In the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ we are presented with a clearly divided society where black people are treated as inferior. Scout and Jem are ridiculed in school for Atticus’ decision to defend Tom Robinson. Cecil Jacobs mocks Scout by saying that her ‘daddy defended niggers’. We see that Atticus does not conform to the unjust status quo: ‘every lawyer gets at least one case in his lifetime that affects him personally. This one’s mine, I guess’. He refers to racism as ‘Maycomb’s usual disease’. He tells his children that they can ‘Shoot all the bluejays you want………but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird’. The mockingbird symbolises innocence and those who have done no harm and consequently should not be persecuted. Atticus is a fair and inspirational character. We see this in his refusal to let go of Calpurnia at Aunt Alexandra’s insistence: ‘Alexandra, Calpurnia’s not leaving this house until she wants to….. She a faithful member of this family’.
We see Atticus’ bravery in his decision to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. What Atticus is doing is ground-breaking and historic as made evident in the Montgomery Advertiser where he is ridiculed. Aunt Alexandra gives out about Scout having no ‘feminine influence’. She clearly doesn’t regard Calpurnia, the black maid as a suitable role model. Harper describes the vigilante group, the ‘Old Sarum bunch’.
Racism is clearly portrayed in the whites’ attitudes towards Tom Robinson. They find it impossible for a black man to feel sorry for a white woman. Scout describes everyone’s attitude to Tom Robinson’s response: ‘But the damage was done. Below us, nobody like Tom Robinson’s answer’. Unbelievably, Tom Robinson is found guilty even though there is no evidence against him. We see the deeply ingrained racism in Bob Ewell’s desire to get revenge on Atticus: ‘He’d get him if it took the rest of his life’.
Like Sephy, Scout is able to transcend the racist attitudes of her society and concludes that there’s ‘just one kind of folks. Folks.’ She realises that the status quo is unjust: ‘Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed’. Just like Ryan Mc Gregor, this society couldn’t care less about the death of an innocent man: ‘To Maycomb, Tom’s death was typical. Typical of a nigger to cut and run’.
Like Maycomb, the world portrayed in ‘Noughts and Crosses’ is likewise divided because of racism. It is a divided society wherein the noughts, the whites are treated as inferior and subservient to the socially superior elite, Crosses. The word ‘noughts’ connotes the whites’ inferior status in society. They are nothing, worthless and are not accorded with the same human dignity as the socially superior blacks. The word ‘Crosses’ has religious connotations in that the cross is a religious symbol and they believe that they are God’s chosen people.
These divisive labels dictate one’s position in society. The noughts subsist whereas the crosses attend the best schools, live in affluent areas and hold all the positions of power and esteem in society. The noughts engage in menial work, aspiring only to be servants to the superior crosses. They have no hope of social advancement or bettering themselves because of the colour of the skin. They are often referred to by the Crosses derogatorily as ‘blankers’, a dehumanising term that robs them of their humanity and dignity. This is similar to Maycomb’s society wherein to be black you were at the bottom of the social scale, even the ‘white trash’ were above them. Similarly to ‘Noughts and Crosses’, the blacks in Maycomb do not receive the same education and that Calpurnia was unusual that she could read (she was taught by Miss Maudie’s aunt).
Again the theme of racism is blatantly made evident in the miscarriage of justice against Callum’s father. Callum’s father is wrongfully accused of planting the bomb in the Dundale shopping centre. He is made to confess to a crime that he hasn’t committed because he is told that the authorities had his son in custody: ‘Those bastards! They said they had him’. He tells his wife Meggie and Callum that ‘I had no choice,’ Dad repeated. Anger held is body tense and rigid’. Callum’s father is aware that ‘the crosses had set him up, framed him’.
Ryan, unintentionally has become embroiled in the injustice and corruption declaring ‘No Meggie. I’m guilty . That’s the truth and I’m sticking to it. I won’t let them put you and Callum in prison for this. Or Jude………..But at least my confession means he won’t die.’ Just as in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ this is another a huge miscarriage of justice as an innocent man is hung for a crime that he didn’t commit. It is highly farcical that Ryan McGregor conforms to the unjust the status quo in order to save the lives of his family.
Furthermore the divisive nature of this society is conveyed in the fact that Callum and Sephy cannot be together because of the colour of their skin. Sephy’s family find it totally incredulous that she would willingly sleep with Callum. Callum is accused of rape despite Sephy’s repeated attempts to clear his name. Sephy is adamant that their baby will know of and love her father.
‘And our child will love you’.
Both novels convey the theme of racism in a thought-provoking manner, thus allowing the reader to gain an insight into racism and the hurt caused:
‘Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.’