To Kill a Mockingbird is a book about compassion and justice. As the enotes themes page notes, "comprising the main portion of the book's examination of racism and its effects are the underlying themes of prejudice vs. tolerance" (enotes, themes). Just as Atticus tries to teach his children, and the people of Maycomb, to look at things from another person’s point of view, that is the main idea of the book. The reader is shown this world through an innocent narrator for a reason. We are to realize that prejudice is about more than race.
Several of the main ideas of the book are about prejudice. Here are some examples.
- People often judge what they do not understand, and they usually judge wrong. The perfect example of this is blacks and whites having children together. Mr. Raymond pretends to be drunk to excuse his having “half-breed” children. He explains why he pretends to be drunk when the children find out he drinks soda and not whiskey.
“Some folks don’t—like the way I live. Now I could say the hell with ‘em, I don’t care if they don’t like it. I do say I don’t care if they don’t like it, right enough— but I don’t say the hell with ’em, see?” (chapter 20, p. 204)
As Mr. Raymond points out, his being in love with a black woman makes the people in the town uncomfortable. It is easier for him to make things easier for them. So he pretends to be drunk so that they can look the other way. It gives them an explanation for a behavior they would rather not consider.
- Prejudice is institutionalized. Atticus points this out to the jury. People usually go along with it because it is the way it is, but that does not make it right.
The witnesses for the state…have presented themselves … in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption—the evil assumption—that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings. (ch 20, p. 208)
Atticus reminds the jury that just people prejudice is institutionalized, meaning it is a part of the system of government and culture, does not mean it is acceptable. He reminds them that lies may be convenient, but at the end of the day they are still just lies.
- Prejudice is harmful. This is an obvious truth, but we see it most strongly in the characters who are “mockingbirds”- Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. Each suffers because others have made assumptions about him that ruined his life. Jem describes this concept most eloquently.
“Scout, I think I’m beginning to understand something. I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside.” (ch 24, p. 231)
Jem comes to this realization after experiencing racism and prejudice. He understands that the world is a very unfair place, and things are not likely to change soon. Jem also recognizes that Arthur Radley is also a victim of prejudice, even though he is white. Prejudice is about judgement and discimination against those who are different.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird
. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960. Print.
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