Race in To Kill a Mockingbird and Triomf

Race and racism in whatever form are often topics of interest in different novels and films. Race plays a big role in both, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Triomf by Marlene van Niekerk. Stereotypes and prejudices that occur because of race and will be the main points of focus in this essay in relation to the two novels mentioned above. What will be done exactly is the following: First, the two terms, stereotypes and prejudice, will be defined. Second, stereotypes and prejudices will be discussed with regard to what it is, how it is interpreted, some examples perhaps and general information about it. Third, To Kill A Mockingbird and Triomf will be discussed with the topics of racial stereotypes and prejudices in mind and how both of these acts are present and represented within the two novels.

Before the real topic at hand can be discussed, the definitions of both stereotypes and prejudices has to be known in order to further discuss the meanings, ideologies and examples of it. Stereotypes is a commonly understood, but fixed and overgeneralised image or idea of a particular thing or group of people, in the case of this assignment, people that is a part of the black race. Prejudices are quite similar to stereotypes, but the specific definition is that is it a preconceived opinion that is not based on reason, fact or personal experience, there is also racial prejudices towards black people and other races, but specifically towards black people with regard to this essay.

Racial stereotypes and racial prejudices come from set ideas and opinions about racial groups, but specifically the black race for the purpose of this assignment. Below some additional information will be given with regard to both stereotypes as well as prejudices. Some parts of the information that will be given below will be purely about stereotypes or prejudices, but some bits of information will be about both of these concepts. It can be argued that racial stereotypes and prejudices come from individuals who are considered to be racists which is another group of people found within society in the past and still today. Racist ideologies dominate most other shared social representations, especially racist attitudes, racial prejudices and racial stereotypes (Van Dijk, 2000: 98).

Group categories such as identity, feelings, beliefs, and related mental structures are all factors expressed in human interactions that influence the structure and basic conditions of social organisations. Bobo and Fox (2003: 319) go on by saying that race, racism, and discrimination that happen because of racial stereotypes and prejudices, can also be seen as sources and methods of hierarchal differentiation that shape the ordering of social relations as well as the sharing of life experiences and life choices.

Mai (2016: 2) stated that no matter how true or false a stereotype is, it is mostly based on some reality, truth, a half-truth, or a full-blown fact. Universally, it is a natural tendency to seek people with which there are common interests, hobbies, habits, beliefs, languages and so on. The more people have in common with one another the more comfortable they will feel around these people. In some cases, individuals seek out other individuals from which they differ in many aspects as to learn from them, but unfortunately doing this can be criticised, certain individuals could argue that different races should not mix company. This is an obstacle in the road that society has to get over to be able to make any sort of progress.

Stereotypes of any sort tend to have a negative impact on society, especially in the following ways as written by Mai (2016: 5-6): It traps people in a certain mindset with regard to things or groups of people and this is then extremely hard to change within these people since it becomes so fixed in their minds; when someone believes in stereotypes they refuse  to acknowledge the existence of the possibility of people being part of a group, but not fitting the stereotype at all; stereotypes just like many other mindsets can result in self-fulfilling prophecies because of the link between belief and behaviour.

Stereotypes are generally seen to be a negative phenomenon that only racists engage in, but many different people have a tendency of putting others in a box of some sort regardless of knowing that they are judging these people based on a stereotype. Stereotyping have become a natural thing to do in today’s society and it is hard to be unlearned though it is possible to do so. It is especially hard to shake off this habit because many people who engage in stereotyping find it hard to accept anything that proves the contrary of any stereotype that they believe in (Mai, 2016: 2).

A common existing stereotype about the black race is that they are more likely that other races to be violent or to engage in criminal behaviour. The stereotype of black people being criminals is a widely known stereotype and it is deeply embedded especially within the minds of American regardless of the level of prejudice or personal beliefs they have with regard to this stereotype (Quilliam & Pager, 2001: 721-722).

Prejudices of any sort, but specifically racial prejudices in this case, can start because of the following aspects that occur between different groups of people: conflict of resources; conflict of desires and the ‘blame game’; institutional support and so on (Mai, 2016: 9-11). Mai (2016: 7) then goes on to say that stereotypes can on the odd occasion be considered to be positive, but prejudices are always negative, there is no exception. Prejudices are also usually accompanied with feelings of hostility, rage and judgement. Prejudices are also emotionally fuelled and as well as being a personal attitude/thought process and this can all be transferred into actions which then manifests as discrimination.

At am individual level and not just on group levels, racisms are often expressed in the form of prejudice either in direct or insinuating way. Knowing that prejudices suggest negative attitudes and beliefs, it can often become self-fulfilling prophesies as mentioned before and that would then support and validate prejudiced judgements. When contrary evidence in the form of one or more individuals being different is presented to prejudiced people, they refuse to acknowledge or believe it as proof that the group is not in fact like the stereotype of prejudice and perhaps instead simply and exception to the rule (Sanson et.al. 1997: 12).

Below the ideologies discussed above will be discussed with specific relation to the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird and then toTriomf. Specific articles with regard to the topic and books will be used as well as my own application of examples from the novels and their films (if films are available) to present evidence of racial stereotypes and prejudices present in both of the books.

Class, gender as well as racial prejudices are introduced to Jem and Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird. This is a novel in which these two children learn about life and themselves as a part of it and that society is not always fair to those who do not fit in or follow society’s predetermined rules (Best, 2009: 541). To Kill A Mockingbird is also considered to be a coming-of-age novel and/or as a commentary on racial injustice in the south of the United States of America in the 1930’s (Ernst, 2015: 1020).

Racism is openly presented in To Kill A Mockingbird, sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant through the means of actions and words uttered by the citizens of Maycomb. The layout of the town even supports the segregation of the different races and classes, one area for whites, one area for the ‘white-trash’ and another area for the blacks. The different races are also not allowed to mix company in public places such as the court (Nair, 2014: 208). When Tom Robinson is a black man who is wrongly accused of raping Mayella Ewell who is a white woman, he has to go to court for his trail and it is seen how white and black people are kept separate from one another, the black people has to sit in the gallery and the white people is sitting at the bottom in the court. Before the trail even started the white citizens of Maycomb called Atticus Finch a ‘nigger lover’ because he dared to take Tom’s case to try and help him. The white people in this town also often called black people ‘niggers’, which is slang for Negro which is what black people were called during that time, but it was also considered to be extremely disrespectful to call anyone that term.

The children in To Kill A Mockingbird are exposed to society’s racism and other injustices through Tom Robinson’s trail. The Children’s father, Atticus Finch, Tom’s lawyer, is also faced with significant disapproval from the white citizens of Maycomb (Ernst, 2015: 1021). Other than being called a ‘nigger lover’ for helping Tom, Atticus also faced a mob of angry white men wanting to inflict harm on Tom when he was in jail awaiting is trail the next day and he has to ward them off, lucky for him is children followed him into town and indirectly came to his rescue since their presence resulted in the mob taking their leave. Atticus soon after tells his son, Jem, that there are ugly things in the world, by which he means racism, that he wishes he could keep away from him in order to protect him from the harshness of what society can do.

The people in Maycomb who are considered to be racists, think that all black people are part of a dishonoured race, are undependable and dishonest (Nair, 2014: 208). Mister Ewell confronted Atticus when he heard that he is the man defending Tom Robinson in court and told him that he is sorry that he has to defend a black man. Another example of this is when everyone just assumed Tom is guilty of the crime he was accused of simply because he is a black man. When Tom said he helped Mayella Ewell with little tasks around the house for free, he said the reason for it was that he felt sorry for her, every white person in court was in shock because of his statement and said how dare he, a black man, feel sorry for a white woman. During Atticus’ closing statement in court he made a few more points against the state for Tom showing obvious signs of prejudice and stereotypes being present in Maycomb and that court. Some of the things Atticus pointed out was: Mayella tempted Tom but he was accused of rape because if she admitted that she was the one to tempt him, she would be ridiculed for it, she kissed a black man; The state witnesses was confident on the witness stand because they believed that the all-white jury would believe their testimonies against Tom and that everyone would believe the ‘evil’ assumption that all black people lie, all black people are immoral beings and all black men cannot be trusted around white women.

Tom Robinson’s trail can be seen as an excellent example of injustice because of racial prejudice in To Kill A Mockingbird. He was prejudged by many different people purely because of the colour of his skin (Hutami, 2014: 23-24). The state continuously tried to twist Tom’s words and use it against him in court, but the injustice can be shown in ways other than this. When the jury came back from discussing the trail and deciding on a verdict, the said that they find Tom Robinson guilty of the crime he was charged for even though throughout the trail Atticus made so many points clear to them to why Tom could not have assaulted and raped Mayella as well as motivation as to why Mayella may have accused him of that crime. Atticus was so sure that he and Tom could appeal the case and have another try at clearing Tom’s name, but later that evening after taking Tom to a jail out of town for his own safety, Tom ran and was shot because of it, he died from the hit. There was no justice for the innocent black man wrongly accused of a crime he did not commit.

In the end of the film though, the sheriff did admit that Tom was innocent and that a black man is dead for no reason, showing that some white individuals did know they were wrong to judge a man based on the colour of his skin. The Finch family was also not racist and loved and respected Calpurnia, a black woman working for them at their house.

The whites of South Africa are often referred to as the Afrikaner and they expected their women like in Marlene van Niekerk’s novel, Triomf, translated into English by Leon de Kock, to transfer themselves to and cooperate in the establishment of Afrikaner nationalism’s volks-utopia by taking on the role of the patient and suffering volksmoeder who would sacrifice everything for God and Vaderland (Rossman, 2012: 160). This may not sound that bad, but it is in fact a stereotype that has formed over the years of how older white Afrikaner women are or should be according to society.

Marlene van Niekerk’s use of demotic Afrikaans and the pervasive code-switching in Triomf is linked to the novel’s antinationalist project, which satirises related idea about white Afrikaner racial ‘purity’ and the linguistic integrity of white Afrikaans (Devarenne, 2006: 106). There is a stereotype that only white people speak Afrikaans when in reality other races speak the language as well. It is also believed by whites that they are pure just like the Afrikaans language, but anyone who mixes their language are not considered pure and the same goes for when mixing company with other races. This is obviously not true, but not all stereotypes are based on truths, and only based on false truths.

The town called Triomf in Gauteng where the story plays out is where the old Sophiatown used to be locate before it was demolished to make a new living area for the poor whites of South Africa. The people who live there sees this as a triumphant achievement of Afrikaner racial domination of blacks, hint the name of the town (Devarenne, 2006: 111). The stereotype of whites always dominating blacks is coming up in the passage above, but not all white was or are like that.

As with all races, with the white Afrikaner race, classes exist, having said that the Benade family in Triomf is considered to be white trash and white trash has a stereotype connected to them. The stereotype is that white trash people more often than not engage in incest in order to remain pure and keep their superior genetics, but in reality, this ‘scrambles’ their genetics completely. The mother, Mol, started out by giving her son, Lambert, hand jobs to calm him down whenever he got aggressive with his fits, but eventually that was not enough and he wanted to put his thing in her as they say. Mol gave up her body for her son and brothers in order to keep the family happy and together (Devarenne, 2006: 106). The Benade family also believes that they are racially superior because they are white Afrikaners and engage in incest in order to not mix with coloured or blacks and to stay pure. The stereotype here is that white Afrikaners engage in incest in order to remain pure, but this is rarely ever the case.

The Benade family also engage in incest because they are not good enough to mix with other whites, but they were initially not allowed to mix with coloureds or blacks because of the Apartheid government that existed shortly before the time the novel’s story played out. At a later point in the novel for Lambert’s birthday Pops and Treppie ‘bought’ him a prostitute for the day who was a coloured girl whose company he enjoyed so much (Botha, 2011: 29). This part of the novel contradicts the stereotypes of white people not mixing with blacks or coloureds.

Within this essay race, racisms, stereotypes and prejudices have been defined and discussed and identified within Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Marlene van Niekerk’s Triomf. The first novel is about the unjust treatment of a black man based on the colour of his skin, he was judged based on stereotypes and was prejudiced against in the old American South. Luckily it was not all bad, because there was compassion from the Finch family towards black people and they did not act different to black people just because they are black, they respected them for who they are. The second novel plays out in a recently democratic South Africa soon after Apartheid. This is a story about the Benade family who is white Afrikaners who is considered to be poor whites also known as white trash. Some stereotypes come into play in this novel with regard to white people believing that they are superior over other races and in order to stay pure they had to engage in incest. Incest is also a stereotypical kind of behaviour associated with white trash people, but not all poor whites are like that and not all whites are obsessed with staying pure or believe that they are superior to other races in anyway. This assignment showed me that Racial stereotypes and prejudices to more harm than good, but that there is still hope out there, there is still good people out there that regardless of race respect one another for being the person they are. History was not kind and pinned the different races against each other, but in our modern society things are changing for the better and race does not play as big as a role as it once did.




Best, R.H., 2009, Panopticism and the Use of “the Other” in To Kill a Mockingbird Best, The Mississippi Quarterly, 62:(¾),  541 – 552.

Bobo, L.D. & Fox, C., 2003, Race, Racism, and      Discrimination: Bridging Problems, Methods, and       Theory in Social Psychological Research, Social            Psychology Quarterly, 66:(4), 319-332.

Botha, C., 2011, On The Way Home: Heidegger and         Marlene van Niekerk’s Triomf, Phronimon, 12:(1),      19 – 39.

Devarenne, N., 2006, “In hell you hear only your     mother tongue”: Afrikaner Nationalist Ideology,             Linguistic Subversion, and Cultural Renewal in       Marlene van Niekerk’s Triomf, Research In African    Literatures, 37:(4), 105 – 120.

Ernst, J.L., 2015, Women In Litigation Literature: The        Exoneration Of Mayella Ewell In To Kill A    Mockingbird, date viewed 20 May 2017, from           http://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi      ?article=1276&context=akronlawreview.

Hutami, W.T.R., 2014, Racial Prejudice Revealed In          Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, viewed 20 May             2017, from       http://eprints.uny.ac.id/19356/1/Wening%20Tyas%      20Rah%20Hutami%2007211144025.pdf.

Mai, N.P., 2016, Potential Problems In Crosscultural       Communications: Stereotypes, Prejudices, And            Racism, viewed 20 May 2017, from       http://www.amsterdamuas.com/binaries/…/chapter-      4-stereotypes-prejudices-racism.pdf?.

Nair, P., 2014, Racial Elements in Harper Lee’s To Kill      A Mockingbird, The Criterion: An International             Journal in English, 5:(6), 207 – 211.

Quillian, L. & Pager, D., 2001, Black Neighbors,      Higher Crime? The Role of Racial Stereotypes in      Evaluations of Neighborhood Crime, American            Journal of Sociology, 107:(3), 717–767.

Rossman, J., 2012, Martha(martyr)dom: Compassion,      Sacrifice and the Abject Mother in Marlene van           Niekerk’s Triomf, Current Writing: Text and            Reception in Southern Africa, 24:(2), 159 – 168.

Sanson, A. et.al., 1997, Racism and Prejudice A    Psychological Perspective, The Australian     Psychological Society Ltd: Australia.

Van Dijk, T.A., 2000, 5  Ideologies, Racism,             Discourse: Debates on Immigration and Ethnic   Issues, viewed 20 May 2017, from          http://discourses.org/OldArticles/Ideologies,%20rac      ism,%20discourse.pdf.



About Channah_Reynecke

I am a college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in psychology and English. I love both reading and writing and consider myself a book nerd. I also enjoy doing art and writing poetry. I plan on using my 'blog' as a place where I can upload assignments that has already been marked, any thesis I wrote or might still write, my poetry and perhaps on occasion some reviews or personal experiences.
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