To Kill a Mockingbird: Conflict and Racism Development

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 1333 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Words: 1333|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Portrayal of Racism in To Kill a Mockingbird
  3. Effects of Racism on To Kill a Mockingbird's Characters
  4. Response to Racial Conflict in the Story
  5. Conclusion
  6. Works Cited


Ordinarily referred to as simple dividing lines, boundaries are commonly used metaphors in novels. Boundaries are set by society or individuals. They define who people truly are including their desires, fears, and limits. They can range from physical and psychological to social and racial. Boundaries can also divide communities and cause societal tensions. There is a strong racial conflict between African Americans and whites in To Kill a Mockingbird. Conflict flows from the racial boundaries that thrive through the small town of Maycomb. Scout, the narrator, looks back on her past and tells the story of how racism developed in Maycomb when she was younger. Lee uses Scout’s recollections to portray how the power of racial boundaries affects the town of Maycomb.

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Portrayal of Racism in To Kill a Mockingbird

The power of racism in the 1930s is illustrated through the recollections of Scout. When the jury at the Tom Robinson trial return to the courtroom after they vote, they move slow and do not look at Tom. Scout described it as “[...] like watching Atticus walk into the street, raise a rifle to his shoulder and pull the trigger [...] knowing that the gun was empty” (282), which clearly relates back to the Tim Johnson scene. Scout describes Atticus and the jury as “underwater swimmers” (127, 282). The jury moves as if they themselves are guilty of the crime. They give Tom Robinson the verdict of guilty since he is an African American. The power of racism is an overwhelming factor that affects him and his fate in court. Later, as the children walk home from the trial with Atticus, Jem says, “‘It ain’t right, Atticus.” Atticus replies, “‘No son, it’s not right.’ We walked home.” (284). Scout uses the last sentence of “we walked home” to make it clear to the readers that the conversation ended on that note, which shows how Atticus is not surprised one bit. He has seen cases like the Tom Robinson case in which racism plays a role. It is not anything surprising, and the way Scout tells the readers her memories subtly shows that. Again, the power of racism dictates the trial verdict in cases involving race. After the trial, Jem continually asks Atticus more questions concerning why the jury cannot lessen the penalty. Atticus replies, “‘No jury in this part of the world’s going to say, ‘We think you’re guilty, but not very’ on a charge like that. It was either straight acquittal or nothing.’” (294). Since Scout remembers this specific thing Atticus says and chooses to tell the readers, it is important to know that an important idea is being portrayed. Atticus’ dialogue shows that the jury would side entirely with African Americans or against them, which illustrates the power the jury has on racial-based cases. The racism in Maycomb of whites over African Americans is powerful enough to give the death penalty to an African Americans who did not even commit the crime.

Effects of Racism on To Kill a Mockingbird's Characters

Scout’s recollections demonstrate how people in Maycomb are affected by racism. When Jem and Scout are at church with Calpurnia, Reverend Skyes makes a statement: “‘You all know of Brother Tom Robinson’s trouble [...] the collection taken up [...] go to Helen- his wife, to help her out at home’” (160). This scene at the church is important in order to understand the African Americans’ side of racism. Even the African Americans who are not directly accused of doing anything against whites are affected by racism. Scout shows through her memories how African Americans want to attempt to help Tom Robinson and his family, meanwhile the majority of whites do not care about them at all. Racism affects how people treat others of the same or opposite race. It makes African Americans want to help each other and causes whites to distrust blacks as they similarly distrust Tom Robinson. Racism also causes tension between simply being classified as white or African American. For example, when the biracial children are introduced before the trial, Jem explains to Scout where they fall in society: “‘Colored folks won’t have ‘em because they’re half white; white folks won’t have ‘em ‘cause they’re colored.’” (215). The biracial children are suddenly brought into the story of the trial, and it is not a coincidence that Scout chooses to include this part of her story. She wants to get the point across to us. Because of racism, the biracial children are between whites and African Americans. They are not part of either racial group because both reject them. As Jem puts it, they ‘“don’t belong anywhere’” (215). Other characters in the novel, although they do belong in a racial group, feel as if the racism has taken over Maycomb. Jem suspects this of Arthur (Boo) Radley. When Jem talks to Scout about social structure in Maycomb, he says, “‘[...] I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time [...] he wants to stay inside’” (304). Scout chooses to include this dialogue rather than elaborate on what she and Jem were previously discussing. She wants the readers to know that this is an important passage, choosing to end the chapter on this note. The quote itself says how Boo Radley creates a boundary between himself and Maycomb. He is separating himself from the racism that is growing and developing in the community, which shows how he is affected by racism.

Response to Racial Conflict in the Story

Scout’s recollections show how Maycomb’s residents react to racism. When Scout asks Atticus if he defends “niggers” like the children at school say he does, he replies, “‘Don’t say nigger, Scout. That’s common’” (99). Scout chooses to tell the readers this, which demonstrates Atticus’ tone coming off as casual yet offended. Atticus seems disgusted yet not surprised at the racism in Maycomb. There is a similar reaction from Jem when he and Scout pass by Mrs. Dubose’s house one day. Mrs. Dubose yells, “‘Not only a Finch waiting on tables but one in the courthouse lawing for niggers.’” (135). Scout shows how significant the insult is by adding “Mrs. Dubose’s shot had gone home and she knew it” (135). Jem is upset at Mrs. Dubose for insulting Atticus and because she is being racist towards African Americans. It is inferred here that since Atticus helps African Americans like Tom Robinson in trials, Jem does not mind them. He sees African Americans differently than Mrs. Dubose, for example, who makes it clear that she thinks nothing of the majority of them. Similar to Mrs. Dubose’s views on racism, Bob Ewell uses racism to convict Tom Robinson of a crime. Bob Ewell is found innocent at the trial because of that racism. However, Atticus manages to damage his reputation by providing evidence that Tom Robinson did not rape Mayella. Because of that, after the trial, Bob Ewell went up to Atticus and “[...] spat in his face, and told him he’d get him if it took him the rest of his life” (290). The serious tone that Scout uses shows how meaningful this event is. Not only does the quote show how Bob Ewell reacts to Atticus when he defends Tom in the trial, but it also shows how racism has affected Bob Ewell. It annoys him that someone accuses him of the usage of his race as an advantage, so he threatens Atticus (not to mention tries to kill his son later in the book).

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Scout’s recollections illustrate how the power of racial boundaries affects people in Maycomb. Boundaries, commonly set by society, are planted to influence the individual's way of perceiving reality. The dividing lines in society make people paranoid, unsure, and confused about what they believe is right. When a community sets strong boundaries like in Maycomb, especially concerning race, then the individuals are often not sure what they believe anymore. Their opinions of concepts change, and society changes along with them.

Works Cited

  1. Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. HarperCollins, 1960.
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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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To Kill A Mockingbird: Conflict and Racism Development. (2023, August 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 1, 2023, from
“To Kill A Mockingbird: Conflict and Racism Development.” GradesFixer, 31 Aug. 2023,
To Kill A Mockingbird: Conflict and Racism Development. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Dec. 2023].
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