Harper Lee works in many insightful comments about race and prejudice into her novel. In Chapter 11, Scout asks Atticus what a "nigger-lover" is. He replies:
"Scout ... nigger-lover is just one of those terms that don't mean anything—like snot-nose. It's hard to explain—ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody's favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It's slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody."
Mrs. Dubose is the person who used the term, and she used it about Atticus. Previously, Jem had attacked Mrs. Dubose's flowers with Scout's baton because of her disparaging remarks about Atticus "lawing for niggers." Atticus explains that someday he hopes the children will look back on the time with compassion and understand why he did things that made the town angry at him.
"This case, Tom Robinson's case, is something that goes to the essence of a man's conscience--Scout, I couldn't go to church and worship God if I didn't try to help that man."
When Tom Robinson is shot trying to escape from prison rather than awaiting his appeal, Atticus explains, "I guess Tom was tired of white men's chances and preferred to take his own."
When Aunt Alexandra becomes angry at the town for letting Atticus be the only one to defend black people, Miss Maudie provides a different perspective, defending the few in Macomb who trust Atticus.
"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."
The ladies of the missionary society, though intent on helping black people in Africa, don't care much for the black people in their own town. Mrs. Farrow says about black people, "We can educate 'em till we're blue in the face, we can try till we drop to make Christians out of 'em, but there's no lady safe in her bed these nights."
One of the most heart-wrenching statements is Scout's interpretation of Mr. Underwood's editorial after Tom's death:
Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.