Discrimination and prejudice are dominant themes in both "American History" by Judith Ortiz Cofer and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Both stories are narrated by women looking back on pivotal events that happened in their childhoods, too. In their youth, both girls are harassed at school for who they are. Elena is called "Skinny Bones" because she is not African American and can't jump rope as well as her classmates. Jean Louise is insulted by boys (Cecil Jacobs and her cousin Francis) who call her father "nigger lover." Elena is then discriminated against by a white neighbor from Georgia who won't let her study with her son, Eugene. Conversely, though, Scout is taught not to be prejudiced by her father Atticus and neighbor Miss Maudie. Both Elena and Scout both experience moments of quiet shock when confronted with discrimination or prejudice. The following are quotes from each story:
"I couldn’t move. I just stood there in shock at hearing these things said to me in such a honey-drenched voice. I had never heard an accent like hers, except for Eugene’s softer version. It was as if she were singing me a little song. 'What’s wrong? Didn’t you hear what I said?' She seemed very angry, andI finally snapped out of my trance. I turned away from the green door, and heard her close it gently" (6).
The above passage describes Elena's innocent reaction to Eugene's mother telling her that she isn't allowed to study with her son.
During one of Aunt Alexandra's tea parties, the women are speaking about recent events in town that bring down the quality of their white society. Alexandra goes to the kitchen to find out that Tom Robinson has just been shot and she sits down overwhelmed. Scout starts to tremble because to the tension and can't stop. It takes Miss Maudie to snap the two back into composing themselves:
"Aunt Alexandra rose and smoothed the various whalebone ridges along her hips. She took her handkerchief from her belt and wiped her nose. She patted her hair and said, 'Do I show it?'
'Not a sign,' said Miss Maudie. 'Are you together again, Jean Louise?'
'Then let's join the ladies,' she said grimly" (237).
Both girls are faced with shocking discrimination and prejudice because these are learned behaviors, not instinctual. Sadly, both situations are deep issues in America today and in American history.