Themes within the book
- The majority of Maycomb are racist.
- Blacks are seen by most whites as second class citizens. They do menial jobs for little money.
- The town’s racism is the cause of animosity towards Atticus and his family due to the fact he chooses to defend Tom against the charges.
- Racism is highlighted in the attempt to lynch Tom in the jail house.
- It is also exhibited in the attitude of Aunt Alexandra in her disapproval of Calpurnia.
- The common feeling was that white people were fine to exploit black people, but not to have personal relationships with them.
- There was an evil assumption that “all blacks lie, that all blacks are basically immoral beings”.
- One of the most important secondary themes is the threat ignorance and hatred pose to the innocents such as Tom and Boo. Jem is also affected by this after realising that justice does not always win through and the evil of racism can, on occasion win. His faith in humanity is diminished and damaged as a result.
- When the Sheriff arrests Boo Radley, he says he “hadn’t the heart to put him in the jail alongside the Negros”.
- Aunt Alexandra states she doesn’t like to talk about important matters “in front of Calpurnia and them”.
- Mrs Dubose tells the children “Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for”.
There are also those who have the strength of character to stand up to racism:
- Atticus refers to racism within the town as “Maycomb’s usual disease”.
- Jem cannot believe a jury would convict a man based solely on the fact he was black. He says “it ain’t right”.
- Miss Maudie is proud of “those people in this town who say that fair play is not marked white only”.
Prejudice and bigotry
- Most characters within the book are either prejudice against others or are victims of prejudice themselves.
- The normality with which all types of bigotry are exercised throughout the novel is a dark cloud hanging over the townspeople.
- There is racial prejudice, religious prejudice, class prejudice and prejudice against anyone who fails to conform or who does not fit into the community (Boo, Miss Maudie).
- Aunt Alexandra is obsessed with the superiority of the Finch family. She forbids Scout from playing with Walther Cunningham.
- There is a firm hierarchy within the town; the Cunninghams are lower class white people, mostly farmers who have been hit as a result of the depression. The Ewells are seen as the lowest class of whites, uneducated and poor and termed “white trash”. Bottom of the ladder then falls the black community, despite their many admirable qualities.
- Mr Dolphus Raymond welcomes people’s judgement of him as a drunk as it allows him to live as he wishes with a black woman.
- Scout cannot understand the difference between Hitler’s treatment of the Jews and how black people are treated within her community.
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