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In Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee focuses on the social inequality in a few different forms during her novel. Most of the social inequality that we see throughout Lee’s story is because of the mindset that the people of Maycomb have and their unwillingness to change their ways. This view that the people of Maycomb have is due to the time when there was many cases of discrimination that included not only race, but also of wealth status and gender. The acts of social inequality are seen throughout To Kill a Mockingbird within reasons of color and wealth, especially in black communities that are seen to be considered inferior to white social classes.
Social injustice is one of the most reoccurring themes in Lee’s novel. The idea of social injustice is “a situation in which dominant population is made known of the inequity that leads for others due to their relative position in the structure of power” (Isioma). To Kill a Mockingbird gives an example of the southern culture that is found in America during the 1930s. Lee focuses on the social injustice of three people in her novel, Tom Robinson, a black man that was charged with rape of a white woman. Mayella Ewell, the daughter of Bob Ewell who is the victim of her father’s abuse. Lastly, Boo Radley, a young man that never comes outside that sparks the interest of both Jem and Scout. Harper uses To Kill a Mockingbird to show examples of social injustice through different characters of race, gender and class and how these are considered inferior to the other residents in Maycomb.
During the trial of Tim Robinson, there are quite a few instances that Lee describes social injustice. There are examples that are seen in the trial that show that Robinson was not guilty but showed evidence that was against Mr. Ewell instead. Proving that Mr. Ewell abused his daughter, Mayella. By having him write his name, “You’re left-handed, Mr. Ewell” (Lee 201), showed everyone in the courtroom that the bruises and black eye came from Mr. Ewell and not Tim Robinson. Even though the evidence was in favor of Tim Robinson, the jury still decided to vote against him, “Guilty…guilty…guilty…guilty…” (Lee 240). With the jury playing a huge part in this trial, we can understand how the jury uses their own belief instead of the evidence that they were given during the case. This part of the novel really shows how unfair the court system is.
With his trial going to court and being in front of a jury shows that this is a step forward in the progression of social injustice. The jury took quite some time in deciding whether or not Robinson was guilty, “That jury took a few hours. An inevitable verdict, maybe, but usually it takes ‘em just a few minutes” (Lee 253). Even though the jury does take this step forward, they still deemed Tom Robinson guilty for the actions that Bob Ewell committed. Everyone knew that this decision was the wrong one, but no one argued. Jem was the only person who cried over the verdict, ““How could they do it, how could they?” “I don’t know, but they did it. 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” (Lee 243). Atticus explains has to explain to Jem the way that people are in Maycomb and because of their mindset to assume the black community are lower on the social ladder.
The second act of social injustice that Lee shows, is about the Ewell family. Social injustice does not cover race, but also looks at the social hierarchy in a community. The Ewell family was really affected by this type of injustice. “Atticus said the Ewells had been the disgrace of Maycomb for three generations” (Lee 33). While we see the nature of Bob Ewell, the reader does not have any sympathy for the man. He is seen as violent and drunk father who refuses to work and does not value his children, or for the way that the community views him. His actions We really see the social injustice for Mayella, “She is the victim of cruel poverty and ignorance” (Lee 231). Unfortunately due to her father’s behavior around town and the reputation that he has required, the community has turned their back on the family.
Even though the Ewell’s are at the bottom of totem pole, they are still seen slightly more elevated than the black community. Because they understood that, that lead to starting the case against Tom Robinson. Bob Ewell knew that he could get away from his actions, even though everyone in the courtroom knew what he had to done to his daughter. In Panopticism and the Use of “the Other”, Rebecca describes the way that they jury thinks and the reason of considering Tom guilty and , “Acquitting Tom would undermine the myth of the purity of a Southern white womanhood and the idea that the (light) color of person’s skin makers her an object of envy in the eyes of another person” (Best). Best describes how the jury of white men see the importance of skin color, and how the ideas of a white woman are supposed to be pure and does not have sexual desires.
The last scenario that Lee focuses on is the social injustice of Boo Radley. Lee uses Boo to show how someone can experience the mistreatment of society based on the past actions of his early life. While he hides in his house all day, Maycomb discriminates against him by telling stories of him. Jem describes him as a “Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks;…There was a long-jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time” (Lee 14). Based on the assumptions of Jem, we can see the prejudice that Maycomb has embedded into the mind of not only the adults, but also their children. Using the descriptions from that passage, Jem stereotypes Boo based on his actions, leading him to believe that he is a monster.
While Boo’s description does come from the imagination of a young boy, many other members of the community have their own versions of him as well. Stephanie Crawford tells the neighborhood of how she saw him sneak around and look into her windows while she sleeps. These examples show evidence of social injustice, because the people in Maycomb really do not know much of Boo and the only way for them to feel like they understand him is to make assumptions about him.
The mockingbird that is mentioned in the novel, ““Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy” (Lee), are a representation of the innocence of a person in To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee uses the example of the mockingbird to describe three people whose lives are affected by the townspeople of Maycomb. Boo Radley, Mayella Ewell, and Tom Robinson were all victims of prejudice for different reasons. They were all seen as outcasts for reasons of class, gender and race. Lee wanted to discuss the main prejudices of the Southern culture and how the society corrupted their innocence by the injustice of their characters.
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