Stereotypes in To Kill A Mockingbird
In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, many characters are stereotyped into whom they are not, to emphasise the theme of the novel, as well as teach the audience of the moral lesson that is learned from this novel; to be a less judgemental society and to be willing to accept others of different cultures and races by creating moral education. This technique of using stereotypes gives the reader a first-hand knowledge of what it is like to be stereotyped; thus, creating the theme of the coexistence of good and evil.
Throughout the novel, characters are stereotyped and the audience learns their true self as the novel goes on. These stereotyped characters are used to achieve the theme in the way Boo Radley represents how humankind is essentially good, how children view society and prejudice compared to adults, as well as the way minor characters in the novel prove that not everything is as others perceive them to be.
Boo Radley was one of the main characters in this novel, yet he was only seen in the novel very few times. His role in this novel was to prove to the audience that stereotypes are not always true, since the stereotyped evil character was actually acting as a parent-like figure to the Finch children. The town of Maycomb had created a horrible stereotype over the years of Boo Radley only because of his parents and the fact that he had social issues. Many people including Jem, scout and Dill thought Boo was, “chained to a bed most of the time, 6 feet tall, judging by his tracks, he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch that’s why his hand were bloodstained… there was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten, his eyes popped out, and drooled most of the time,” (pg.16) only from stories they have heard from others around Maycomb. Boo Radley shows the theme of the coexistence of good and evil, because no one knew who he was so they made up rumours out of the fear of the unknown and ignorance and these horrible stereotypes stuck with him, even though he was nothing of the monster that people thought of him as.
At the start of the novel Jem and Scout believed them these stereotypes, but as the novel went on, and as these children matured, they learned that Boo Radley was the total opposite of the stereotypes everyone had presumed. Boo was a caring man, he noticed that the kids were in need of some help, since their only parent was working all the time, so Boo hid things in a knot hole for them to find, one of the things being a broken pocket watch; something that was normally given from father to son, and this symbol proves to the audience that Boo Radley is a great character, and a deeper message that society has to stop judging people from what they hear and see, but instead, get to know the people and find out who they really are; thus enhancing the theme of the novel.
Stereotyped characters also demonstrate how children’s perception of people differs from that of an adult. Children are innocent and tolerant of others, they don’t realise stereotypes and prejudice until they mature and grow into adults. It is through ignorance, fear and intolerance of those not like them or are different, that lead to prejudice and hatred. This can be passed down from generation to generation, but children are too young to understand what is going on. When people are kids, they will play with anyone on the playground, regardless of race, gender or any other differences; but as they get older they learn from society and adults to be stereotypical and prejudiced. This is why moral education is so important; children often learn what they live, just as scout and Jem did. They were surrounded by empathy and kindness, Atticus always told them not listen to the other kids and what they say about others, its “until you climb into his skin and walk around in it”(pg.39) that you can understand a person. The adults of Maycomb were all very stereotypical and believed anything they wanted to hear.
At the trial, Scout and Dill have a very hard time understanding why Tom is found guilty, they see he is of course not guilty, as everyone should have; but all the people around them saw him as guilty only because he is a black. Everyone is so caught up with the ‘normal’, and that a black man was accused of raping a white girl, that they see Tom as guilty. Children see things as adults cannot, “because they’re children, and can understand it” (pg. 269).; just like in Dolphus Raymond’s case. They are innocent until they can understand the reality of things. Atticus isn’t like the rest of the adults from Maycomb, he doesn’t give into stereotypes like everyone else, and he is a patient, gentle man who fights against people with hurtful views and opinions. As Jem gets older he starts to realise everything that is going on around him and matures because of it, he understands things and really is moved by all the horrible things that are happening right before his eyes.
This creates the view that moral education really is very important, Jem and Scout grew up in a household with a Black woman, as well as calm, sheltering parent and it made them to be accepting and take after Atticus. This is compared to say, Mayella, who has lived a horrible life and no education. Mayella’s dad was the definition of ‘white trash’ and she grew up under all of bad things he may have said about people, so that is the type of person she is. There were many characters that Harper Lee incorporated into the novel that were used to show stereotypes. Many of these characters were used to teach Jem and Scout valuable lessons as well as the reader. The stereotyped characters in the novel were the more moral than those looking down on them. Society puts too much emphasis on appearances and social class; they never take time to understand who a person is. This novel also shows how society has a stereotypical view of Black people.
The story takes place in the south, where there was much prejudice and racism against them since in the past they were always ‘below the whites’, but colored people “they’re people, too”(pg.269). Tom Robinson was accused of raping Mayella Ewell, he would have been found not guilty, but because he was Black, he was found guilty and put in jail where he pretty much committed suicide. Tom tried to climb over the fence and was shot, but he wasn’t shot just once, no; he was shot 17 times. They weren’t just shooting a man who was trying to escape; they were shooting a colored man who was trying to escape. Tom helps show the education and the coexistence of good and evil, how most people think that Tom is an evil man and did in fact rape Mayella when really, we know the truth is that he did not and that he was just helping Mayella with some chores when she tried to kiss him—he is innocent one.
Dolphus Raymond was another stereotyped role he was said to be the town drunk, he was married to a colored woman but people didn’t mind because he was drunk and said he did not know better, when In fact it was because he truly loved her. But during the trial when Scout and Dill go outside they learn the real Mr. Raymond, he is a kind man who fakes being the town drunk so “it helps folks latch onto a reason” (pg. 268), since Dolphus liked the way he was, and people can think that they were right. One of the last characters to be stereotyped was young Mayella Ewell. She was a very minor character but she helped with a big part in the purpose. She came across as ‘white trash’ only because her father was labeled that, she in fact tried really hard, she was the one who took care of her siblings because often her father, bob, neglected them.
She was so desperate to be loved, she tried to kiss tom, which got them both in big trouble. A major tip off that she is actually good was she saved up for over a year to send her siblings to go get ice-cream, as well as planted beautiful flowers to make their place look somewhat nice. This also demonstrates the theme of coexistence of good and evil, the stereotype being the evil half. “To Kill a Mockingbird” looks at the big issues of morality, society and human kind in general, Harper Lee reveals many lessons through rich storytelling and the use of stereotyped characters.
All ages can learn from this story, about how stereotypes don’t portray who the person actually is. Most of the time stereotypes are the evil part of the coexistence of good and evil theme, when the person is actually good. Using the minor characters, the major stereotyped character, Boo Radley, as well as the views of children verses adults, Harper sends out a big message. Everyone has good intentions; you just have to see through everything to be able to understand that.
Works cited: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
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