“Our greatest evils flow from ourselves” (Tripp 192). This statement, by Rousseau, epitomizes
many points of evil that are discussed in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. In our world today, we are
stared in the face everyday with many facets of evil. These nefarious things come in several forms,
including, but not limited to discrimination of sex, race, ethnicity, physical appearance, and popularity,
alcoholism, drug abuse, irresponsibility, and even murder. The occurrences of evil and wrong-doing in To
Kill A Mockingbird further along Scout’s maturation into a young woman. Three of the most important
instances of evil are those of racism, alcoholism, and gossip.
Dispersed within To Kill A Mockingbird are numerous illustrations of racism. Statements such as
“You father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for” (Lee 108) seem to be common through the
entire novel. This seemed to bother people of the common day, and this drove many people to deem Lee’s
book “banned” from their school. If we look back to the times when the book was written, we can
understand the use of the “N-word.” During the Great Depression, and at many times during the early
twentieth century, the “N-word” was used as commonly as many people today use the word “work.” It
seems as though people either didn’t think, or didn’t care, about how demeaning “nigger” was. Eventually,
some African-Americans came to accept this word. They became so used to hearing it, they heeded it no
attention. Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, however, had a different way of thinking. Although Atticus was
Caucasian, he realized that the “N-word” (as commonly referred to in the recent!
trial of Orenthal James Simpson) was wrong to say. He instructed his children not to use that word either.
This courtesy did not catch on. People continued to refer to African-Americans as “niggers” and called
anyone who was kind to “niggers” a “nigger-lover.” Scout realized this, and as she grew older, she came to
realize how wrong the use of the “N-word” actually was. She assumed, as a child, that because everyone
else used it, that it was perfectly fine for her to use. As she matured, she began to understand why this was
a wrong term, and she learned how wrong it was to use that word. This was only one of the things Scout
learned as she grew and matured.
Jean Louise, Scout, was also subjected to more evil than racism. Robert Ewell, a violent alcoholic,
attempted to murder Scout and Jem in a violent drunken rage. Mr. Ewell appeared in many places
throughout the book, and it was his daughter, Mayella Ewell, that pressed false charges against Tom
Robinson for the offense of rape and battery. Almost every time Bob is mentioned, he is either violent or
severely drunken. He used the welfare checks that he received, not to purchase food for the family, but to
buy booze for himself to consume. This, in itself, shows us the evil that drug dependency can inflict not
only on one person, but all people that the alcoholic comes into contact with. If anything, Scout learned the
dangers of not only the effect that alcohol can have on someone, but the effect that it can have on that
person’s family as well.
Another evil present today, as well as in the 1930’s, is one that we don’t often think of, gossip.
Many people are hurt or improperly represented by other’s words and actions. Situations are often
exaggerated to make a story more interesting or for a person to give people something to fill their boring
lives with. Arthur (Boo) Radley was a victim of such evil. Scout’s head was filled with gossip about Boo,
who ironically, at the end of the novel, ends up saving her life. She is fed ideas that are illustrated in this
series of dialogue between her and Miss Maudie: “. . . do you think Boo Radley is still alive?”
“His name’s Arthur and he’s still alive.”
“Maybe he died and they stuffed him up in the chimney.”
“Where did you get such a notion?”
“That’s what Jem said he thought they did” (Lee 43).
Arthur was misrepresented by people who didn’t understand the situation that he was in. He was kept inside
his house, and seemed to be denied access to the outside world, but he was very much alive. Without him
being alive, Scout and Jem would most likely be dead at the hands of Bob Ewell. It is ironic that the man
who was marred by insults and speculations was the hero of the story. The lesson Scout learned from this
was that she should never judge a man or woman until she has walked around in their shoes.
All through To Kill A Mockingbird, Scout is subjected to various evils, yet she seems to gain
experience and knowledge from each situation. This exposure furthered her understanding of life and the
trials she will come to. This story of Scout’s learning can also apply to what we, as readers, can learn and
appreciate from Harper Lee’s work. Although some of the language is “unacceptable” to some people, if
you look past the derogatory terms, the literature really speaks to you not only as a reader, but as a person
Lee, Harper. To Kill A Mockingbird. 1960. New York: Warner Books, 1982.
Tripp, Rhoda Thomas. The International Thesaurus of Quotations. New York: Harper and Row,