To Kill a Mockingbird: The Effect of Racist Influences on the Young

America has a long history of racism. Unless you’ve spent your entire life with your head under a watermelon, you should be well aware of the negative stereotypes that African Americans have long had to endure, and the discrimination with which they continue to be faced. Believe it or not, there once was a time when they weren’t even allowed to take the SAT!

Because of this country’s long history of slavery, the struggles of African Americans have often been reflected in our nation’s literature. Many works centering on race or racism have won Pulitzers and National Book Awards and are frequently listed as some of the greatest American novels – books such as Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and Richard Wright’s Native Son and Black Boy among them. However, none has stuck with us quite so strongly nor had quite such a profound effect on the makeup of the American literary canon as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

So the question is, why? What makes this book so special? You don’t need to read an entire To Kill a Mockingbird Summary to figure it out – all you need to notice is something about a few of the main characters.

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Whereas most novels dealing with the issue of racism tend to focus on adults of at least 17 or 18 years old, To Kill a Mockingbird explores the subject from the point of view of children who are quite a bit younger. The reason this is consequential is that the seeds of racism are planted when we are young. It is much more moving and powerful to see the ways in which children transform (or don’t transform, depending on the quality of their outside influences) as they progress through their formative years. In To Kill a Mockingbird, we have the opportunity to observe just such a thing.

We’ll leave you with a few To Kill a Mockingbird Quotes that draw attention to the differences between the ways that children and adults view and deal with racism:

“Atticus-” said Jem bleakly. He turned in the doorway. “What, son?” “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. Good night.” (22.14-17)

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“Don’t talk like that, Dill,” said Aunt Alexandra. “It’s not becoming to a child. It’s – cynical.””I ain’t cynical, Miss Alexandra. Tellin’ the truth’s not cynical, is it?” “The way you tell it, it is.” (22.32-34)

The adults in Maycomb never discussed the case with Jem and me; it seemed that they discussed it with their children, and their attitude must have been that neither of us could help having Atticus for a parent, so their children must be nice to us in spite of him. The children would never have thought that up for themselves: had our classmates been left to their own devices, Jem and I would have had several swift, satisfying fist-fights apiece and ended the matter for good. As it was, we were compelled to hold our heads high and be, respectively, a gentleman and a lady. (26.10)

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by Paul Thomson