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Literature: To Kill a Mockingbird

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Prejudice is a many faced demon which comes in many shapes and disguises. The
point that it often goes ignored or unnoticed and shows up in the most unlikely
places is what makes it an even more dangerous thing. This is extremely evident
in the novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. The first sign of prejudice in the
novel is shown by the Finch children regarding Arthur (Boo) Radley. They see him
as a type of monster or a ‘malevolent phantom’ as Scout so aptly put it. Any
small crimes which were committed in Maycomb were said to be his work. At night
when the moon was down, he went and peeped in windows. When people’s
azealea’s froze in a cold snap, it was because he breathed on them. Even the
children were affected by all these rumours, they refused to touch the pecans
when the trees from the Radley place dropped into the school yard- according to
them Radley pecans would kill you. All of this could be attributed to their
prejudice against Boo, just because he never came out of his house to or
socialised with outsiders, people just made up all these rumours about him as a
reason for why he stayed inside. The next type of prejudice shown in the book is
class prejudice. It is unconsciously shown by Scout as well as a few of her
compatriots on her first day at school. They attributed certain qualities to
each family in Maycomb and expected these traits to be hereditary. For example
the reason which Scout gave as to why Walter refused the quarter which Miss
Fisher offered was because "he’s a Cunningham" and the reason why
Burris was so dirty and impudent was, as far as the children were concerned, was
because "He’s one of the Ewells". This shows the complacent way in
which they treat class prejudice in Maycomb, in Maycomb it is just taken for
granted, no questions asked. In fact the children, in stating these
characteristics of the Cunninghams and Ewells did not even realise that they
were being prejudiced, they had just been brought up that way. Later, when Jem
invited Walter to tea and Scout criticised his table manners, Cal and Atticus
were not pleased at all. Cal scolded Scout roundly by saying that Walter was
‘company’ and that he could eat whatever way he wanted. When Scout
retaliated by saying that Walter was not ‘company’ that he was just a
‘Cunningham’, Cal did not let that serve as an excuse for her humiliating
him. In this way, Cal tried to stop Scout from gaining the class prejudice of
Maycomb and to treat all people equally. Racial prejudice against Negroes are
shown with regard to Dolphus Raymond and Tom Robinson. Dolphus Raymond is
considered to be a type of oddball in Maycomb, because he is a white man yet
prefers to live with the Negroes. In town, he has a reputation for being a
drunkard, but he tells the children that that was just in pretence. Actually, he
is a very sensitive man who loathes the society which makes blacks and whites
live separately and hates the "hell white people give coloured folks,
without even stopping to think that they’re people, too". Tom Robinson is
found guilty of raping of Mayella Ewell, in the face of very strong suspicion
that his accusers are lying. One reason he was convicted was because it was a
white man’s word against a black man’s one, and in Maycomb, a white man’s
word was always taken without any regard as to how trustworthy he was. I think
the other reason he was convicted was because he went against the accepted
position of a Negro by daring to feel sorry for a white person. All these
prejudices are a result of people holding on to preformed ideas of a certain set
of people. It is not just racial prejudice which is present in Maycomb but the
narrow, rigid, intolerant codes of behavior which the townspeople wish to impose
on others. These prejudices all show the inability of the people to, as Atticus
puts it, "consider things from his point of view" and the lack of
understanding between them.
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