Racism in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
An in-class essay I wrote in grade 10 english.

Submitted: December 12, 2009

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Submitted: December 12, 2009



To Kill a Mockingbird: Racism and Its Destruction of Humanity
There are many destructive forces in this world that may destroy our humanity, beat down our beliefs and wreak havoc on our morals. Greed, arrogance, anger, ignorance… but none so powerful as racism. Racism is the worst kind of prejudice in society, and as illustrated in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by what befalls Tom and Helen Robinson and Bob Ewell, it can ruin people’s lives. An unnecessary evil, it brings down misery in some way to all who harbour or are victim to it.
The most apparent victim of racism in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ is Tom Robinson, the black man who is accused of raping Mayella Ewell. Falsely accused of the crime by Mayella and her father Bob Ewell, Tom is brought before a prejudiced, white jury for trial. Atticus Finch knows the man is innocent and proves as much, but despite his best efforts, the racism in the minds of the jury wins. They deliver a verdict of guilty. Tom is sentenced to death. Although Atticus is sure they may have a chance if they try an appeal, Tom believes that he will once again be judged by the colour of his skin, and not by his innocence. Rather than take that chance, he decided to take his own and attempted to escape from jail. He was shot seventeen times. The Finch family are the only ones to show him any sympathy or understanding. Atticus says: “I couldn’t in truth say that we had more than a good chance. I guess Tom was tired of taking white men’s chances and preferred to take his own.” (TKAM, pg. 237). Whatever chance he chose, Tom faced an ill fate with racism’s stamp on it. If he returned to court, the racist jury would convict him and he would be hung, and when he tried to escape, the racist prison guards not only killed him, but mutilated his body with unnecessary bullets. Tom Robinson’s life was first ruined, then ended, by racism.
Also victimized by racism and its repercussions, Helen Robinson, Tom’s wife, suffered in the aftermath of her husband’s trial and death. Widowed, she must raise her children, maintain her household and work to make a living for herself. Because she is black, a woman, and the wife of a man accused of raping a white woman, Helen has a very difficult time finding work. This is because of the racism in the white community of Maycomb. The only person who will hire her is Mr. Link Deas, Tom’s former employer. He does not really need Helen’s services, but fells bad about what happened to Tom and he is one of the few decent people in Maycomb where coloured people are concerned. “He doesn’t really need her, but he said he felt right bad about the way things turned out.” (TKAM, pg. 248-249). However, Helen does not escape the touch of racism. On her way to work one morning, Bob Ewell follows Helen, crooning foul words at her, for no reason other than she was Tom’s wife and he was racist. Although he does not attack her, Helen is terrified of him. “Thoroughly frightened, she telephoned Mr. Link at his store, which was not too far from his house…” (TKAM, pg. 256). Mr. Link Deas makes Bob Ewell leave Helen alone, but she is still frightened of him. Her life has become very difficult due to the effects of racism. 
In a different way, Bob Ewell himself is destroyed by racism. The racism that sparked Tom Robinson’s trial leads Bob Ewell to harbour a grudge against Atticus and Judge Taylor, both of whom made him look foolish. He attempts, but fails to burgle John Taylor’s house. Later on, he attacks Atticus’s children to exact his revenge on Atticus. A grudge born of racism, courage born of whiskey, and arrogant pride lead to his attack on Jem and Scout, but Arthur Radley comes to the children’s aid. In the struggle, Bob Ewell is killed. It was the grudge he held based on racist beliefs that cause his death. Some may call it justice, some may not, but the irony is undeniable.
Of all the destructive powers humans possess, none ruin other lives and destroy our humanity quite like racism does. This is proven in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by the fates of Tom and Helen Robinson and their tormentor, Bob Ewell. It is unfair that prejudices based on a person’s skin colour should wreak such havoc on their lives, and yet it was once commonplace. Although less evident today than it once was, racism remains just as destructive and just as unnecessary.

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