Classic Novels - as relevant as ever: To Kill a Mockingbird: Race & Equality

Hannah Byrne examines classic novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, and its connection to race and inequality today.

Although society has greatly progressed in a myriad of ways since the 1960s when this novel was published, there are still a shocking number of parallels between the life Harper Lee presents in her novel To Kill A Mockingbird, and modern-day issues such as race and inequality, almost 100 years after the story takes place.

The classic novel centres around siblings Scout and Jem Finch growing up in 1930s Southern Alabama in the midst of the Great Depression. Through the eyes of Scout, readers are shown what happens when their lawyer father, Atticus, defends a black man, Tom Robbinson, against the fraudulent and racially charged accusation of the sexual assault of a white girl. Themes of race, class, humanity, and morality run rampant through each page of the novel, examining the town’s reaction to this high-stakes trial. 

Although the novel was written in the previous century and in the context of the Civil Rights Movement, its age does impair its relevance to our world today. Over the last year, there has been an explosion of activism in relation to violence against people of colour, the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the more recent discussion of gender inequality surrounding the tragic death of Sarah Everard. These acts of violence, alongside many others being reported daily, equate our 21st-century society with many of the same problems that Lee addresses within the novel.

Lee places an especially large emphasis on the message that education and awareness are key factors in eradicating social inequalities. This message rings true today with the Black Lives Matter movement creating an outpouring of media and literature promoting education as a means of understanding the difficulties faced by people of colour daily. Novels, films, plays, artwork and music by people of colour are educating society on the effects of racism and have helped to make society more aware of the importance of treating everybody equally as well as giving a voice to those who have been oppressed.

Throughout the novel, Atticus teaches Scout and Jem to realise that each person is a human being first, regardless of their skin colour. He displays this through his treatment of both Tom Robinson and their neighbour Boo Radley. Atticus encourages his children to “climb into his skin and walk around in it” before making a judgement about a person. This message, although simple, serves as a useful reminder that can often be forgotten in modern society. 

“I think there’s just one kind of folks,” says Jem in the novel, “Folks.” Through these overarching themes, Lee captures an unprejudiced outlook on the world, one that hopefully someday will become a prominent point of view in society.