Prejudice Quotes In To Kill A Mockingbird

What quotes best exemplify Atticus Finch and prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, one quote that best exemplifies Atticus Finch and prejudice occurs when Atticus says, "The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience." In this quote, he teaches Scout and Jem about morality and what is right and wrong.

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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.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 4, 2021
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A character is shown by what they look like, how they act, what they say, and what others say about them. 

Atticus has been assigned this law case.  When Scout asks him why is is defending a Negro he says two things.

"For a number of reasons,,,,The main one is, if I didn't I couldnt hold up my head in town.  I couldn't represent this county in the legislature, I couldn't even tell you or Jem not to do something again." (pg 75)

When Scout asks Atticus if he defends "niggers", Atticus tells her,

"Of course, I do.  Don't say nigger, Scout.  That's common." (pg 75)

After Scout and Jem both have experiences with Francis and Mrs. Dubose calling their father a nigger-lover, Scout asks Atticus if he is a nigger-lover.  Atticus replies,

"I certainly am.  I do my best to love everybody....it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name.  It just shows how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you." (pg 108)

Atticus goes to the jail and sits there to defend Tom Robinson against the mob that just wants to hang him.  The children show up and change the whole situation.  However, Atticus was prepared to defend Tom from people who would harm him.

However we get the best insight into Atticus's view of prejudice after the trial.  Jem is very upset with the outcome of the trial, thinking it wasn't fair.  Atticus tells him,

"There's something in our world that makes men lose their heads -- they couldn't be fair if they tried.  In our courts, when it's a white man's word against a black man's, the white man always wins.  They're ugly, but those are the fact of life. "

Jem still isn't happy and complains that doesn't make it right.  Again, Atticus tells him,

"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 those 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, the white man is trash." (pg 220)

After Tom is shot, and Atticus leaves to tell his wife, Aunt Alexandra tells Miss Maudie that she is concerned about Atticus.  She asks what the town wants from him.  Miss Maudie tells us about Atticus.  she says,

"Whether Maycomb knows it or not, we're paying the highest tribute we can pay a man.  We trust him to do right. It's that simple." (pg 236)

When Aunt Alexandra asks who is asking him to do right, Miss Maudie replies,

"The handful of people in this town who say that fair play is not marked White Only; the handful of people who say a fair trial is for everybody, not just us; the handful of people with enough humility to think, when they look at a Negro, there but for the Lord's kindness am I." (pg 236)

 

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