Oct 1, 2020 in Literature

Discrimination as the Global Issue and Its Reflection in the Literary Works

Since the times when human beings mastered the skill of writing, written texts have become the most important tools for the communication between people within the same time as well as across centuries. People used words to express their feelings, share ideas, or simply to immortalize the memory of some deeds or occasions. The art of word enabled the humanity to not only preserve the objective records of its history but also conserve the personal views of representatives of specific epochs. Salman Rushdie once said, “Literature is where I go to explore the highest and lowest places in human society and in the human spirit”. It is significantly important, as literature is more than a source of aesthetic pleasure.


It refers to the significant global issues that bother society and provides the outlook of crucial moments in history that have actually shaped the modern world. This research paper refers to the literature as the mirror of global issues and focuses on the analysis of the representation of one of such issues in the two literary works. The object of research includes the book “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Lee Harper and film “The Help” based on the novel by Kathryn Sockett. Both the book and the film provide a true picture of the life of African Americans and refer to the problem of their discrimination. This problem poisoned the civilized world with the discovery of the African continent and it was mostly expressed within the territory of the USA, especially in the Southern states. 

The issue of discrimination of a specific social group or a minority has always been traced throughout the history of humankind. Differing in appearance or gender, social, cultural, or religious background, some communities were often maltreated by the majority only on the reason that they were different. One of the most painful manifestations of discrimination throughout the history of the USA was the one related to the racial issues. For many centuries, the representatives of African American community have been deprived of numerous social, economic, and political rights and they have struggled to survive in the world ruled by the white people. Initially treated as the voiceless elements of private property even after the proclamation of personal freedoms, African Americans were still accepted as the lower part of society that was born to serve the white people. The whole class suffered from the cruelty, selfishness, and injustice of the other class who considered itself the dominant group. 

For many centuries, this intolerable state of society has remained in silence. However, in the second half of the 20th century, the issue of racial discrimination became extremely topical. Society started to realize the nature of the relationship between different ethnical groups living in one country and recognize the degree of humiliation and suffering experienced by African Americans. It provoked the wave of artistic works on that subject. Literature, as the art of word, was the most effective field to express the attitude to the problem. It was a very significant step in relation to the development of entire society since it supported the anti-racist movements and dragged the attention of the world to its blindness, unfairness, and hypocrisy. The subject of discrimination is important to the overall human experience as it refers to the suffering of the people who have been maltreated. It reminds about the cruelty of the past and cultivates the sense of equality and tolerance.   

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First of the two works chosen as the samples of reflection of the issue of racial discrimination is the book entitled “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Written by the famous American novelist Lee Harper, this book tells the story of prejudice and injustice by depicting a court case between the white and the black sides. Atticus Finch is a lawyer who lives and works in a small town of Maycomb somewhere in the South. The narrative takes place in the 1930s – the times when African Americans were formally free but they still occupied lower position in American society. The story is centered on the court process against the African American male accused of beating and raping a white girl. Atticus defends Tom Robinson, the representative of African American ethnical community, and struggles against the biased attitude towards the people of black color. However, the minds of other citizens are not able to step over the innate fear of difference and even admit the thought that the black person may tell the truth and the white person may lie. The trial ends with the accusation of Robinson and his death as the consequence of the attempt to escape from the jail (Lee). The desperate efforts of a devoted lawyer could not crush the entire system; however, they pointed out the existence of the problem within society.

The book itself refers to the different layers of discrimination of African Americans. The first level is that of the state law. In the beginning of the 20th century, society lived according to the unwritten “white” law that proclaimed the supremacy of the white men over others. It was generally accepted that there had to be a distance between the white and the black races. Specific descriptive elements directly refer to the division of society. These include "the division of worship along racial lines, the geographical distancing of the black community from the white population of Maycomb, relegated to its outer limits past the city dump, and the prevalent use of racial slurs such as “nigger-lover". Hence, people brought up in such society had an innate prejudice towards the other class.

Secondly, the discrimination is rooted in the minds of the white people and represented on the inter-personal level. No relationship was allowed apart from those that existed between the employer and employee, or rather a master and a servant. Society even abolished the presence of any other relationship except of the servant-master between the representatives of different races. In the courtroom, Atticus stated the reason why Mayella wanted to cover her deed: “She has committed no crime, she has merely broken a rigid and time- honored code of our society, a code so severe that whoever breaks it is hounded from our midst as unfit to live with”. The novel shows that it was unacceptable to have any relations between the representatives of different classes, and it was the fear of being blamed in such kind of connections that had made Mayella and her father call Tom a ravisher.

The inequality within society is contrasted with the views of the main character, Atticus Finch. He believes that each person disregarding the social, economic, or cultural background deserves equal treatment and equal justice. On that reason, he agrees to defend the black man and dares to plead him not guilty. Atticus steps over the prejudice that all black people are liars and having objectively studied all evidence finds out what has actually happened. He personifies the awakened voice of common sense that points out to the importance of racial equality and calls for true justice for everyone. 

The most significant is the fact that the dwellers of Maycomb do not actually realize the discriminative attitude in their own behavior. Harper Lee refers to the human blindness to one’s own deeds and the motives that drive them. People do not see anything wrong in the way they treat African Americans. When the black man was caught, no white man, apart from Atticus, ever doubted in his guiltiness. African Americans were considered extremely strong and aggressive as well as liars so even the fact that Tom could not stifle the girl with both hands or hit her, as his left hand did not function, could not persuade the jury of his innocence. The book refers to the discrimination as the disease that has stuck deeply inside the minds of people and demonstrates the fates of victims of this ignorance.

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Another literary masterpiece that depicts the cruel and heartless treatment of African Americans is entitled “The Help”. The film is based on the book of the same name written by Kathryn Sockett. It represents the life of African American females in Mississippi in the 1960s. Mississippi was one of the most ardent supporters of slavery; hence, after the declaration of freedom, the local people preserved the negative attitude towards the African American community. It is “about a vision of a divided America that while consistently insulting and sometimes even terrifying”. Depicting the everyday life of the black maids serving in the houses of the white owners, the film touches the subject of prejudice and discrimination of this ethnical group.

Each of the main African American characters of “The Help” experiences humiliation every day, but all of them must remain silent in order not to lose their jobs. Aibileen and Minny, the protagonists of the film, have always worked as maids. They are used to their lower position and they keep silent about everything that bothers their hearts. One day, a young white girl called Skeeter, who has just received her degree in journalism, returns back home and faces all the injustice and hypocrisy of the town’s community headed by another white woman, Hilly Holbrook. Skeeter is occasionally involved in the communication with one black maid, Aibileen, and from her, she learns the truth about the real feelings of African Americans living in the country ruled by the white people (The Help). Skeeter realizes that the world has to know the truth, and in fact, no one has ever asked the maids about what they think of their work and life. Therefore, she starts writing a book, and throughout the film, she records the stories told by the maids.

The film itself represents the record of various manifestations of discrimination experienced by African Americans. The first and most striking fact is related to the issue with toilets. It was Hilly who raised the question of the safety of sharing the same bathroom with the blacks. She claimed that these people might carry some infections and they should use separate bathrooms (The Help). There are traces of other prejudices and separation of one ethnical community from another. The greatest description is provided by Minnie when she teaches her daughter how to be a good maid. Minnie says that the black maids are not supposed to touch the white people while serving the food or cleaning from the table. The black maid should use a separate spoon to taste the dish because if someone notices she tastes and serves the dish using the same spoon, the dish will be considered uneatable. The maid should have separate dishes she uses to eat and keep them separately. In addition, there are many other limitations.

African Americans have lived in this kind of world for centuries, and no white person who considered himself an honest citizen and true Christian has done anything to change it. People either supported the “white law” or kept silent. However, the film demonstrates the times when society has finally opened the eyes and started to realize its heartlessness and hypocrisy. Skeeter’s mother said very a truthful phrase: “Courage sometimes skips a generation”. The second half of the 20th century was the time of the generation that finally started to speak. 

To conclude, the racial discrimination was one of the most significant and long-term issues that infected the world. One half of society was deprived of the right for the normal life with equal access to the privileges and all the blessings of civilization. It was literature that most successfully and precisely expressed the pain and suffering of the oppressed people. Both works analyzed above are the great masterpieces that tell the truth about the real life of African Americans in the 20th century. Via the life stories of simple characters, both authors deliver the description of how one ethnical group survived in the world ruled by another one. This kind of literature is extremely important as it carries the memories about past mistakes, and hopefully, it can prevent the future generations from making the similar ones. Typed words have engraved the realities of humiliation and injustice that had seized the United States, so now, people can remember the past and do everything it takes not to let it happen again. 


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