Racism in To Kill a Mockingbird
Since its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird has become one of the most widely-read novels in all of twentieth century American literature, and a salient work of social realism. Despite this universal appeal, it is a novel grounded in a particular time and place. Although published in the 1960s at the height of the American civil rights movement, the novel is set in the 1930s. This may be read as a decision on the part of Lee, the author, to distance the novel from contemporary racial issues, or alternatively as a means of providing historical context for those issues and ongoing problems. The social milieu which emerges out of this context is one in which race and racism are central issues. However, the extent to which racism is integral to the novel's meaning and import is something which has been the subject of some debate in the critical literature. This essay will argue that racism is one of the lenses through which Lee explores some of the more central themes in her novel: namely, the idea of community, belonging and personal development. In particular, it will be argued, following Meyer (2010) that the idea of the 'Other' is central to the novel's characterisation, and that the process of 'Other-ing' is something which takes place both through racism and apart from it. The novel, narrated from the perspective of Scout, takes the form of a Bildungsroman in which identity is negotiated by way of reference to the self and to communities. Race is one aspect of this process, but other elements in the story, such as the character of Boo Radley, demonstrate the degree to which the novel is about other forms of social 'Other-ing' and personal identification.