Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How are the different types of discrimination in To Kill a Mockingbird presented?

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While the central focus of To Kill a Mockingbird's theme of discrimination is the racial bias that makes Tom Robinson a scapegoat for more important issues than the charges made by Bob Ewell, it is, indeed, important to consider the other issues of bias that exist in the narrative. These other biases are social and religious.

  • Social Bias

The novel opens with examples of this bias which little Scout has already assumed.

1. Scout alludes to the odd and reclusive family of the Radleys:

The Radleys, welcome anywhere in town, kept to themselves, a predilection unforgivable in Maycomb.

2. Scout criticizes her new teacher, Miss Caroline who is from Winston County, a northern county in Alabama, whereas Macomb lies in the southern region.  (Winston County was notorious for having "seceded" from Alabama when Alabama seceded from the Union--it was sympathetic to the North.) In addition, Scout notes,

North Alabama was full of Liquor Interests [ironically, nowadays it is dry] Big Mules, steel companies, Republicans, professors [meaning very liberal thinkers], and other persons of no background.

3. Scout disparages Walter Cunningham, implying that he is not on the same social level with her.  When she criticizes his use of molasses on his food, Calpurnia scolds her for being rude; defensively, Scout retorts, 

"He ain't company, Cal, he just a Cunningham." 

4. Scout tells of Burris Ewell, who is very rude to Miss Caroline. One of the older children explains, "He's one of the Ewells, ma'am," a statement that implies that the family is on a lower rung of society--"white trash":

"Ain't got no mother...and their father's right contentious."

5.  Scout relates that there is "a caste system in Maycomb" and Aunt Alexandra and the Finches are one of the better families.  Mrs. Merriweather seems to be fairly high because she is demeaning to Miss Maudie at the missionary tea

"I tell you there are some good but misguided people in this town. 

  • Religious discrimination

In Chapter 5, a wagon of Fundamentalists harangue Miss Maudie for growing flowers and not spending enough time reading her Bible.

...the foot-washers thought that she spent too much time outdoors and not enough inside the house reading the Bible.

  • Racial discrimination

1. When Aunt Alexandra prepares for the the Missionary Tea, she fixes the cakes herself, refusing to let Calpurnia make them.  Further, she tells Atticus that he should let Calpurnia go because she is not fit to substitute as a mother for the children.

2. At the Missionary Tea, Mrs. Merriweather derogates her maid, Sophy, contending that the woman should be grateful for the pittance that she pays her and not complain.

3. Kind and gentle Tom Robinson is made the victim when Bob Ewell catches his daughter hugging a black man, an action that is completely against the racial code. In order to save face, Tom is made the scapegoat for the degenerate  white Ewells. Despite his drunkenness and squalid living conditions, Bob Ewell must find himself superior to someone, so he accuses Tom of raping his daughter.  The...

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jury finds Tom guilty in order to not upset the codes by which they live.

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There are three main types of discrimination presented in this book.  They are class, race, and other stereotypes.

First of all, there is a lot of discrimination on the basis of social class.  The Ewells and the Cunninghams are two different examples of impoverished life.  The Ewells are looked down upon because they never try to do anything for themselves, but the Cunninghams are just looked down on for being poor.  They cannot make money because the country is in a deep recession.

Atticus said professional people were poor because the farmers were poor. As Maycomb County was farm country, nickels and dimes were hard to come by for doctors and dentists and lawyers. (ch 2)

Even though many people are poor, there are few opportunities for even hard workers like the Cunninghams.  Miss Caroline does not understand their predicament when she tries to lend Walter Jr. a quarter.

Racial discrimination is also present throughout the book.  The black community is segregated in most ways.  The people are treated as second-class citizens and have to live outside of town near the dump.  Most cannot read. 

"Can't read?" I asked. "All those folks?"

"That's right," Calpurnia nodded. "Can't but about four folks in First Purchase read... I'm one of 'em."  (ch 12)

Lack of education is not the worst part.  Tom Robinson is accused of rape simply because Mayella was afraid of being caught with a black man.  The jury acquits him because they have to take a white lady’s word over his. 

Finally, stereotypes of race and class are not the only problems.  Boo Radley is a perfect example of a young man who is isolated by prejudice because he is different.  Due to some bad choices as a youngster, Radley never leaves the house and is afraid to do so.  He becomes a shy, timid man.  Yet he has the strength to attack Bob Ewell to save the Finch children.

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