The Problem of Racism and Injustice in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Research Paper

February 14, 2022 by Essay Writer

In spite of the fact the moral concepts are the basic principles according to which people regulate their lives and interpersonal relationships, these principles are often broken, and any person can experience problems in his or her interacting with the society.

Sometimes, people become opposite to the societies with their developed hierarchy and stereotypes because of their differences. The problem of the social inequality is one of the most controversial questions in the world, and it is closely associated with the issue of racism and prejudice.

The theme of the human’s opposition to the society is discussed in To Kill a Mockingbird written by Harper Lee. It was the most provocative novel of the 1960s which influenced the social discussions and revealed the problematic aspects of the democratic American society. To analyze the basic ideas of the novel, it is necessary to examine it with the help of formalism as an approach to concentrate not only on the topic but also on the author’s methods to present it.

In the novel, Harper Lee demonstrates her vision of the question of the social inequality with references to the problem of racism in the society based on prejudice and absence of actual principles of tolerance and justice, and this vision is given through the eyes of children with their morality and innocence as an important point to emphasize the issue’s controversy.

It is possible to state that Harper Lee uses the character of Scout as the story’s narrator not only to accentuate the lack of morality in the society but also to emphasize the links between her own experience and the problem discussed in the novel. Harper Lee was born in the family of an attorney in 1926.

Being a child, Lee observed the injustice of the social relations in the 1930s which were based on the racial discrimination and the lack of tolerance. Thus, these peculiarities of Lee’s perception of the situation and definite biographical details were depicted through Scout’s eyes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee did not write any other novel, but her first experience in writing with accentuating the most problematic social issues was so successful and remarkable that the novel became the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 (Shields).

To present the discussion of the problems of racism, intolerance, and injustice in the American society of the 1930s with referring to the situation of the 1960s, Harper Lee chooses to depict a story about Atticus Finch, an attorney, who defends an Afro-American man accused of raping because he believes in this man’s innocence and rejects the law of prejudice developed in the society.

The events of the story are presented through the eyes of Finch’s daughter Scout. Following the details of the girl’s perception of the situation and the mature analysis of the definite facts, it is possible to conclude that the story is spoken by a young woman who rethought all its aspects. From this point, the problem of innocence is depicted in the novel with the help of rejecting Tim Robinson’s innocence and the innocence of the children’s consideration.

Thus, Harper Lee provides her “version of an age of innocence. Literally, she is using what we perceive as the innocence of childhood and a small town’s ‘nothing happening’ existence, which upon closer examination is merely the complex mutual dissimulation of innocence” (Blackford 280). Innocence is one of the main concepts of the novel which is discussed from different perspectives.

It is important to note that social tensions which depend on the progress of prejudice are typical for many societies and any settings during different periods. Presenting the situation in provincial Maycomb, Alabama, which developed in the 1930s, Harper Lee also reflected the social problems of the American society in the 1960s. It was still based on the strict principles of the hierarchy. In this case, racism is discussed as the problem which is not limited by any time fringes.

Atticus Finch presents his vision of the issue saying to the children, “you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but…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, he is trash” (Lee 365). It is possible to accuse even an innocent man when social inequality and injustice are based on the lack of moral principles in the society and humanity in the people’s relations.

Tolerance and humanity are reflected in the characters of Atticus Finch and his children. Their considerations about the other people do not depend on any biases because these persons perceive the others as individuals, but not as different ones. The understanding of the problems of social inequality is presented in Scout’s considerations. Murphy states, “In her youthful innocence, she was asking all the right questions” (Murphy 64).

If Scout represents the possible innocent perception of the unhealthy situation in the society, Finch tries to fight with the system to overcome injustice. Wood pays attention to the fact that Atticus “seems to understand that lasting legal change will not succeed unless people’s hearts and minds also change, unless the law embodies the highest and best values of collective society, and unless the law is flexible enough to accommodate special circumstances” (Wood 82).

Is it possible to be opposite to the society with its stereotypes and prove the logic of the person’s position when nobody wants to support it? Defending Tom Robinson, Atticus Finch experiences the necessity to resist the opposition of the intolerant society in order to maintain his point of view.

Harper Lee draws the readers’ attention to the controversial point that it is rather difficult for one person to convince the whole society to believe in the innocence of a ‘black’ man when all these people depend in their considerations on the developed biases. The conflict of the novel is in the opposition of the man who has healthy ideas about the laws of the society according to which people should interact with each other and the public which is used to live depending on the ideas of racism and significance of the social status.

To accentuate the inability of the public to react to the reality and express the signs of tolerance, Lee states that “people generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for” (Lee 286).

That is why, the conflict of the person and society in the novel is resolved with the triumph of inhumanity and injustice which are dependent on the strengths of the social stereotypes and prejudice. The strong will of one person and his persuasions about the basic social principles are not enough to overcome the biases which were developed during the years.

At first sight, the readers can consider the title of the novel as inappropriate for the book, but it is rather symbolic and reflects the novel’s theme. ‘Mockingbirds’ are the symbolic depictions of the innocent people in the novel who can suffer from the racial or social discrimination against them. Is it necessary to kill a mockingbird? Are there any threats for people? “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy…they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.

That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (Lee 148). Nevertheless, the society is often cruel, and innocent ‘mockingbirds’ are killed the first because they reflect the social imperfectness. That is why, the theme of racism and the social injustice is symbolically presented in the title of the novel as the accentuation of the lack of reasonability in any kind of discrimination.

In spite of the fact the story depicted in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird develops in the 1930s, the problems discussed in the novel can be considered as the main social challenges which do not depend on the period of time. The question of the social inequality and the problem of racism as its reflection are controversial issues, the discussion of which should be based on the ideas of tolerance and justice.

Harper Lee pays attention to the fact that it is a sad phenomenon when the question of innocence is changed with a question of race. Moreover, the society can be considered as sick when the principles of humanity are based on the definite social status. All these aspects are emphasized by Harper Lee’s conclusion when innocence, tolerance, and justice are just words.

Works Cited

Blackford, Holly. “Awakening Passing and Passing Out”. Mockingbird Passing: Closeted Traditions and Sexual Curiosities in Harper Lee’s Novel. Ed. Holly Blackford. USA: University of Tennessee Press, 2011. 261-315. Print.

Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. USA: Harper, 2010. Print.

Murphy, Mary. Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird. USA: Harper, 2010. Print.

Shields, Charles J. Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. USA: Holt Paperbacks, 2007. Print.

Wood, Jeffrey B. “Bending the Law: The Search for Justice and Moral Purpose”. Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: New Essays. Ed. Michael J. Meyer. USA: Scarecrow Press, 2010. Print.

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