“Discrimination is a hellhound that gnaws at Negroes in every waking moment of their lives to remind them that the lie of their inferiority is accepted as truth in the society dominating them.” Martin Luther King, Jr., speech, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 1967. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is a classic novel that takes place during the 1930s where we are introduced to the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, in which there was prejudice and stereotyping towards the people who were different then the general public. In the book, Jem and Scout learn the theme of prejudice and are taught by their father, Atticus, ways to use themes like courage and justice to prevent hatred and discrimination in their own lives.
The main and underlying theme in the novel is that of prejudice. Prejudice has caused the pain and suffering of people for many centuries. Throughout the whole novel, there are many examples of racism and its destructive force in any society. An example of discrimination was when Francis, relative of Aunt Alexandra, talked about Atticus when he said, “He?s nothing but a nigger-lover!”(page 83) In the story, people who are unlike the majority get hurt by those who think less of them. Tom Robinson is one character who is discriminated by the biased community. Because Tom is black, the members of the white community look down upon him and treat him with no respect. Tom undergoes a court case after being accused of raping Mayella Ewell. Because Tom was black, he wasn?t given a fair trial and ended up receiving a guilty verdict. The guilty verdict is a direct result of a racist community. Tom was never given a fair chance in the trial, even though the evidence proves him innocent. People that are born differently often get mistreated and are discriminated against. Atticus described a type of prejudice to Jem when he said, “As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it-whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”(page 220) Another character that faces the prejudice town is Boo Radley. Boo stays inside his house for a number of years without even coming out to inter-act with others. He did not want the attention that would come from rumors that were said about him. Stories are made up about him and he feels it was risk of being made an outcast of the majority of the society. Throughout the story, people that are unlike the majority get hurt. Boo and Tom are symbolized as mockingbirds due to the fact that both of them harmed no one and only benefited those around them. They are given obstacles that they have to overcome in order to survive. Some people in the world can survive these obstacles, and there are some that just give up. By fighting for your rights, people start to realize that character is the important attribute of a person. This book showed me that the people with differences are not always doing things wrong the way. It is the majority that may be going at it all wrong.
The theme of justice and courage is brought about by Atticus, who was the anchor of reason in Maycomb. This type of courage is shown by Atticus after he was spat upon by Bob Ewell when Atticus says, ” I wish Bob Ewell wouldn?t chew tobacco.”(page 217) It took courage for Atticus to hold back and not react with fighting to Mr. Ewell?s rudeness. He understood many people in town and believed that if you knew what someone had been through, then you would understand them better. Atticus was a good example of one who had courage. He tries to teach Jem about what courage truly is when he said, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.”(page 112) Atticus had the integrity that gave him the strength and courage to endure the ridicule that arose from his decision to defend a black man in a segregated area. Atticus is threatened and his peers treated his children poorly, because he has the courage to stand up for the oppressed. He also realizes that no one is pure evil; meaning that if you look hard enough, you would find that there is good in every person you meet. Atticus defended Tom Robinson when no other lawyer would. He was one of the few respectable people who were not blinded by the racial injustice Tom Robinson faced. Not only did Atticus defend Tom in the courthouse, he defended him at jail on one occasion too. It happened when an angry mob was trying to kill Tom Robinson, but Atticus risked his life to save him from that mob. If only the people of Maycomb were willing to listen to Atticus’ wise advice, then the town would be free of racism.
Another role that Atticus fulfills throughout the story is that of the greatest educator for his children, Jem and Scout. He taught them a way to get along with everyone else when he told them, “First of all. If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. 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.” (page 30) After seeing and understanding what Atticus went through, his children, Jem and Scout, began to realize what really went on in Maycomb county. They both began to mature as they learned valuable life lessons from their father. They learned the reasoning behind all the prejudice and discrimination that surrounded them. Jem and Scout, symbolizing the leaders of tomorrow, began to see how other people perceived things. The child that learned the most and matured the most due to the lessons taught by their father was Scout. As the novel progressed, Scout begun to realize how people contributed to the community without harming others. One valuable lesson that both the children learned throughout the story was why it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. The children learned this lesson when they heard, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ?em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”(page 90) They found the true meaning of this statement when Miss Maudie said, “You’re father’s right. Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mocking bird.” (page 90) Atticus, Scout, and Jem were the few people in Maycomb County who had enough senses to see the injustice of discrimination. Even today our world continues to deal with racism. If people like Atticus, Scout, and Jem didn?t exist in our world today, mankind would be forever corrupt.
Harper Lee?s To Kill a Mockingbird is an astounding portrayal of Southern tradition and human dignity, a novel whose themes and lessons transcend time and place. Throughout the novel there is a battle between justice and prejudice. In the end, good conquers evil in that the reader and the characters learn life lessons about how discrimination is present in the world today and how we can take a stand to stop it. I learned that we shouldn?t fear others because of their differences or appearance but that we should treat them the same as other people. A point that sums up the main theme of the book is that “You have to learn what life is like in other people?s skin before you can make any judgment about them.” After reading the book, I am a firm believer that if everybody took that step in their lives, this world would be a better place