How does Harper Lee Show that racial prejudice is ingrained in Maycomb society?

Essay by rachelvHigh School, 11th gradeA-, March 2007

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The black and white people of Maycomb are divided by their accents. Each group speaks the English language differently due to one main reason-education. Majority of the white people received a decent, if not high-quality, education and are therefore more articulate and have a better command of the English language. There are no schools for black children to go to and so they are unable to learn and become smart. This is exactly what the white people wanted. They did not want the black people, who are supposed to be much lower class, to rise up and be better. Only very few black adults can read and write correctly. The way black people talk is called “nigger-talk” which is very degrading. Black people show some respect to the whites by calling the way they speak “white-folks’ talk.”Scout implies that “white-folks talk” is above and smarter than “nigger-talk”. She says to Calpurnia: “…why do you talk nigger-talk to the – to your folks when you it’s not right?” White-folks talk, to some extent, does symbolise intelligence as only white people attended school at that time.

This makes you wonder where Scout learnt this from because Atticus would not have told her this. She must have learnt it from school or neighbours which shows how racist Maycomb society is.

There is a lot of tension and hatred between black and white people. Calpurnia explains to Jem and Scout: “Suppose you and Scout talked coloured-folks’ talk at home – it’d be out of place, wouldn’t it? Now what if I talked white-folks’ talk at church, and with my neighbours? They’d think I was puttin’ on airs to beat Mosses.” Calpurnia finds it much easier to talk her way around black people. If she tried to talk like a white person around black people they would think she was trying to be smarter and better than she actually was. They would think she was being snobby as she was one of the only four educated people in the church. The black society believes that they are lower class than the white society. This is seen when Calpurnia explains to Scout why she talks “nigger-talk”: “Well, in the first place I’m black—” Calpurnia believes this to be a viable excuse as to why she speaks “nigger-talk”. She does not say it is because she was not educated or because she is under pressure to speak like everybody else. The first thing she says is because she is black.

The black society of Maycomb is very insecure and resistant to change. Calpurnia says: “They’d think I was puttin’ on airs to beat Moses.” This shows that the black society does not value education. They would rather shame someone with education than appreciate them and learn something of value that would grow and improve the community.

Each society is very set in their ways and beliefs. Calpurnia says: “You’re not gonna change any of them by talkin’ right, they’ve got to want to learn themselves, and when they don’t want to learn there’s nothing you can do but keep your mouth shut or talk their language. Racism has been around for a very long time and it will take a long time to be completely removed from everyday life.

People of Maycomb County are intimidated by people who know more than themselves. Calpurnia says: “…folks don’t like to have somebody around knowin’ more than they do. It aggravates ‘em.” An example of this would be Aunt Alexandra. She wants Atticus to fire Calpurnia basically because she is jealous. Calpurnia is a better mother-figure, cook, house-cleaner and a better person in whole. What makes the scene worse is then Calpurnia is black and is supposed to be lower than the whites but Aunt Alexandra finds her higher than herself.

This extract is very significant in providing the reader with a more in depth look at the racism enclosing Maycomb County. Some important facts and key ideas are unearthed.