Prejudice is one of the pivotal themes explored in Harper Lee’s coming of age novel: ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. Through the innocent eyes of protagonist, Scout Finch, readers are introduced to the inescapable effects of prejudice in the rural town of Maycomb County during the 1930’s. Racial prejudice is evident through the injustice of Tom Robinson’s court case, while social hierarchy and ‘time honoured codes’ form the basis of the social prejudice that is existent in the town. A fear of the unknown also provokes the harbouring of prejudicial attitudes against more mysterious characters such as Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley.
Racial intolerance is one of the most devastating forms of prejudice in Maycomb. Tom Robinson, an honest and hardworking Negro is falsely accused of raping a White girl, Mayella Ewell. There is not ‘one iota of medical evidence’ or proof against him, other than the witness of Mayella’s father, Bob Ewell, an arrogant and unemployed drunkard, who is known to be an unreliable witness. All the questions Atticus raise point to Tom’s absolute innocence. In spite of this, when Tom testifies that he felt ‘right sorry for [Mayella]’, the Whites in the courtroom are disgusted, since in Maycomb, it is unacceptable for an ‘inferior’ Black to feel pity for a ‘superior’ White. Consequently, the White jury convict Tom of the crime in favour of the lies of the Ewells. Later on, Tom is shot seventeen times in his attempt to escape from jail. The excessive number of shots signifies the complete and utter disregard for his honour on the part of the guards. Tom was ‘tired of taking white men’s chances’ and living in a society where he was condemned because of his skin colour, he was determined to break free, even if it would inevitably end in death. This desperation and feeling of oppression displays the essence of racial prejudice in Maycomb.
Not only is racial prejudice prevalent in Maycomb, social prejudice is also a reality for those who do not ‘fit like a glove’ into the typical lifestyle of the town. Growing up with little female influence, Scout identifies predominantly with Jem and Atticus. Fiercely independent and rather tomboyish, Scout defies the stereotypical image of a Southern America woman during the 1930’s. Scout sees no reason to conform to the strict etiquette and social niceties of being a lady in Maycomb. However, this behaviour is greatly frowned upon by a large number of women in the town, triggering Aunt Alexandra’s ‘campaign to teach [her] to be a lady’. Furthermore, there is a distinct social hierarchy in Maycomb. Aunt Alexandra vehemently objects to Scout’s desire to befriend Walter Cunningham, claiming that ‘he – is – trash’. Aunt Alexandra’s animosity toward the lower class Cunninghams exposes her ulterior fear of losing her superior position amidst the top of the social ladder of Maycomb. She simply could not afford for her niece, Scout, to associate with the Cunninghams, tarnishing the family’s reputation and allowing herself, to become a victim of the web of prejudice she actively