The Effect of Social Hierarchy in to Kill a Mockingbird
Social classing systems, also known as social hierarchy have been around since the beginning of time. In such a system those of the upper class take advantage of the classes below them; whether it is kings and their servants or a boss and their workers. This social hierarchy has a profound effect on society and the events in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird. There are four classes in Maycomb; they are distinguished in the Tom Robinson case and in the crowd who attend his trial.
Due to the social structure of Maycomb, Tom Robinson, a black man, is unjustly accused and convicted of a crime he does not commit.
The society of Maycomb has four definite class structures, which the town’s people abide by. The fist and highest level is that of the white collar Caucasians, such as the Finch’s and their neighbours; they are well respected. Next, are the blue collar, white workers such as farmers, the Cunninghams or even Mr.
Link Deas; the people who work but still struggle to make ends meet. In order for the narrator to understand their financial situation her father, Atticus, explains to her “… [P]rofessional people were poor because the farmers were poor.
As Maycomb County was farm country, nickels and dimes were hard to come by for doctors and dentists and lawyers. ” (Lee, 21). The last two levels, in order, are those of the white trash and the Negros; white trash, are people who are very poor and are not very respected or respectful. Although some Negros may be more respectful than white trash, they are still at the bottom of the system, and are treated worse than white trash. Even Atticus’ children understand these four levels as Jem explains “You know something, Scout?
I’ve got it all figured out, now… There’s four kinds of folks in the world. There’s the ordinary kind like us and the neighbors, there’s the kind like the Cunninghams out in the woods, the kind like the Ewells down at the dump, and the Negroes. ” (Lee, 226). Although some Negroes are better than the white trash the effects of prejudice and racism are evident in the trial leading to the inequitable conviction of Tom Robinson. The prejudice and social hierarchy is clearly distinguishable at the trial of Tom Robinson.
Tom Robinson, a hard-working, kind man, who wanted to help Mayella because he felt sorry for her, not in any way did he bring harm to her. Tom Robinson explains this to the jury “’I was just trying to help her out,suh. … ‘You’re a mighty good fellow, it seems- did all this for not one penny? ’ ‘Yes, suh. I felt right sorry for her…’” (Lee, 196,197). However, Mr. Ewell saw Mayella do something regrettable and beat her up for it, but not wanting to get in trouble he told the sheriff the entirety of his mind: Tom Robinson raped and attacked his daughter.
Atticus did all he could to make it clear that Tom did not commit the crime, simply by restating the facts “… there is circumstantial evidence to indicate that Mayella Ewell was beaten savagely by someone who led almost exclusively with his left. … Tom Robinson now sits before you, having taken the oath with the only good hand he possesses—his right hand. ” (Lee, 204). Nevertheless, after beating his own daughter, Mr. Ewell, took advantage of his social standings and put Tom’s life on trial and persuading the crowd and jury that it was Tom who committed the crime.
During the trial of Tom Robinson, the four classes are distinctly present. The first two classes are represented as the white audience, judge and jurors, throughout everyone in the building, the judge and jurors, have the most important job, their job is to see that Tom Robinson has a fair trial despite the underling prejudice in the town. Yet, their job will not be easy as they have to change the attitudes of almost everyone in the courtroom; in addition, they have to push aside their own thoughts and feelings towards this case.
The people of Maycomb treated the event as a special occasion or a party as the narrator explains “[i]t was a gala occasion. There was no room at the public hitching rail for another animal, mules and wagons were parked under every available tree. The courthouse square was covered with picnic parties sitting on newspapers. ” (Lee, 160). The Ewells, Negroes and the defendant, Tom, represent the lower classes, the trial made it clear that when a black man’s word is against a white, the white, no matter the social status, always wins.
Atticus understands the fact that winning the trial is very slim to none and he explains that you just can’t give up “They’ve done it before and they’ll keep doing it again and when they do it-seems that only children weep. ” (Lee, 213). Despite the man Tom is, the jury must accuse someone of the crime and choose the easiest man to blame, Tom Robinson. The underling prejudice and social hierarchy of Maycomb County, sentenced Tom to life in prison, where he was shot and killed, for a crime he never committed.
The class structure in Maycomb has a massive effect on the community and its people; even though it was evident that Tom Robinson was an innocent man, he was unjustly accused of something he did not do just to his class level; and finally, even with a fair trial it was show that a black man will never win against a white. Although the class system limited the chances of Tom’s freedom, his trial and the trial of man other Negroes will lead to a change in attitude and legal rights for Negros, for the rest of time.
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