Throughout To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout witnesses many different types of prejudice—and even promotes these attitudes herself—including classism, sexism, and racism. Regardless of the type of prejudicial worldview, each one treats people as stereotyped groups, demands conformity, and doesn’t give any credit to individuals. Over and over again, To Kill a Mockingbird illustrates how prejudice can be closed-minded and dangerous, as well as seemingly benign—but in all cases, it’s ridiculous and misguided.
Though racism is the type of prejudice that shines through the novel the most, Mockingbird is careful to show that this not the only kind of prejudice at work—and, at least for a white girl like Scout, it’s not even the most pressing issue in her life. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that racism isn’t Scout’s biggest issue exactly because she’s white, and what bothers her more is the sexism she experiences, and the classism expressed most often by her Aunt Alexandra. Scout is a tomboy and states clearly that she has no interest in being a lady, so she finds attempts by her Uncle Jack, Aunt Alexandra, and occasionally Jem to force her into acting more like a lady to be especially offensive, especially when this concerns wearing dresses instead of her preferred overalls. While certainly not a direct equivalent to racism, the sexism that Scout experiences at times impresses upon her just how silly prejudice is in general. Despite this, she still holds and espouses her own sexist views—she laughs when her cousin Francis says that Aunt Alexandra is going to teach him to cook, as she believes that boys don’t cook. To an outside observer, the juxtaposition of Scout’s annoyance with others’ clothing preferences with her own sexist ideas makes the point that anyone, even the victims of unfair treatment themselves, can hold questionable views.
Similarly, Scout gradually comes to the understanding that a person’s financial situation or family history shouldn’t have any bearing on whether or not they’re thought of as good people—though in many cases, she sees clearly that it does. While Aunt Alexandra outright forbids Scout from playing with Walter Cunningham, a poor farm boy at school, Scout sees that the only thing that separates her and Walter is that Walter has to miss school to work on the farm and his family doesn’t have any money—neither of which are things with which Scout (whose father, Atticus, is a lawyer) has to contend. Further, Scout feels especially warm toward the Cunningham family in general following Tom Robinson’s trial, as someone in the family was on the jury and was the one who fought to acquit Robinson. For Scout, this is proof that Walter isn’t all that different from her, and moreover, is a good person deserving of respect and kindness. To Aunt Alexandra, however, the possibility of Scout being friends with Walter represents an existential threat to the Finch family name, as she believes that being anything but polite and detached toward poor individuals sullies one’s own reputation—again, something Scout sees as being ridiculous, misguided, and selfish.
While the existence of racism in Maycomb becomes clearest to Scout during and immediately after Tom Robinson’s trial, the novel goes to great lengths to show that the racism hurled at Robinson doesn’t exist in a vacuum—it’s a part of the way Maycomb operates. Scout learns in the year or so before the trial that segregation and a general dislike of black people isn’t something benign or normal: rather, it exists thanks to a strong undercurrent of hate on the part of white people in Maycomb. During and after the trial, Scout hears friends, family, and neighbors verbally attack Atticus for taking Tom Robinson’s defense seriously—in their opinion, Robinson doesn’t deserve a fair trial because of the color of his skin. She and Jem also suffer abuse for Atticus’s choice to defend Robinson, suggesting that in Maycomb, treating a black person with anything other than distant contempt is an unspeakable offense. Similarly, Atticus makes the case in his closing argument that the case, which relies on he-said-she-said argumentation rather than medical evidence or eyewitness testimony, asks the jury to believe that all black men are dangerous rapists—even if there’s no compelling evidence that Robinson raped Mayella Ewell, and even if there’s a very good chance that Mr. Ewell, Mayella’s father, was the one who beat her instead.
Through all of this, Scout gradually comes to the conclusion that prejudice of any kind is ridiculous and misguided—after all, she sees that the town becomes increasingly hostile toward Atticus, whom she believes is unwaveringly good, when he stands up against prejudice by defending Robinson. Further, she begins to interrogate her own prejudiced thoughts about Boo Radley, especially after he saves her and Jem’s lives. Scout’s gradual realization that it’s not fruitful or worth her time to dislike or fear people for their differences, no matter what they are, makes the case that it’s possible to move on from prejudice as people gain exposure to others who are different—especially when those seemingly different people turn out to be not so different from oneself.
Prejudice Quotes in To Kill a Mockingbird
“There's some folks who don't eat like us," she whispered fiercely, "but you ain't called on to contradict 'em at the table when they don't. That boy's yo' comp'ny and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?”
“He ain't company, Cal, he's just a Cunningham—“
“Hush your mouth! Don't matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house's yo' comp'ny, and don't you let me catch you remarkin' on their ways like you was so high and mighty!”
“There are just some kind of men who—who're so busy worrying about the next world they've never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”
“If you shouldn't be defendin' him, then why are you doin' it?”
“For a number of reasons,” said Atticus. “The main one is, if I didn't I couldn't hold up my head in town, I couldn't represent this county in the legislature, I couldn't even tell you or Jem not to do something again.”
"Atticus, are we going to win it?"
“Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win,” Atticus said.
“Atticus, you must be wrong…”
“Well, most folks seem to think they're right and you're wrong…”
Lula stopped, but she said, “You ain't got no business bringin' white chillun here—they got their church, we got our'n. It is our church, ain't it, Miss Cal?”
When I looked down the pathway again, Lula was gone. In her place was a solid mass of colored people.
One of them stepped from the crowd. It was Zeebo, the garbage collector. “Mister Jem,” he said, “we're mighty glad to have you all here. Don't pay no 'tention to Lula, she's contentious because Reverend Sykes threatened to church her. She's a troublemaker from way back, got fancy ideas an' haughty ways—we're mighty glad to have you all.”
Somewhere, I had received the impression that Fine Folks were people who did the best they could with the sense they had, but Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land the finer it was.
“Well how do you know we ain't Negroes?”
“Uncle Jack Finch says we really don't know. He says as far as he can trace back the Finches we ain't, but for all he knows we mighta come straight out of Ethiopia durin' the Old Testament.”
“Well if we came out durin' the Old Testament it's too long ago to matter.”
“That's what I thought," said Jem, “but around here once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black.”
“If you had a clear conscience, why were you scared?”
“Like I says before, it weren't safe for any nigger to be in a—fix like that.”
“But you weren't in a fix—you testified that you were resisting Miss Ewell. Were you so scared that she'd hurt you, you ran, a big buck like you?”
“No suh, I's scared I'd be in court, just like I am now.”
“Scared of arrest, scared you'd have to face up to what you did?”
“No suh, scared I'd hafta face up to what I didn't do.”
“The way that man called him 'boy' all the time an' sneered at him, an' looked around at the jury every time he answered— … It ain't right, somehow it ain't right to do 'em that way. Hasn't anybody got any business talkin' like that—it just makes me sick.”
“They've done it before and they did it tonight and they'll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep.”
“Oh child, those poor Mrunas,” she said, and was off. Few other questions would be necessary.
Mrs. Merriweather's large brown eyes always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed. “Living in that jungle with nobody but J. Grimes Everett,” she said. “Not a white person'll go near 'em but that saintly J. Grimes Everett.”
Atticus had used every tool available to free men to save Tom Robinson, but in the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed.
“When they finally saw him, why he hadn't done any of those things…Atticus, he was real nice…” His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. “Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.” He turned out the light and went into Jem's room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.