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Discrimination, its very existence can be considered one of civilized society’s ugliest and permanent scars. Like most other sins of its kind, rooting back to the potential moral corruption of the person, discrimination has no preference or boundary. Discrimination is a poison to humanity that comes in many forms, including racism, prejudice, and ignorant bias. In a daring attempt to reveal discrimination in the contemporary, Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird, exposes forms of discrimination through the eyes of her novel’s main characters, as well as through the mutual behaviors and ideals of the fictional society of Maycomb. Although the story’s plot may be fiction, the lessons regarding discrimination are not. Discrimination and its effects are not bluntly proclaimed, but rather expressed through the motions of Arthur Radley, Atticus Finch, and Tom Robinson; whose lives and fates are sealed by it.
Though discrimination comes in many forms, one of its most nefarious form is racism; the false belief that one race is superior to another. No one faces more discrimination in the novel than Tom Robinson. Tom Robinson, a loyal and honest worker, is convicted by Mr. Ewell, the trashiest white man in the town, for raping his daughter, Mayella. Being convicted purely out of hate and not because of evidence of crime labels this a racist act. Tom Robinson receives no mercy in court either. While in the witness stand, Tom Robinson attempts to maintain his innocence in his testimony, even under the pressure of Mr. Gilmer’s prosecution. He valiantly gives his testimony until one slip-up marks his words, “’Yes, suh. I felt right sorry for her, she seemed to try more’n the rest of ‘em—You felt sorry for her, you felt sorry for her?”’ (Lee 264). During his testimony, Tom insists that he does the extra work for Mayella out of sympathy. But in Mr. Gilmer’s eyes, no black man can say he feels sorry for a white woman; this statement imposes that black man are superior. Tom never had a chance at winning the case for his own innocence. He is doomed from the beginning that a white man accuses him of anything, with no chance of support for his word. Atticus tries to explain this Jem after the trial, “There’s something in this world that makes men lose their heads—they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins’” (295). Two false convictions/testimonies by white trash are held superior to one black man’s honesty. Tom’s suffering is not necessary. It is not out of justice, but hate. Judgment passes not out of peace, but of discrimination. In such a way, Tom represents the black community at large who also suffer from the law and such due to the fact of unfair persecution. Discrimination costs Tom’s life, and almost Atticus’s, his defending attorney.
Atticus is a white, humble, and well-known law practitioner of Maycomb county. So for him to defend a Negro really turns heads. The same Atticus that people are proud of as a lawyer and friend, lowers himself to be the defense attorney of a Negro; and the people do not hesitate to be hostile. With that in mind, Atticus becomes just as discriminated against as if he himself is black, “’Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for!’” (135) The trouble in him defending Tom Robinson is not only in the fact that he chooses to defend him, but that he is going to try his hardest to win the case. This upsets the people of Maycomb, knowing one of their own race is risking life and limb for the case. Overall, the town gives no mercy to Atticus when it comes to their views and opinions. The persecution that Atticus faces is similar, if not identical, to the way people are treated in Harper Lee’s time. In other words, Atticus symbolizes those who try to stand up for others, especially those of different race, during times of mistreatment and persecution by society.
Tom Robinson and Atticus indeed suffer the consequences of the wrongful discrimination of racism and prejudice, but no one suffers more unnecessarily from an discriminated position other than Arthur Radley—also known as Boo. Arthur Radley, an unknown and mysterious figure in terms of character and utter existence by most of Maycomb, is discriminated against not by race, but rather by ignorant bias. In the novel, people—especially Stephanie Crawford, the town gossip—refer to Arthur Radley, as being cynical, monster-like and downright eerie. However, little do they know of Arthur Radley’s true intentions. Boo has his reasons for being a house hermit, “’…Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time… it’s because he wants to stay inside’” (304). The fact that his way of life is different from the rest of the town makes him an ideal target for discrimination. Boo knows of the town’s hostility and their harsh reality, so he locks himself to escape his own. People continue to spread rumors not in the name of his character, but in the name of his false impressions and appearances. Misleading facades may deceive people’s perspective and can possibly transform to bias against an untrue reality. The people of Maycomb are guilty of discrimination of a character they are not sure exists, and it is that ignorance that keeps discrimination alive.
Discrimination is considered one of mankind’s deadly sins, often spawned from a false sense of superiority or ignorance. Harper Lee knows that her attempt to shine a light on discrimination may have just been that, an attempt. But the message she conveys in her novel does not fade with time. The world needs a grasp on what discrimination truly is, and if it means insinuating the definition through the perils of her characters, then the word is out. Atticus, Tom, and Arthur are not just characters of a story, they are the embodiment and physical representation of discrimination’s effects to its victims. First, the rape case that puts Tom to rest is not just another chapter, but a revelation of racism in contemporary idealisms. Second, Atticus’s burde from Maycomb’s prejudice are not just words on a paper, but a picture of how people are treated standing up for others. Finally, To Kill A Mockingbird is not just a book. Rather, the novel is a message crying out to its audience to change society as it is through their actions. Discrimination may be difficult to fight, but it takes only one person to start a change.
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