Representations of racism in To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Around age 10, there is a marked change in a child’s perspective. The world is no longer simply a wonderland of curiosities, but a popularity contest. The girls begin to apply makeup and form cliques, and the boys become spectators, proving their worth with their fists. Think of the bad girls or the outsiders. In Lacan’s terms, once we identify ourselves as “other” on the mirror stage, the beasts of jealousy and self-awareness emerge. This is a time in psychological terms when children, going through their first major identity crisis, often begin to designate others in two categories: the inner group and the outer group.
Meet Tom and Scout. They are characters in this same stage and life, and while they are carefree and unruly troublemakers at times, at other times, they are young adults facing an overwhelming world clearly divided along racial lines. Tom Sawyer is a mischievous urchin who steals jars of jam and tricks other boys into working for him. However, his merry antics are made worse when he stumbles across a graveyard. He witnesses Injun Joe murdering a man, and life is no longer a piece of marmalade cake.
Although Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer does not directly address racial issues, as does his epic masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the character of Injun Joe describes racial stereotypes in a more subtle way. Let’s not ignore the fact that Joe is a cruel killer. Who hasn’t had nightmares about the giant killer hunting Tom and Becky in the cave? However, it represents a term that will most likely appear on the AP Psychology Exam: self-fulfilling prophecy. The rest of the city treats him like a savage and does not accept him in the community due to his Native American roots. When a person is treated relentlessly in a certain way, it’s hard not to live up to this characterization. Individuals see those in the inner group as more or less diverse, while they see those in the outer group as a unique stereotype. Joe is a victim of the latter. More than that, Joe’s indiscretions are acts of revenge; While on the surface he may appear to be a one-dimensional character whose terrible acts simply stem from greed, his motives are far more complex. Colonists horribly displaced Native Americans from his land, and he is, in part, avenging the evils they have suffered.
Tom Sawyer is also a mix of tricks. He is a cunning rogue who, even when he takes the blame for Becky, or saves a man’s life by exposing the killer, is by no means humble and enjoys the rewards of attention and praise. This is really due to the insecurity that adolescence inevitably brings. His unstable identity suggests that he is at a stage where prejudices and stereotypes can easily take hold; Although he seems to rebel against adults, paradoxically he is deeply influenced by their attitudes and actions. In the end, there is no clear resolution for Tom’s identity crisis or the city’s bias, just as there is no immediate cure for teenage angst or deep-seated racism.
To a greater extent, Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird faces the confusion of adult prejudice. His father defends a black man who was wrongly accused of raping a white woman. Her family becomes an outcast in a racist city, and Scout, in addition to trying to deal with the normal teenage confusion, struggles with the city’s hatred of her father. When she asks him why they are ostracized, Atticus replies: “Nigger-lover is just one of those terms that mean nothing, like brat. It’s hard to explain: ignorant and vulgar people use it when they think someone is favoring. Blacks above themselves. It has crept into the use of some people like us, when they want a common, ugly term to label someone. ” This quote from To Kill a Mockingbird explains that racism is a lot like bullying and name-calling from teenagers; Children are, by definition, ignorant and therefore often conflict with each other because of identity confusion. Therefore, Atticus says in a sense that these adults have never grown up; their insecurity and ignorance perpetuate racism.
It’s easy to see these novels as anti-discrimination works in a post-civil rights society, but are they really? Do you think Mark Twain is exposing the injustice of prejudice and stereotypes, or is he buying them? Injun Joe is portrayed in an extremely negative light. Despite the fact that To Kill a Mockingbird clearly advocates against racism, the novel still negatively stereotypes African Americans as helpless human beings who need to be protected by whites. Although both books are now recommended to AP US History students, they have been banned from schools for their own problematic interpretations of race. This ambiguity shows that stereotypes are difficult to avoid; it requires a conscious effort not to see the world in group terms. Often times, as wayward teens, we adopt stereotypes to make sense of the world, and it is our job as adults to divide these categories to reveal the truth.