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As a story based on The Great Depression, the time period shapes many aspects of life that contrast widely to that of today’s society. The 1930’s in the south was an era of inequality in many ways. Although many years after the abolition of slavery and rights for colored people were beginning to arise, racism still continued in the south as people were not able to let go of old habits and traditions. As well as this, rights for women was still a new concept during this time period, women’s suffrage only becoming a law in 1920. Women and blacks were treated as less superior, a conflict shown widely in this story of injustice and coming of age for a young girl learning about the world she lives in. In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, the author portrays the theme of prejudice in many aspects of life in Maycomb, including that of race, gender, and social class to show the immense inequality of this time period.
Race plays a huge part in To Kill a Mockingbird, shown mainly as a black man is convicted of a rape he did not do because of his race. “In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, white man’s always wins”,“as you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men everyday of your life”(Lee 252). This quote portrays the results of inequality in this time. Although the truth is clear that Tom is innocent, people of this time are so controlled by society’s ideas on race that they falsely accused him. Because of this mindset, another innocent man, out of many during this time, was sentenced to a death he didn’t deserve. Much like a mockingbird, colored people are killed without consideration.
Gender roles were another big part of life during this time and set the path for many young women to live as servants for others. This concept was not accepted by Scout, who fought the influence of others trying to change her. As a “tomboy”, Scout wanted to be treated equal to Jem and not be seen as weak because of her gender. “I was not so sure, but Jem told me I was being a girl that girl’s always imagined things, that’s why other people hated them so and if I started behaving like one, I could just go off and find some to play with” (Lee 54). This quote shows that from a young age, kids are taught that men are superior. Because of this, Scout tries her hardest to show others that while she is a girl, she still wants to belong in her friend group equally.
Social class plays another big role in Maycomb, and one’s name paves the way for how one is treated and judged. An example of this is the Ewell family, who is treated above the law because of their class and name. Each family is treated a certain way in order to keep the peace, and while this may help keep problems from arising in the law, it also creates stereotypes and drama within the town. “‘But I want to play with Walter, Aunty, Why can’t I?’ She took off her glasses and stared at me. ‘I’ll tell you why’ she said, ‘Because he-is-trash, that’s why you can’t play with him’” (Lee 225). This quote explains how big of a role class and name plays in how others saw people. Aunt Alexandra based her opinions on these ideas, not who they truly are, much like many others in Maycomb.
Overall, prejudice is a concept that has existed forever and will continue to exist as long as people judge others based on their differences. Before Tom Robinson, the habit of judging others based on race and class was easy, as people chose to stick to the status quo. When Tom was convicted, though, many were able to see the underlying issues of their town and question whether it was fair. Although some were pleased by the conviction, those such as Jem, Scout, Atticus, and the black community were left ashamed of how prejudice had taken over their town, and the world for that matter. In the end, prejudice remains one of the greatest conflicts in life and is the root of many issues, back then in a period of internalized and institutionalized racism, as well as today, as people hide being a false sense of equality.
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