To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird Race Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (chapter.paragraph)
"Well how do you know we ain't Negroes?"
"Uncle Jack Finch says we really don't know. He says as far as he can trace back the Finches we ain't, but for all he knows we mighta come straight out of Ethiopia durin' the Old Testament."
"Well if we came out durin' the Old Testament it's too long ago to matter."
"That's what I thought," said Jem, "but around here once you have a drop of Negro blood, that makes you all black." (16.78-81)
Jem and Scout here try to figure out how society divides people up into races, and what happens when those divisions break down. As kids who don't yet simply accept the existing system as the Way Things Are Just Because, they can see that the "one-drop rule" doesn't really work unless the origin of every drop of a person's blood (or every gene in their DNA, to update their science) can be accounted for, and why is one drop of black blood able to overwhelm several gallons of white blood, anyway? And how can blood have a racial identity? Oof. Someone pass the Tylenol.
[Mr. Ewell says] "I seen that black nigger yonder ruttin' on my Mayella!" (17.84)
Mr. Ewell may be barely literate, but he's a veritable Shakespeare when it comes to offensive language. The way he phrases his accusation achieves an impressive feat of multitasking: it 1) dehumanizes Tom (he doesn't use Tom's name, or even the pronoun "he"), 2) emphasizes Tom's race over everything else (the redundancy of "black nigger"), 3) compares Tom to a beast ("rutting" is usually applied to animals), 4) portrays Mayella as a passive victim (she's the indirect object of the sentence), and 5) asserts power over his daughter ("my Mayella," as if Tom's trying to steal Ewell's property). Not bad for a mere ten words—no wonder the crowd goes wild.
"She was white, and she tempted a Negro. She did something that in our society is unspeakable: she kissed a black man. Not an old Uncle, but a strong young Negro man. No code mattered to her before she broke it, but it came crashing down on her afterwards." (20.44-45)
Question #1: Why do the citizens of Maycomb (or at least some of them) prefer to believe that a black man raped a white woman than that a white woman kissed a black man? Question #2: Why does Atticus use the word "tempted," considering Tom's reaction to her advances seemed less "I totally would, but they'd totally kill me" than "just not that into you, kthxbye"? Isn't this a little racist? Doesn't it imply that, even if Tom can control himself, he wouldn't be able to help being tempted by any white woman?