How Does Harper Lee Present Racial prejudice in The Maycombe Society? During the early eighteenth century slaves were bought and sold. In the Southern states of America people accepted this as part of everyday life. In the Northern states people thought this was inhumane and it was time something was done. A civil war broke out and this was fought between the years 1861-1865.The outcome of the battle was to have slavery abolished. While the northern states were pleased with the outcome, the southern states abolished the slave trade reluctantly. In the South the blacks where seen as "hardly human" and were shown no respect by the whites who thought that being black made them inferior. It is this subject that is debated in "To Kill a Mockingbird"; whether the white people in the Maycombe society were justified in the way they treated the blacks, or whether the lack of respect was deserved.
Harper Lee shows that the black people of Maycombe live in a completely different part of the town to the whites. All the blacks in the book are presented as friendly and pleasant people, this leads us to conclude that not all of the blacks are wrong-doers. The town jail is "full of niggers" and after the court case it safe to surmise that not all of the people within the jail are guilty of the crime they're said to have committed. In the court case the blacks are made to sit away from the whites and when Scout and Jem sit on the balcony with the blacks "four Negroes rose and gave us their front-row seats." This hints that this is the way the black people have been bought up; to respect the fact that whites are superior to the blacks. It is this kind of prejudice that is made apparent by Harper Lee in the style and set-out of the book. Another time when the layers of society are emphasised is when Atticus comes home to find that the blacks have left him presents on the steps, as a sign of gratitude. When Calpurnia inquires "They aren't oversteppin' themselves are they?" it maybe interpreted as her being concerned that the blacks are getting too friendly. This is related to the racial prejudice because of the concern shown by Calpurnia, this shows us that it is unacceptable for the blacks to try and be to "friendly" to the whites.
A point in "To Kill a Mockingbird" that highlights the racial prejudice is when Jem tells Scout that he's finally understanding the layers of society. By explaining this to Scout, Jem simplifies it, making it easier for her to take in and break down. Lee has already told us about it the Ewells and the Cunninghams and Jem explains: "our kind of folk don't like the Cunninghams, the Cunninghams don't like the Ewells, and the Ewells hate and despise the coloured folks." This puts the blacks right down at the bottom of the hierarchy and this could be interpreted that everyone above them despises them, and looks down on them just because of the layers of this society.
As we read about the Ewells they are described as living in a unacceptable way, but they are still respected more than the blacks because they are white. Harper Lee uses the Ewells to illustrate that although everyone can see that Tom is innocent, he is really the victim in this. The Ewells only win the case because a blacks man's word is nothing in Maycombe's society. Atticus knew that this would occur as soon as he got issued with the job of defending Tom, "The only thing we've got is a black man's word against the Ewells".
The Ewells presume that they will win the battle and that no-one will challenge their story but if Tom had been white, then the outcome of the case might have been very different. In the court case, prejudice is shown by Lee writing that the only way Bob Ewell was better than Tom was, "If scrubbed with lye soap in very hot water, his skin was white". In today's society this wouldn't matter, but in Maycombe at the time of the trial no matter what kind of a man Bob Ewell was, he was still in a higher class to Tom just because he was white. Throughout the book the reader forms a bond with Atticus and he gains our trust. This is why, during the trial we believe that Atticus and his story are the correct term of events, meaning Tom deserves to be a free man. When Tom is sent down for a crime that he obviously didn't commit, the prejudice is clear for everyone to see.
The disrespect shown towards Tom in the case is also a major sign of the way the blacks are treated. This is explained by Dill when he runs out of the court, "The way that man called him "boy" all the time and sneered at him, an' looked around at the jury every time he answered-." It's also important to pick out the time when Tom said he "felt sorry" for Mayella. The reaction of Mr Glimmer was one of sheer horror; that a black man could feel sorry for a white women. This shows that this is not accepted by the society and it should have been the other way around. A white person should feel sorry for a black person.
When Atticus does his summary in the court he also tries to make the court see the way they are treating the black people and tries to make them change the way they think. He points out the fact that the Ewells came to the court in "Confidence that their testimony would not be doubted." He also demonstrates to the jury that it's a fact of life that some men are bad, no matter the colour of their skin, but when you narrow it down you can see that most men are good people. Atticus makes a very clear point that not all men are born equal, some have more money, some are very clever etc. But he also tells us that "Our courts are great levellers, and in our courts all men are equal." This clearly is not the case in Maycombe as Tom and other Negroes are treated in a very different way. "The evil assumptions that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negroes are not to be trusted around our women." It's the harsh truth that all blacks are treated badly because of what others think, and not each individual is treated in their own way.
Harper Lee uses the children learning about the prejudice very well and it helps having Atticus to guide them. They are being taught about prejudice, but while this is going on they are seeing it first-hand in everyday life. Scout is only eight years old , and the effect of the book being written in her words makes a deep impact on the lessons taught by To Kill a Mockingbird. A child needs information to be broken down to understand it, this helps the reader to understand the point too. In the court case Dill is made to "feel sick" by the court. He didn't understand how someone (Mr Glimmer) could be so "hateful" to Tom. Dill is still a child and he is innocent, he hasn't had the influence of prejudice and is able to see the way Tom is being treated. Outside the jail Scout makes Mr Cunningham see the way he's treating Tom is unfair, this is special because it took a child to show the prejudice, "it took a eight-year-old child to bring 'em to their senses." Scout made Mr Cunningham question his actions, and by doing this made him force himself to do the right thing and walk away.
At one point in the book Jem tell Scout about the layers of society. This is important as it shows that Jem is placing the pieces together and can now understand the harsh reality about the way people treat others in Maycombe. "If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?" It's this kind of simplicity of a child's mind that makes them confused about the hatred around them. The conclusion that Jem comes to, is that it's the way they've been bought up, and they know no other way.
A very clear lesson is taught about how some people are hypocrites. This is when the teacher is teaching the children about prejudice, and that you should never judge people on beliefs or anything; it is then the same teacher who after the trial says "It's time someone taught 'em a lesson, they were getting way above themselves." By hearing a teacher who is meant to know what is right and set an example to the children, displaying prejudice, shows us what the rest of the community must be like. A view of hypocrisy can also be observed at the Missionary tea; the ladies are gathered to raise awareness and gain support for a African tribe the "Mrunas". In the end the ladies indulge in a conversation about how their helpers are "sulky darkies" and generally showing prejudice towards the blacks when they had assembled to help them.
Atticus gets a lot of trouble, and loses a lot of respect when he takes up Tom's case. The white people of the society see it as breaking a code, and don't think they're prejudice until they are made to step back and look at what they're doing, a good example of this is Mr Cunningham outside the jail. In Atticus's summary he's trying to make the jury question their beliefs. All the white men in the jury knew the truth, but were too afraid to question a white mans word against a Negroes. They felt it was unacceptable, hence the prejudice "All Negroes lie." The shooting of Tom indicates more racial prejudice, as it was said that he was shot at to wound, but in the end he's left for dead with seventeen bullets inside him, suggesting that that the guards shot to kill.
By introducing Dolphus Raymond into the book, Lee creates the feeling that he has to pretend to be drunk, just to justify the way he has chosen to live. It's meant to "Help folks if they can latch onto a reason." Dolphus Raymond doesn't care about the way he's chosen to live his life, Harper Lee uses this to illustrate that the white people would never grasp onto this fact and so they have twist the truth to make an excuse. For a white man to live with a black women is unspoken of in Maycombe and is frowned upon. To make it worse he's the father of coloured children and this is a complete offence in eyes the white society.
Harper Lee uses certain characters and their personalities in "To Kill a Mockingbird", to teach us vital lessons. Atticus is probably the main influence in the learning "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Using the word "skin", and not shoes, suggests that Atticus is talking about what that skin's like (colour wise), he's trying to teach Scout to understand that how she treats people shouldn't depend on the colour of the skin. Atticus's summary in court also gets this point across, but this time not only to Scout but to everyone in the court and the reader too. Atticus makes the point that a white man "cheating" a black man just because of the colour of his skin is "trash". This is a good point as this proves how strongly Atticus feels about the prejudice in the community around them.
There are three main influences in the book that get the message regarding racial prejudice across in a clear and very effective way. The comparison of Tom Robinson and Tom Ewell is one of these. This is because Lee wanted the reader to understand the only thing that separated their chances in life, was the colour of their skin. Secondly is having Atticus in the children's lives. Atticus gains our trust and he's the main teacher of morals. The last point is that "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a very well designed book, the book is written through the eyes of a eight year old girl who is having to come to terms with the prejudice that surrounds her.
Maycombe is a ordinary town, with ordinary people. Prejudice is seen as a way of life and is never even questioned. The children are told how wrong prejudice is, but the kind of persecution that they are thought is wrong is happening every day, right on their doorstep.