Often times, literature reflects the problems within a society. An author finds their character’s struggles and triumphs in the people of each era. Inspirations from real life events fuel not only great literature but also books that become remarkable social pieces. A perfect example is Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. This novel is reflective of the 1930’s era. In the story racism runs rampant through society with only a noble few trying to stop it. The racism that is apparent and a focal point for the novel is, although fiction, closely matched to that of a racist era in America.
Racism represents fear of the unknown in many themes in the book as well as in the daily aspect of life. Racism is something that has always existed, exists now and will most likely exist in years to come. Although it has diminished a great deal since the beginning of the 20th century, it is still a problem in today’s world and many feel that it may always be a problem. Civil rights movements have helped ease the sting of racism. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. was a black man who fought for civil rights in a peaceful and non-violent way, by giving powerful and persuasive speeches.
Non violence is a way of humility and self-restraint. We Negroes talk a great deal about our rights, and rightly so. We proudly proclaim that three-fourths of the people of the world are colored” (King Jr. 220). in fact, his lectures and dialogues “sparked the conscience of a generation”(King Center-1). Even after civil rights movements there are still so many people in the world that cannot see through race, gender and ethnic background. Stereotyping and poor judgment are still very active in people’s minds today.
Black people were and in some instances still are discriminated against and looked down upon because of the color of their skin. One saying “Never judge a book by its cover” goes along with the idea to judge people by their character rather than the way they look. Additionally in To Kill a Mockingbird, the plot is mainly based on the trial of a black man, Tom Robinson who is wrongly accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell. The main character, Scout, is just beginning to figure things out.
All evidence leads to prove he is innocent, yet just the fact that he was a black man living in a southern racist town where white people are superior to black people is enough to get him convicted. Aside from all the hurtful comments and feelings, the court case shows that there was so much racial prejudice that it blinded people from the truth. The racism was so strong and vicious that an obviously innocent man went to jail for a crime he did not commit. Not a single black person was on the jury and white people dominated the case apart from Tom.
Fear of the unknown plays a large role in this because although they knew what the truth was, the people on the jury were too afraid to say what they felt and what was right; they simply conformed to what was common. They were scared to prove that black is no different than white and that yes, white people can commit crimes. More importantly, however it was against the social morals of most white people to defend a black man especially in a case that contradicts the word and honor of a white woman. Moreover, prejudice was the cause of the suffering of the black people in Maycomb.
Two characters seem to stick out, Calpurinia, the Finches’ black maid and Tom Robinson. Calpurnia, is dearly loved by the Finches, and would do anything for Jem and Scout. Nevertheless, her being as close as she is to them receives some criticism from the black community. For, instance when Calpurnia takes Jem and Scout to her church, she is questioned by some members and one even asks ” I want to know why you bringin white chillun to a nigger church; You ain’t got no business bringin white chillun here- they got their church and we got our’n (Lee-119).
The black people in Maycomb seem to have the opnion that the white people perceive them as appalling and evil and treat them unjustly. In addition, another outstanding character is Tom Robinson. Tom represents the mockingbird in way because he did not do anything, Robinson is an innocent man, maligned for the simple reason that he is black. Tom Robinson helps Mayella Ewell with her chores, not because she is white, but because he is genuinely a kind person.
In keeping with the theme of the kindhearted mockingbird, Tom does not make any effort to physically push Mayella Ewell away for her approaches. He rather chooses to flee in the midst of the crises, not harming Mayella or Bob Ewell in any way at all. By running away from the scene, as opposed to staying and asserting himself, Tom makes it possible for the Ewells to make whatever claims they want to in court to erase their embarrassing moment. However, as the trial is waiting for the verdict it is clear as day that Tom Robinson is an innocent man.
Yet, that is not enough to convince the judge or the jury to release him. Even though Atticus , his lawyer as well as Jem and Scout’s father is able to tell the jury that “Lyingthis is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men”(Lee 204). Tom Robinson a day later makes a desperate flee to try to escape from prison but is shot down and dies. After being killed attempting to flee from the confines of prison life, Tom, in an editorial by Mr. Underwood, is compared to, “a harmless songbird killed by senseless hunters” (Lee-242).
Here again, the image of the mockingbird is raised; sighting another individual’s discontent with the treatment of Tom by the town of Maycomb. In a nutshell, To Kill A Mockingbird is about racism and prejudice, both themes that have been very harmful to society. These elements have run through society and have been represented equally in the book also. Racism and Prejudice haunt ignorance and vice versa. By writing this novel Harper Lee fought her own battle and raised awareness not only of racial prejudice that occurred in the 20’s and 30’s but also in today’s world.