Merchant of Venice: Shylock’s Analysis

To Kill a Mockingbird, famously written by Harper Lee in 1960 recounts a story of racial prejudice in a fictional town in the deep south of America. The novel, set in the 1930s, a time when racism was a huge factor in daily life, is told from the perspective of young, naïve Scout. The word acceptance is not in the dictionary of most of Maycomb’s citizens. Due to Jim Crow laws, the white race is seen as the most superior and segregation is just the way of life. The concept of racial prejudice is highlighted through language which reveals contrasting values, attitudes and beliefs insignificant plot events.

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Harper Lee has utilized metaphors to empathize and explain the racism of Maycomb. Atticus, a highly respected man in Maycomb is one of the only citizens who treat the black community like humans. He hopes his children don’t catch “Maycomb’s usual disease” (pg. 94). Being a single father with help from Calpurnia, his black housemaid, he tries his best to raise his children by being a good role model to them and doesn’t want them to be influenced by the other citizens in the town. Atticus hopes that his children will not become or adopt the racism of Maycomb. The hatred from the people shown towards the black people is outrageous and yet they gain nothing from tormenting innocent people. Atticus uses further metaphors when he states that, “Shoot all the bluejays you want…but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. (pg. 96)” In the novel, Tom Robinson is the symbolic mockingbird who is innocent yet brought to harm and Harper Lee makes sure the reader is aware of the connection. Tom an innocent black man, helped a young white woman who seemed desperately isolated. In exchange for his act of kindness, he is accused of rape and pays the highest price of life in prison. It is clearly shown that Tom is innocent but is being persecuted simply because he’s black which is typical racist behaviour.

Bob Ewell is an important character in the novel who can exploit the power his race holds to condemn the black coloured people to death. He is undisputedly the most idiotic and worst person living in Maycomb but since he is a white man, this puts him above Tom. His lack of personal integrity makes him easy to hate as a character who can destroy Tom. His racist attitudes and behaviour are seen throughout the novel in dialogue, most importantly, his false accusations against innocent Tom. Bob Ewell can be viewed as a symbol of bluejays who eat up people’s gardens and nest in corncribs. A garden is nature which represents life and beauty. Bob destroys this life in others and makes their lives harder. Mayella Ewell’s life has been ruined by her father Bob forcing her to stay at home and do all the housework. She has no support and no other opportunities to interact with others or gain an education. Even though Tom is proved innocent and the jury is fully aware of this, they still convict him, which eventually results in his death. His racist behaviour during the trial can be seen when he vigorously points at Tom for raping his daughter and refers to him as a ‘black nigger.’ “…black nigger yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!” (pg.179) Bob saying ‘black nigger’ shows his revolting perspective towards them, hence summing him up with that one word. Bob stating these two words together, proves how much he hates black people especially Tom Robinson. All these disrespectful actions not only cause him to win the case but also to experience the karma of brutal death.

Another perspective shown through the power of language is during the trial is that of Reverend Sykes, an authority figure in the black community. Scout and Jem are disappointed when Sykes states, “I ain’t ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man…” Even though Reverend Sykes is an authoritative black man he acknowledges the fact that he can’t do anything and has no power. He knows it is racist but due to his colored skin, his voice cannot be heard. This atrocious behavior of the court is demonstrated when Atticus explains to Jem about the court. “In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins…facts of life.” At that time, a white man’s word was always regarded as the truth when weighed against a person of colour. To believe a black man’s word would challenge the entire Jim Crow law system in which black people were considered as inferior. Even if Bob Ewell was telling the truth, Tom Robinson would stand no chance against a court full of white people who perceive themselves as superior. By restating “facts of life,” Atticus conveys his belief that white people have been mesmerized into believing that they are the best race because of the laws made by the country. Even if some people in Maycomb aren’t racist, they couldn’t single-handedly defeat racism once and for all. If any black person was to go and defy the Jim Crow laws, they would be met with violence and death which would silence them.

The concept of racism is conveyed in Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, through certain characters’ attitudes and beliefs. Atticus Finch and Bob Ewell are used in the novel by Lee to portray two different characters. Atticus is a man who treats black people as humans and is not racist. This is a clear contrast to the rest of the town who are indeed racist. The significant concept of racism is conveyed during the trial and this plot event allows us to see certain people’s values, beliefs, and attitudes         

29 April 2022

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