'To Kill a Mockingbird' was set in Alabama during the thirties and wrote the novel in the sixties when Civil Rights Movement was being written. The message of the novel is that people should not be judged according to who/what they are but should be judged on their actions and behaviours. Harper Lee shows prejudice in events like Tom Robinson's trial, also through characters like Arthur (Boo) Radley. Prejudice is also shown in the day to day activities.
The novel is titled 'To kill a Mockingbird' because the mockingbird represent innocence. At the beginning of the novel Atticus tells Scout and Jem "Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit `em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird," which illustrates and explains you should not kill innocent beings. Tom Robinson is clearly a mockingbird. He is an untainted person who has in no way pained or harmed anybody and is directly and deliberately shot by society not because of justice but prejudice. The jurors sentence him to death not because he did anything wrong but because of the prejudice. He is then later shot for trying to escape this unjust ruling. So Tom Robinson just like a mockingbird is shot for no reason at all.
At the beginning of the novel we are introduced to life in Maycomb, life in Maycomb is small town life where the people are a mainly friendly community and hold high values, such as values of the family. However, most of the people tend to be judgmental and intolerant, excluding other people from the community, such as poor people and the black community. They also tend to categorize each other on the basis of social status as we see when Atticus says "...Maycomb's usual disease. Why reasonable people stark raving mad when anything involving a Negro comes up.." this quotation show how whites hate blacks. The Town of Maycomb was divided into strict social classes, with each bearing animosity towards each one another. Status plays a role in every story. But the status divisions in this story are much defined and influences many happenings in this novel. The social structure is made up of some layers. The relatively well-off Finches stand near the top of Maycomb's social hierarchy, with most of the townspeople beneath them. Ignorant country farmers like the Cunninghams lie below the townspeople, and the white trash Ewells rest below the Cunninghams. But the black community in Maycomb, despite its abundance of admirable qualities such as farming, squats below even the Ewells, enabling Bob Ewell to make up for his own lack of importance by persecuting Tom Robinson. Because of the great differences in the classes blacks were forced to use separate facilities than whites in almost every aspect of society and also allowing them to work in only a few jobs such as being servants.
Throughout the novel we are reminded of the way society is divided an example of this is when Aunt Alexandra forbids Scout to play with Walter Cunningham, a poor boy whom Scout attends school with. This is because Aunt Alexandra sees Walter and his family as poor and beneath the Finches, in her words, "...they're good folks. But they're not our kind of folks." Scout on the other hand doesn't care about how much money Walter has but about his potential to be a friend. She doesn't let irrelevant things like money cloud her judgment of people. This is related to Lee's message about prejudice showing how ridiculous it is to judge people in this way.
Obviously, racism is a major theme of the novel. Throughout the novel, Harper Lee uses Scout to explore the differences between black people and white people. Scout and Jem attend church with Calpurnia and Scout truly enjoys the experience. Afterwards, she asks Calpurnia if she might be able to visit her house sometime because she has never seen it. Calpurnia agrees, but the visit is never made, largely because Aunt Alexandra puts a stop to it. Jem, Scout and Dill also sit with the black citizens of the town in the balcony of the court house to observe the trial. In addition, Scout and Dill have a lengthy conversation with Mr. Raymond, a white man who married a black woman and has mixed children. Mr. Raymond reveals that he pretends to be an alcoholic by carrying around a paper bag with a bottle of Coca-Cola inside in order to let the town excuse his choice to marry a black woman.
The trial is about a black man called Tom who is falsely accused of raping a white woman called Mayella. The trial of Tom Robinson takes up a great deal of space in the novel because it gives Harper Lee a chance to do deep exploration of characters and situations. The people involved in the case are Bob and Mayella Ewell, Tom Robinson and Atticus Finch. The alleged rape of Mayella by Tom allows Harper Lee to look in detail at issues of racial and social prejudice in Maycomb. When the trial begins Bob Ewell takes the stand next and causes a stir in the courtroom with his bad attitude and foul language in his words "I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin' on my Mayella!"Ch. 17. Mr. Ewell is not shaken from his story, but Atticus carefully plants the seed that Mr. Ewell himself could've beaten Mayella. Mayella takes the stand next. Even though Atticus believes that she's lying, he treats her with courtesy and respect; Mayella thinks that he's making fun of her. Atticus asks Tom to stand up so that Mayella may identify him; as he does, Scout notices that Tom's left arm is withered and useless which means Tom could not have committed the crime in the way it was described. Tom then answers all Atticus' questions in a polite manner, often using the title "suh" (sir) in his sentences. His answers seem to be open, detailed and without guile. However Tom was being really careful all the while not to come right out and say that Mayella is lying. I think and believe that the events are some of many events that Harper Lee used to present racism, sexism and categorising people on the basis of social status. Harper Lee thinks racism is an important issue to write about because of the highly racially tense time was in Alabama during the time she was writing the novel, because she also wants to raise the awareness of being racist and what it might do to victims as what happened to Tom Robinson who was shot 17 times after trying to escape from the prison after being convicted of raping Mayella Ewell though Atticus proved his innocence. Harper Lee uses language creatively and effectively to help us see and recognise the prejudice that existed in Maycomb. From her use of various figures of speech, imagery and devices of sound, we find the society of Maycomb as racist, sexual, and categorise on the basis of social status.
Harper Lee presents many conflicting pictures of prejudice in 'To Kill a Mockingbird '. One person that is treated unfairly is Calpurnia, as you can see when Aunt Alexandra tried to get Atticus to fire Calpurnia, because in her eyes, Calpurnia wasn't a good enough female role model (p.136). This is a prejudice action, because Calpurnia is as good as a role model as Aunt Alexandra, if not better. Aunt Alexandra is a bigot and doesn't see the character of Calpurnia, just the colour of her skin. Another person who is treated in prejudice way is Scout by her teacher, because she knew how to read. "She discovered that I was literate and looked at me with more than faint distaste." (p17). Scout is treated like it is her fault that she knows more than the average child did. She learned earlier than others so she gets punished unjustly. The final group that was made to feel different was the character that defended and protected the minorities and the wrongfully treated people. Atticus was a good example of one who defended the different by defending Tom Robinson in his case. Atticus had integrity that gave him the strength to endure the ridicule that arose from his decision to defend a black man in a segregated area. Atticus was threatened and his children were treated poorly by their peers, because he had the courage to stand up for the oppressed.
Harper Lee's main message to the readers is not to treat others according to who or what they are but according to their behaviours. Harper Lee was really successful at achieving this aim by using many techniques such as when she uses Scout as the first person; she opens the reader's eyes to the way children think and act. She also offers an unbiased opinion of the affairs of Maycomb, and doesn't dwell on adult matters and make it boring. Using Scout as narrator also makes it easier for the readers to get the message behind this book. Harper Lee used a variety of literary techniques to make the novel interesting. Harper Lee used almost every single one when she wrote 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. She used symbolism, humor, suspense, foreshadowing, dialect, flashback and irony to tell her story. When Lee wrote this book, she made the entire novel a flashback. She begins the story as reminiscence about her brother's broken arm and she ends it with how Jem's hand was broken. Suspense was another good addition to the novel. When she ends chapters with sentences like: 'Well, call him' or 'He was right', this makes the readers want to find out what is going to happen next, so making readers read on further. Dialect is another interesting addition to the novel. When she uses words and language that are appropriate to the times, this makes readers feel that they are really there. When Lee uses foreshadowing to tell what is going to come, she makes readers wonder what is going to happen next. So foreshadowing is another excellent way to keep readers on reading. Irony is one of the biggest elements in this story. Because it gives the readers the sense of how silly and ridiculous it is to judge people according to who or what they are.