Where in To Kill A Mockingbird does it show people often fear what they don't understand?

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misstemple1261 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Boo Radley is the most prominent example of the maxim, “People fear what they do not understand.”

The neighborhood, of course, fears Boo Radley. Boo Radley was once a rambunctious teenager who made one too many wrong decisions. For his friends, these misdeeds resulted in a reform school; for Boo, they resulted in a decades-long imprisonment in his home. It is likely, therefore, due to this forced confinement, that Boo developed some type of mental disorder. For example, early in his confinement, he attempted to stab his mother with scissors.

People in To Kill A Mockingbird fear Boo’s mental illness, which they do not understand.  Even now, after around eighty-five years of progress, our society does still not fully  understand mental illness or respond to it with empathy. Consequently, people with mental illnesses suffer not only from their illness but also from prejudice and mistrust. From the reactions of To Kill A Mockingbird’s characters to Boo Radley’s unique situation, we can infer that these attitudes were even more pronounced in the 1930s. For example, Boo is the subject of malicious rumors that exaggerate his situation and turn him into a villain when in actuality, he can be viewed as a victim. While the children, due to their age and inexperience, can be excused for their fear, the reactions of adult characters, such as Stephanie Crawford and the neighborhood gossips, are inexcusable.
Apart from Boo, this quote can also be applied to the characters who live in poverty. Caroline Fisher, Scout’s new teacher from out of town, fears her students because she does not understand their customs and traditions. She doesn’t understand why Walter Cunningham won’t accept lunch money and grows angry when Scout tries to teach her about the Cunninghams’ traditions. Caroline Fisher shows the warped logic behind why people continue to fear what they do not understand. They could, of course, help themselves and others out by trying to learn more. However, Miss Fisher fears being seen as ignorant, so she doesn’t acknowledge her lack of understanding.
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To Kill a Mockingbird

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