To Kill a Mockingbird: An Accidental Racist
"Accidental racist?" Yup. Like the song. We're talking about the"oh, I didn't even know I thought that way" type of accident, not the "I totally didn't know that was your last Reese's cup" type of accident.
|American Literature||20th-Century American Literature|
All American Literature
|Author||Lee - Harper Lee|
All right, maybe just the first two. Another torch-bearer leading the fight to
free ourselves from the bonds of bigotry was Harper Lee.
Her book To Kill a Mockingbird met the sensitive issue head on…
…and attempted to challenge reader’s notions of right and wrong.
Surely such a book could never be accused of racism itself… could it?
Although no one has accused Lee of being intentionally racist…
…some claim that a bit of racism… snuck in.
There are numerous passages throughout the book in which her characters insinuate that
black people need to be saved by white people…
…and not just by the ones wearing capes and spandex leggings.
Okay, so they’re not Lee’s words, they’re the words of her characters, but still…
…does that get her off the hook? Many of the black characters in Mockingbird
They think on a simple level, they express themselves simply…
…in other words, very rarely will you catch any of them discussing quantum field theory
or quoting Baudelaire. <<bow-duh-lair>> Yeah, Lee is trying to paint a realistic portrait…
…but aren’t her representations of blacks as complete simpletons… insulting?
On the other hand, they aren’t entirely one-dimensional.
Characters like Calpurnia are complex…
…even if she speaks simply, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface.
Maybe Lee is just working within the framework of her historical time…
…and it would be impossible to accurately depict true-to-life individuals without offending
someone. It’s clear that Lee was actively trying
to be anti-racist…
…but could she have tried harder…
…by condemning her racist characters more whole-heartedly?
In other words… could her arguably racist portrayal of blacks have been forgiven…
…if those characters in the book who were prejudiced against them…
…got more of a bad rap? What’s your call?
Is Lee suppressing some hidden racism?
Or is the very idea… laughable? Shmoop amongst yourselves.