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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What is a good thesis statement on racism in To Kill a Mockingbird?

Quick answer:

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee highlights the racist treatment of Black people in the American South during the Jim Crow Era. The novel is set in the 1930s in Maycomb, Alabama. Most of the town's population is racist, and the people who are not racist are harassed and taunted. Atticus and his family are resented by the townsfolk for Atticus's decision to defend Tom Robinson, a Black man who is accused of raping a white woman.

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I think it would be relatively easy to argue the following thesis: Harper Lee shows that those who are racist are ignorant, uneducated, and unkind through her depiction of Mrs. Dubose, Mr. Ewell, and Mrs. Merriweather.

It is not very difficult to find examples of bad behaviors exhibited by these characters which show that we, the readers, are not supposed to relate to them or like them. We might sympathize, perhaps, with Mrs. Dubose, but it is clear from her behavior toward Jem that we are supposed to learn compassion from Atticus's treatment of her rather than to emulate her ideas. Mr. Ewell is portrayed in an even worse way, as a child abuser and liar and would-be murderer. By discouraging readers from liking these characters, Lee encourages us to condemn their racist beliefs.

You could also argue the flip side of this idea, which is that Harper Lee encourages readers to like characters like Atticus Finch and Ms. Maudie in order to encourage our disavowal of racist ideas.

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A thesis is the main statement of an essay that controls the direction the writer will take while writing. It informs the reader about the specific theme and details to be discussed. One way to write a good thesis statement is to present the chosen theme by using direct language. Then, follow it up by adding three supporting details listed thereafter. For example, if the theme is racism as presented in To Kill a Mockingbird, think of three events that demonstrate racism or three characters who either dish it out or have to take it. Then, list those events or characters right after the thesis statement. The examples listed with the thesis statement will then be discussed in further detail in the body of the essay. Below are a few examples:

1. The people of Maycomb who exhibit racist behaviors are Mrs. Dubose, Mrs. Merriweather, and Bob Ewell.

With this thesis statement, the writer establishes that racism does exist in Maycomb, which is the theme, and then lists three examples of characters who demonstrate it in the novel. The essay would then explain in detail what those characters say or do.

2.  People in the town of Maycomb, Alabama show their racist attitudes by not hiring Helen Robinson when her husband is in jail, attempting to lynch Tom Robinson before the trial, and convicting him for a crime they know he didn't commit.

An essay written from the example above accuses groups of people for demonstrating their racist attitudes because a black man is charged with allegedly raping a white woman. However, these groups create specific events that can be referred to in the book as evidence for the essay. 

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It's easy to write a thesis statement if you understand what it is.

Your thesis is your main idea of your essay, and your thesis statement must state your main idea. It's a good idea to plan out the points you will use to prove your main idea, and you should include the points in your thesis statement.

I know what your theme is, racism, but I don't know your thesis. Your thesis should be a statement about your theme. So you might say "Racism is the main theme explored in To Kill a Mockingbird" or you might say "Harper Lee is against racism in To Kill a Mockingbird." There are several other ways you could state a thesis about this theme, too.

Let's go with the first thesis, "Racism is the main theme explored in To Kill a Mockingbird."

Now you need to plan out your essay and decide on some points you can make to prove your thesis. A good way to do this is through brainstorming. You should come up with lots of points, and then check through the book and figure out which points would be best to support your thesis. You should be able to find evidence to support each point. You can find more on themes in To Kill a Mockingbird in eNotes' study guide, here. You should choose at least three points to use in your essay.

Here are my suggestions for points to support the thesis "Racism is the main theme explored":

  • The majority of white people in Maycomb are racist.
  • Maycomb is separated into white and black neighbourhoods.
  • Tom does not get a 'fair' trial because of racism.
  • The word "nigger" is used a lot in the text, and Scout and her father are called "nigger lovers."
  • People in Maycomb have "...the evil assumption—that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women..." according to Atticus in his statements during the trial.
  • The town of Maycomb has never "...seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man," according to Reverend Sykes.
  • White people give coloured folks hell without stopping to think that they're people too, according to Mr. Raymond.

There are lots of other things you could say about racism in To Kill a Mockingbird, too. After brainstorming, you need to pick at least three main points and add them to your thesis statement. Your final thesis statement, which you can use in the introduction to an essay, might read: Racism is the main theme explored in To Kill a Mockingbird; most of the people in town are racists, Tom is guaranteed to lose because he is a black man accused by a white woman, and racist language is used throughout the book.

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Analyze the theme of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the American South during the 1930s. This setting connects to the novel's overarching themes of prejudice and racism. The characters in the story live in Maycomb, Alabama, a town populated mostly by racist people.

The 1930s mark a period in American history known as the Jim Crow Era. This period occurred after the Civil War and abolishment of slavery; however, Black people were still subject to racist treatment and laws. The Jim Crow laws were designed to segregate Black people. Black people were not truly free. They were forced to use separate and unequal facilities and were not allowed to vote, pursue education, or apply to many jobs. The time and place in which the novel is set thus play a significant role in communicating the theme of racism.

Tom Robinson is a Black man who is accused of raping a white woman. The novel centers around Atticus Finch, a white attorney who defends Tom, and his two children. Atticus knows he does not stand a chance of winning the case, but he accepts the impossible task anyway because he knows it is the right thing to do.

Atticus and his children receive a great deal of backlash from the mostly racist community of Maycomb. The town's white population strongly resents Atticus's choice to defend a Black man. Scout gets into a fight at school with Cecil Jacobs, who voices his distaste for Atticus's choice to defend Tom. Even Atticus's own family disapproves of his defense of Tom. His sister, Alexandra, feels that Atticus is disgracing their family. Francis explains,

Grandma says it's bad enough he lets you all run wild, but now he's turned out a nigger-lover we'll never be able to walk the streets of Maycomb again. He's ruinin' the family, that's what he's doin'.

Atticus and his children endure nasty looks and snide remarks from the people of Maycomb. In chapter 15, Atticus is guarding Tom, who has just been transferred to a jail in Maycomb. An angry mob of Maycomb residents arrives and threatens Atticus and his children. Scout appeals to the familiar faces in the crowd and is able to successfully convince the people to go back to their homes and leave her father alone.

The woman who accuses Tom of rape is Mayella Ewell. She and her family are strongly disliked by the people of Maycomb. Despite their intense hatred for the Ewell family, most of the citizens of Maycomb side with the Ewells simply because they are white. Tom is a kind, hardworking man who is innocent of the accusations against him, but he is convicted anyway because of the racist culture of Maycomb. The people of Maycomb are convinced of Tom's guilt based solely on the color of his skin. Tom is ultimately shot and killed by prison guards while trying to escape from jail after being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit.

Through the novel's setting and characters, Lee calls attention to the horrendous, racist treatment of Black people in the American South during the 1930s.

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Can you give me two sentences about how racism relates to the theme in To Kill A Mockingbird?

The theme of a literary work is its main idea. In a complex work like To Kill a Mockingbird, there are several themes, so you have some choices as far as what you want to relate racism to.


For example, if you take the theme of growth, you might consider this sentence:

As Scout grows from innocence to maturity, she has to confront the painful reality of racism.

That would be an example of a thesis statement that includes both theme and racism.


If you want racism addressed via another theme, you could address the theme of courage, and try something like this:

In this classic novel, Atticus Finch demonstrates courage by he standing up to physical threats, social pressure, and racism.

Just about any of the novel's major themes can be related to racism.

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