In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, race relations in Maycomb were no different than race relations in any other Southern town during the era of the Jim Crow laws of 1930s. The citizens make free use of the “N” word and treat all blacks as second-class citizens. Surprisingly, most white people in Maycomb are willing to protect the reputation of their “white trash” (even though they know that the Ewells are lying), rather than support justice and protect an innocent black man. The blacks are isolated from whites (e.g., seating for blacks in balcony of court house), forced to worship separately, segregated to a particular side of town, educated separately and so on.
The predominant attitudes towards the blacks are a combination of fear and hatred. Many whites were afraid that if the blacks gained greater power, they would begin to control society or socially displace them. This fear caused varying degrees of hatred. Those like Atticus who were well-educated and secure in their own position were less likely to fear the blacks and so showed little or no hatred towards them. Others, like the Ewells and possibly the Cunninghams were so poor that one of the few things they could take pride in was being white. In order to maintain what little social status that created, it was imperative for them to keep the black race down. To allow blacks greater freedom might jeopardize the precarious position of the poor whites, which for the time being, was one step up from the bottom.
The best thing about Atticus Finch as a father is that he treats his children with distance and respect. He’s a role model in the truest sense because he lives a life that they can admire. He is not his children’s friend but he’s not their enemy. He addresses them like he does other adults and does not baby them. He expects them to live up to his expectations, to be of use in society, but he is not pushy or overbearing in any sense. I think that a lot of people forget that children have to grow up and become adults. Indulging children and making your whole life revolved around them is actually a disservice. That’s why they become obnoxious, spoiled teenagers and then spoiled adults who expect things from society that they have no reason to expect. Parenting is not entertaining because it involves raising adults, even though it’s called raising children. I just read a very interesting article about French parents in the Wall street journal. Their approach reminded me a lot of Atticus Finch’s.