person as a whole, not just for one’s skin color or even actions (good or bad). In the next quote, he encourages Jem to consider the complexities of Mrs. Dubose, despite her earlier racist views.
She had her own views about things, a lot different from mine...I wanted you to see something about her—I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.
This quote is by Scout, as she talks with Jem. Scout says, “I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks.” Recognizing the perpetual tension and conflict between races in Maycomb, Scout shares a profound outlook on humanity that she is learning from Atticus. She hopes that people realize that all people deserve respect.