How does Harper Lee convey the difficulties in overcoming prejudice in her novel?
Harper Lee wrote the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird during the 1930s, a time of immense racial and class prejudice towards coloured people. Throughout the novel Harper Lee demonstrates many difficulties that coloured and white people had to overcome when confronted with prejudice. Another prejudice explored by the novel is that against those who simply do not conform to society’s expectations, as shown through the character of Boo Radley, whom many have never seen before. Harper Lee also examines class prejudice in Depression-era America through the characters of Tom Johnson, a black man and Mr Ewell, a man who didn’t associate with wealthy people. Although these prejudices are shown by Harper Lee as entrenched in society and in individual characters, the efforts of Atticus and the overcoming of prejudice by characters such as Mr Cunningham, Scout and Jem, Mockingbird does leave the reader with some hope that with perseverance and education, prejudice can be overcome.
Firstly, racial prejudice is shown by Harper Lee to be a critical aspect of Maycomb society, but through the character of Mr Cunningham, she leaves the reader with some hope that, slowly and with difficulty, it can be overcome. Harper Lee uses the trial of Tom Robinson to convey the prejudice experienced by African-Americans. Tom Robinson, an innocent man, condemned because of the colour of his skin, is the ‘mockingbird’ of the second half of the novel. Atticus’ defence of Tom leads him open to abuse from most of Maycomb society, from children like Cousin Francis, who calls him a “nigger-lover” to old women, such as Mrs Dubose “Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!” Racial prejudice’s entrenchment in Maycomb society means that Tom has no chance of a fair trial, as symbolised by Lee’s description of the courthouse, which has “Greek revival columns” – representative of cotton plantations and Deep South slavery – and an old clock tower “a view indicating people determined to preserve every physical scrap of the past” – a past in which whites were supreme and blacks were slaves. Throughout the novel Calpurnia, the Finch’s cook, experiences racial prejudice to a degree as although she is seen as a part of the family in Scout, Jem and Atticus’ eyes, when Aunt Alexandra moves in she makes it clear that she believes Calpurnia is lesser in comparison to the family. Atticus, being fair-minded, draws to attention the unjust way that Aunt Alexandria treats Calpurnia when he states, "Alexandra, Calpurnia's not leaving this house until she wants to. You may think otherwise, but I couldn't have got along without her all these years. She's a faithful member of this family and you'll simply have to accept things the way they are." after Aunt Alexandria tries to relieve Calpurnia of her duties. This moment in the book shows the readers the inclusive and mature approach Atticus takes when addressing problems involving Negroes as well as stresses the vast difference in characterisation between Aunt Alexandria and Atticus with Aunt Alexandria being prejudice against coloured people along with a majority of Maycomb County society. In this way Harper Lee is able to re-iterate the racial discrimination against coloured people.
There are many forms of prejudice within To Kill a Mockingbird with a crucial aspect being the social prejudice that not only coloured people can relate too. Although social prejudice affects many of the ‘coloured characters’ within the novel due to their being seen as less than human, it also affects the character of Mr Ewell due to his socioeconomic status and the way in which his family live. In the Maycomb community the Ewells are seen as people not to be associated with as they are "the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations" and therefore are ostracised by society, this is demonstrated in the quote “In