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“Racism is still with us. But it is up to us to prepare our children for what they have to meet, and, hopefully, we shall overcome” (Rosa Parks). Prejudice will always remain in society, and it sure does in the novel To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Scout is introduced into the story as an innocent child, as well as Scout’s brother Jem, and she befriends a short boy named Dill. This story takes place in the town of Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. While the children are innocent, adults oppress Tom Robinson because he is Black; when he testifies in court for supposedly raping a white teen, the verdict comes out to be guilty. As the children grow up, they realize how much racism and prejudice exist in the town. Atticus, Scout and Jem’s father, teaches them many life lessons based on the moralities of compassion. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee shows the idea that when prejudice causes stereotypes that become fixed into society, compassion is one of the ways to respond despite all the prejudice spreading.
Because prejudice spreads around Maycomb County, symbolism is used to help explain how people spread prejudice. Scout explains how far the Ewells’ and Negroes’ settlements are from the center of the town.
When Scout’s family go visit the Ewells, Scout describes the environment around their house. With the use of symbolism, she describes that “A dirt road ran from the highway past the dump, down to a small Negro settlement some five hundred yards beyond the Ewells” (Lee 171). Scout shows how far the Ewells’ and Negroes’ settlements are from the center of the town. The readers can now know more about the setting of Maycomb County based on Scout’s explanation; the prejudice shows how poor the conditions were around the house. Lee chooses the words “dump” and “dirt road” to describe the area around the settlement of the Ewells and the Negroes because she wants to get the reader to understand how prejudged the Negroes and Ewells are. Lee represents “dump” as hopelessness because Negroes are known as having a low social status, and most people believe that the Blacks are bad.
Furthermore, the dirt road that leads to the Negro settlements tells the reader more about the Negroes’ social status. The dirt road represents the downhill of the Negroes because white people think that the blacks don’t do anything in the town. Scout shows how unclean the roads and environments were in the Negro settlement area. The symbolism catches the attention of the reader so that he or she knows can have a feeling of the prejudice of the Blacks. Atticus emphasizes how important it is to understand a person by walking around in his or her skin. Miss Maudie describes what the setting is like in the season of fall at Maycomb County. By doing this, she explains to the children of what the environment of Maycomb is like: “‘Why, one sprig of nut grass can ruin a whole yard. Look here. When it comes fall this dries up and the wind blows it all over Maycomb County!’” (Lee 42).
Miss Maudie shows how the symbolic meaning of “one sprig of nut grass” relates to how quickly rumors spread. Here, Miss Maudie claims that this is a representation of rumor and lies spreading. She uses symbolism to claim that one thing may lead to big things later on. Miss Maudie also explains that the nut grass dries up in the fall; this represents how people learn to learn, believe, and accept the rumors that are spreading. This leads to another event; everyone in the town is gossiping about Boo killing his father. Boo did not kill his father; these are rumors and lies being spread across the town. Miss Maudie teaches a lesson here that people are always lying about others, and those lies spread quickly. Because prejudice is so common in the county of Maycomb, prejudice causes stereotypes that are built into Maycomb with irony. Scout explains about how the sheriff separates the Boo from the Negroes: “The sheriff hadn’t the heart to put him in jail alongside Negroes, so Boo was locked in the courthouse basement” (Lee 11). By locking Boo into the courthouse basement, this shows that the sheriff wants to separate him from the other black people in jail. Furthermore, the separation between Boo and the Negroes suggests that Boo is an outcast. Boo is white while the others in jail are black; this leads to an ironic situation. The phase “hadn’t the heart” indicates that the sheriff has compassion. However, the sheriff doesn’t show compassion to the Negroes; by separating Boo from the Negroes, this is not an example of equality.
The irony is important to what the sherrif does because the incompassion he shows not much fairness in the town. The sheriff tried to be nice, and by locking Boo into the courthouse basement rather than putting him into prison, this also shows inequality. By connecting stereotypes and irony to the story, Lee shows us that certain people (in this case, the Negroes) are segregated because of their races, genders, or identities: “Negroes worshipped in it on Sundays and white men gambled in it on weekdays” (Lee 118). The words “worshipped” and “gambled” show the disrespect the white men have for the Negroes. The injustice the white men show leads to the poverty the blacks have because they were once trapped into slavery. In the church, white men mess around and do nothing productive.
However, the black people are using their time wisely to pray and worship. The irony here is that people involved in churches usually pray, worship, and rejoice. In this case, the white people rage in and sin. In the small town of Maycomb County, people spread injustice and lies about people who are different, such as Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. Lee applies irony into segregation because she wants the reader to get a deeper meaning of the story and its lesson. In this context, Lee incorporates irony here because she wants the readers to get a central idea of the message in the text. Even though prejudice involves certain people throughout the story, Scout and Jem are able to feel compassion to help make a reasonable response to the circle of prejudice from the aphorism that they learn from Atticus. Atticus teaches one of his most important lessons to his children, and those will impact the children on: “‘First of all,’ he said, ‘if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks.
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point ofview-’ ‘Sir? ‘-until you climb into his skin and walk around in it’” (Lee 30). By saying that people can get along with each other, Atticus teaches a lesson to Scout; he states that one can’t truly understand what a person is going through unless she walks in someone’s skin. Empathy is all about learning about what other people have to go through on a daily basis. This idea leads to compassion because Atticus is showing concern and sympathy to those who are different. The metaphor in Atticus’s lesson helps him tell the kids about having empathy for others, such as the “mockingbirds” in the story. He describes using a metaphor that one should learn to put him or herself into others’ skins and understand what that feels like.
Here, Atticus is trying to explain that Scout needs to get used to being in other’s shoes to feel compassion, empathy, and sympathy. Using aphorism, Scout’s father teaches the children about the lesson of empathy; he uses the aphorism to really emphasize the lesson he teaches. The lesson Atticus teaches is that he can’t truly understand someone until he looks at his or her perspective of life. Here, Scout finally understands the most important moralities in the story; she knows that Atticus teaches her all the lessons she needs to know: “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough” (Lee 279). Scout implies here that her father is correct about his moral values; he teaches that people cannot truly understand what someone is going through unless they put themselves into his or her shoes. The lesson of putting one’s feet into others’ shoes shows the idea of compassion and empathy. This moral value is mentioned many times throughout the novel. “Walk[ing] around in them” suggests how people have to understand others’ emotions and thoughts. Aphorism helps Atticus teach his children about important lessons because the aphorism in his teachings help Scout understand how prejudged the Negroes really were. Scout knew that Atticus was right because of how much she realized that she truly has to imagine having a Negro’s life one day to actually walk into his or her shoes. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee represents that when prejudice leads to stereotypes that are a part of society, compassion is a possible method to react regardless of all the prejudice increasing.
The Civil Rights Movement was a big part of history, and that impacted many people in many ways. People protested about Blacks and the rights of people. Prejudice was a big topic talked about before the movement was established, and people wanted to put a stop to the prejudice. The historical movement ended up in African Americans having equality forever. Individuals know that society can’t say goodbye to prejudice, but they can change their hearts to become more compassionate. Adults can pass the message on, and that can just be the beginning of a big change in society.
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