In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee provides a nuanced portrait of one small Southern town, Maycomb, Alabama, in the 1930s. Racial segregation was a widespread practice at the time, and Lee clearly shows the racially-based divisions that run through every aspect of Maycomb. The devastating effects of racial bias are concentrated in her depiction of Tom Robinson, a black man unjustly accused of rape. Because his accuser is white, she is automatically believed and Robinson is arrested. He is then tried and convicted by an all-white jury. Some Maycomb residents criticize attorney Atticus Finch, who is white, for defending Robinson.
Lee shows the racial geography of Maycomb, in which white people live in the town itself, while African Americans live in a separate community on its outskirts. She shows that racial prejudice is common, such as through many white people commonly using the n-word. One of them is the Finch’s neighbor, Mrs. Dubose. Bias against interracial relationships is also shown through the character of Dolphus Raymond, a white man who is ostracized because he is involved with a black woman and they have several children.
When a young white woman, Mayella Ewell, accuses a black man, Tom Robinson, of raping and beating her, many white people in Maycomb assume that he is guilty. After he is arrested and put on trial, he is not assigned a jury of his peers but instead must face an all-white panel. Some townspeople do not want to wait for the results, but form a group that intends to remove him from the jail and, apparently, lynch him. When Atticus Finch, a white attorney, is retained as his public defender, both he and his children face criticism around town. Atticus must explain to his daughter, Scout, what another child means by calling him a “n----- lover.” Despite Atticus’s persuasive defense, the jury convicts Tom.