"People should not be judged on first appearances." Why is this such an important theme in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Intolerance of other people's actions and opinions seems to be one of the world's greatest problems today, and things were certainly no different in 1930s Maycomb. Be it racial bias or preconceived notions, many of the dilemmas faced in the novel concern this basic problem. Atticus was right when he told Scout that 

"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."

Many of the characters are initially misjudged. A few examples that illustrate this point:

  • Boo is believed to be a monster, but when she finally meets him, Scout finds out "he was real nice."
  • Like Boo, terrible rumors fly about Dolphus Raymond, but Scout finds him "fascinating."
  • Mrs. Dubose is believed to be an old witch, but it is actually her drug addiction--and going "cold turkey"--that causes her to appear so hateful.
smuke | Student

Mr. Dolphus chose to live black and have mixed childs

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teacher235 | Student

Remember that Atticus explains to Scout the importance of “climbing into” other people’s “skin and walk around in it" in order to truly understand them. Many of the characters in the novel are judged by outward appearances from the beginning. Scout’s revelations about these characters throughout the novel enhance our understanding, as the reader, of the importance of respecting all individuals.

Arthur "Boo" Radley: for his quiet, social reluctance. “Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo. Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch,  that’s why his hands were bloodstained—if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time” (13). Jem’s knowledge of Boo comes from the gossip of the other characters in Maycomb, primarily Miss. Stephanie Crawford. As the events of the novel play out, Jem and Scout come to respect him as an individual and his choice to remain secluded from society.

Tom Robinson: based on the color of his skin. The only reason Tom is in the situation that he is in is because he is an African American and because he “had the unmitigated temerity to ‘feel sorry’ for a white woman” (204).

Mayella Ewell: for her "trash" relations. Although Mayella’s refusal to tell the truth on the witness stand ultimately brings about Tom’s death, we do have to have some sympathy for her. As humans, we are a product of our environment and Mayella’s environment is not pretty. She has an alcoholic, abusive, racist father. Her mother is dead, leaving her to raise her siblings. They are beyond poor and uneducated. Yet we know that she is slightly different the rest of the clan: “One corner of the yard, though, bewildered Maycomb. Against the fence, in a line, were six chipped-enamel slop jars holding brilliant red geraniums, cared for as tenderly as if they had belonged to Miss Maudie Atkinson, had Miss Maudie deigned to permit a geranium on her premises. People said they were Mayella Ewell’s” (170).

Mr. Dolphus Raymond: chooses to live with the Black community and have “mixed children” (201). Raymond pretends to be in the clutches of whisky to help the citizens of Maycomb understand his life choices rather. It is easier for them to understand a drunk who is too old to change his ways than try to understand why he lives the way he does.

All of these people help the reader to greater understand the theme of acceptance in the novel and not judging people by outward appearances.


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To Kill a Mockingbird

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