Just my thoughts
by Aditya Hingne

Walking in Someone's Skin

"Understanding comes through communication, and through understanding we find the way to peace." - Ralph C. Smedley. In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the narrative follows Scout, a young girl who is learning the ways of society. Her father, Atticus, makes her aware of many incidents of prejudice in their town of Maycomb--from the prejudice that surrounds Boo Radley the neighborhood mystery to the kind of prejudice that is behind Bob Ewell's accusations against the innocent and good-hearted Tom Robinson. Along with her brother Jem and best friend Dill, Scout begins to experience the effects of society's problems simultaneously changing people's tolerance. Atticus communicates with Scout that only by understanding someone can make her stop prejudging them. Harper Lee is conveying the message that the problem of prejudice causes intolerance of change, but understanding can remove this prejudice.

The problem of prejudice is prevalent in Maycomb and is portrayed by its segregated setting. The characters' locations visualise their perception. African Americans undoubtedly face clear prejudice in many situations. An example is the courthouse: "The colored balcony ran along three walls of the courtroom like a second-story veranda and from it we could see everything" (164). This illustrates the view of the courthouse from the eyes of the African Americans. Harper Lee says the African Americans, Jem and Scout can see everything. They can see the truth and justice being carried out by Atticus. By contrast, the white people who have the best seats, are blind to the truth. Atticus says that they will lose this case even before trying because he knows that prejudice makes those people blind and so the truth can never be attainted. Those who are in power and do not see prejudice blindly support prejudging others. Those who face prejudice and its wrath realize that not even justice can put a stop to it.

Intolerance, the effect of prejudice, is demonstrated multiple times throughout in its irony. This irony lead to the realization to the main character, Scout, when her teacher, Miss Gates, says that in the United States of America they do not believe in persecution which is born from prejudice and then Miss Gates says she cannot understand why Hitler does not like hard working Jews (245). It is ironic that Miss Gates feel sympathetic towards Jews, who face prejudice and persecution just like the African Americans, but is completely blind to the treatment of African Americans. She feels more sympathetic towards white Jews living in another continent but ignores the African Americans being persecuted right in the town she lives in. Since Atticus taught her not to be prejudiced, Scout is confused by Miss Gates' hypocrisy and she cannot understand her lack of sympathy towards Black people. She is confused because she cannot understand why discrimination makes someone be a hypocrite and choose who they should feel empathy or intolerance for. People like Aunt Alexandra also let discrimination force who they should feel empathy for. Aunt Alexandra makes ironic comments about heredity. Scout complains, "I never understood her preoccupation with heredity... Aunt Alexandra was of the opinion, obliquely expressed, that the longer a family had been squatting on one patch of land the finer he was" (130). Character is what makes a person fine, but Aunt Alexandra represents the town in saying that it's your social class and family history that decides how fine you are. So, she would feel intolerant towards African Americans because they have not been in this country for as long as everybody else, but it was in fact white people who brought them to the United States in the first place for their own selfish purposes. However, she is intolerant of this truth because it makes her feel empathy towards African Americans and she, along with the rest of the town, do not feel empathy against those who are discriminated. Intolerance makes people blind to the truth and intolerant of others.

A solution for eradicating the effects of prejudice comes through being empathetic and understanding, which is represented in the story's aphorism. Atticus gives this aphorism to Scout when she is complaining about Miss Caroline: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it" (30). Harper Lee gives this aphorism because to understand someone one cannot just see things from his point of view. One has to become that person in his or her mind and truly understand what they are thinking. Atticus teaches that killing innocence is wrong to his kids because they are children. Children are innocent and thus have a better chance of understanding. This is proven when Atticus says, "Hmp, maybe we need a police force of children... you children last night made Walter Cunningham stand in my shoes for a minute. That was enough'" (157). In this aphorism Atticus talks about how his children saved him last night. By talking to Walter Cunningham, Scout was able to make him think less like someone in a mob and more like a father. By standing in Atticus' shoes of a father he was able to understand why Atticus was acting the way he was in that situation. He realized it was wrong of him to do anything with children present. Even though it was only for a minute he began to feel empathy towards Atticus and prevented the mob from hurting him. He calls it a police force of children because they have the ability others more understandable and save people from prejudice. It can't be the adults because the they just don't accept change. They don't accept change because they are prejudiced and intolerant of this idea. They are even prejudiced towards those who are innocent. In this novel the idea that prejudice kills innocence is brought up numerous times. When Atticus says, "' Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em' but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird'" (90) A mockingbird symbolizes innocence for it does no harm to others, but rather just sings for them. "To kill a mockingbird" simply means to be prejudiced towards the innocent. The aphorism calls it a "sin" because of its harmful effect; intolerance of differences. Atticus says Jem can shoot bluejays because those birds represent the prejudiced people in Maycomb, and when they kill a mockingbird they lack empathy for those who who are innocent. Atticus is teaching that being empathetic can make those people more understanding. Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are innocent people but are being killed by the prejudice that surrounds them. This prejudice made Boo Radley be closed off from this world and this prejudice made Tom Robinson give up hope in proving his innocence. This novel proves in its aphorism that only through understanding can everyone reach harmony. Even if people have differing opinions the world needs to learn to be more accepting towards them.

Prejudice gives birth to intolerance, but this intolerance can be eliminated by understanding why someone acts the way he does. In 1959, Texan John Howard Griffin proved just this. He wanted to truly understand what it was like to live as an African American in the segregated South. He dyed his skin black and worked in Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia, and Mississippi. He truly understood how strong the prejudice surrounding African Americans was. He was barely acknowledged and he discovered that segregation forced African Americans to do things like walk miles just to use the bathroom. He not only received verbal abuse but threats of violence as well. He wrote about this experience in his book Black Like Me. Griffin became well known for the cause of racial equality and even worked with Martin Luther King Jr. If the people in the world can understand one another, the world can become more accepting of diversity and lead us to peace.

References: Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York :Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.

Forbes, Forbes Magazine, www.forbes.com/quotes/theme/understanding/.

Krznaric, Roman. "Empathy Heroes: 5 People Who Changed the World By Taking Compassion to the Extreme."

YES! Magazine, 19 Dec. 2017, www.yesmagazine.org/happiness/empathy-heroes-st-francis-john-howard-griffin-patricia-moore.

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