Everyone forms first impressions about others, but to act upon these early impressions as definite conclusions about other people’s characters is the beginning of the unfavorable trait of prejudice. In Harper Lee’s story, To Kill a Mockingbird, a young girl, Scout grows up in the small, southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, where prejudice is heavy. Being a secluded community, rumors fly around rapidly in Maycomb, creating warped and exaggerated stories of the targets of the gossip.
Harper Lee demonstrates through the causes and sources of the discrimination that prejudice is derived from appearances as well as influences from other people. Harper Lee uses Jem’s prejudice toward his neighbor, Boo Radley to illustrate that discrimination branches off of other people’s opinions. Scout discovers two pieces of chewing gum in an oak tree on the Radley lot one day, while coming home from school. When her brother, Jem realizes where she obtained her prize, he screams, “Don’t you know you’re not supposed to even touch the trees over there?
You’ll get killed if you do! ” (45). Jem’s prejudice toward Boo is based on the rumors, stories, and opinions he has heard from other citizens of Maycomb. Despite the fact that he has never seen, let alone met, their reclusive neighbor, Jem still speaks badly of Boo. He discriminates against Boo because of what he has heard, rather than what he has experienced personally. In addition, Harper Lee reveals through the white jury’s discrimination toward Tom Robinson, a poor, crippled black man, that appearances are a major factor contributing toward prejudice.
While sitting in the courtroom, during Tom Robinson’s trial, Scout observes the jury and realizes that “All [Mr. Ewell] had that made him better than his nearest neighbors was… his skin was white” (229). Race and skin color are huge contributors to prejudice in Maycomb. Black people are considered to be of lesser value than white people. Despite the fact that the Ewells live under terrible conditions and have no manners or morals, they still manage to receive much more respect than any black person would warrant. Similarly, Lee demonstrates racism based on first impressions through Lula’s ignorant ideas of Jem and Scout.
Calpurnia, their black maid, decides to bring Jem and Scout to the black church one day, where they are met by Lula, a black woman, who angrily declares, “You ain’t got no business bringin’ white chillun here – they got their church, we got our’n” (158). Lula’s views of white people are similar to the views white people have of black people. She is discriminating against Jem and Scout due to their appearances and skin color. Her ignorance creates a rift right away between her and the two children before she allows herself to know them better personally.
By emphasizing the reasoning of those who are prejudiced toward others, Harper Lee ultimately reveals that prejudice is motivated by not only appearances but also opinions absorbed from other people. Throughout the novel, there was not a single circumstance where a person discriminated against another because of what they had seen or experienced. All cases of injustice were derived from at least one of many things: first impressions, physical features, rumors, etc. Lee’s morals leave a lasting impact on the readers. Prejudice will only end when people stop themselves from acting upon their pre-formed ideas of others.
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