What are some quotes that show the language of discrimination in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Heather Nieto eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are so many quotes regarding discrimination in To Kill A Mockingbird, so I will focus on a few select quotes based on different types of discrimination. All quotes come from Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Perennial Modern Classics 50th Anniversary edition, 2010)

Racial Discrimination

Lula stopped, but she said, "You ain't got no business bringin' white chillun here—they got their church, we got our'n. It is our church, ain't it, Miss Cal?"

… When I looked down the pathway again, Lula was gone. In her place was a solid mass of colored people.

One of them stepped from the crowd. It was Zeebo, the garbage collector. "Mister Jem," he said, "we're mighty glad to have you all here. Don't pay no 'tention to Lula, she's contentious because Reverend Sykes threatened to church her. She's a troublemaker from way back, got fancy ideas an' haughty ways—we're mighty glad to have you all." (136) 

This could be seen as racial discrimination against Scout and Jem because they are seen as white "intruders" to a safe space for blacks.

"Scout," said Atticus, "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."

"You aren't really a nigger-lover, then, are you?"

"I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody... I'm hard put, sometimes—baby, it's never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn't hurt you." (124)

This shows that the insult of "nigger-lover" is a powerful. It discriminates against blacks, and it suggests that whites who support blacks are acting unacceptably.

That Calpurnia led a modest double life never dawned on me. The idea that she had a separate existence outside our household was a novel one, to say nothing of her having command of two languages. (143)

Scout, though she loves Calpurnia, still sees Cal as a servant, someone who is there when she needs food or clean clothes. It never occurs to Scout that a black woman would have the ability to speak two languages or even have a life outside of taking care of her. While that is not necessarily discrimination on Scout's part, it does show that black women had a particular place in her life and that has informed how she understands Cal. 

In our courts, when it's a white man's word against a black man's, the white man always wins. (251-2)

This is the very essence of justice in the South during this time period. It didn't matter who was in the right—if a black man's word came up against a white man's, then the white man would win. It didn't matter what the evidence showed. And the case with Mayella Ewell and Tom Robinson demonstrates this clearly. We know Tom is innocent. The town knows Tom is innocent. However, Mayella is white. Her father is white. That's all that matters. 

Social Discrimination: 

He ain't company, Cal, he's just a Cunninghman (27)

Scout doesn't see Walter as occupying the same social space as she does. By virtue of his being a Cunningham, Walter is far below her on the social ladder. Sout knows this, and she treats Walter with the social "respect" she thinks he deserves. Cal recognizes this and corrects Scout. 

The disgrace of Maycomb County... (33)

The Ewells are seen as "white trash," and as such, they are far below many whites in Maycomb County. They are not treated the same way that, say, Atticus or Sherrif Tate are treated. However, even though the are considered a disgrace, they are still above people like Calpurnia, Zeebo, and Tom Robinson by virtue of their race. 

Now you tell your father not to teach you anymore. It's best to begin reading with a fresh mind. You tell him I'll take over from here and try to undo the damage. (19)

Miss Caroline sees Scout's ability to read as a detriment to her because Scout didn't learn it from her. Miss Caroline sees the children of Maycomb as pitiful, backwoods children and she is their "savior" come to rescue them because she comes from a more liberal county.

Gender Discrimination: 

"Let's not let our imaginations run away with us, dear," she said. (19)

Miss Caroline dismisses Scout's abilities because she is a girl. Obviously, Scout must be silly to think she can actually read well. She's just a girl, and an uneducated one at that. 

I felt the starched walls of a pink penitentiary closing in on me, and for the second time in my life I thought of running away. Immediately. (155)

Scout being forced to wear the dress is one of the funniest and saddest moments of the book. She is forced to adapt to gender norms in order to appease her aunt. Scout bucks against the idea of girls dressing in dresses—she wants to play in her overalls, get dirty, skin her knees, and be herself. She can't do any of this in that "pink penitentiary" or a dress.  

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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