Intercultural communication is always as challenge for an individual and a group of people because it involves openness and flexibility, while in reality fear and misjudgment can dominate. Historically, dealing with a culture that is different has caused stereotypes to shape based on fear and misunderstanding. The film To Kill a Mockingbird based on Harper Lee’s novel demonstrate how stereotyping can turn into prejudice and discrimination when racial problems are involved. The film reveals wrong assumptions, on which prejudice is based, and their consequences that reflect in people’s behavior. As it is demonstrated, stereotypes and prejudice are passed by family and society, and they are leaned by children, yet they can be changed to if society changes.
When analyzing the film, it is worth considering the major aspects of stereotypes and prejudice. Thus, “stereotype is defined as consensus among members of one group regarding the attributes of another”. (Zanna and Olson 3). Researchers claim that stereotype also works in the form of prediction based on wrong assumptions, which are shared between people. In the film, racial or ethnic stereotypic predominates, which is “a generalization made about an ethnic
group, concerning a trait attribution, which is considered to be unjustified by an observer”.( 3). Maycomb,Alabama, of 1932 is meant to be a representation of a typical American town of the time. Because the narration is made on behalf of a child, it gives viewers an opportunity to traces several aspects about stereotypes and prejudice. First of all, it contrasts a difference between prejudiced adults and children who are still unprejudiced. Secondly, it demonstrates how racial prejudice is shaped since childhood, mainly by adults who influence children. Because Atticus is an exception to that rule, his children have more chance to remain pure in their beliefs. Yet, because cultural transmission is made not only within a family but in the course of social communication, no one can totally be safe from adopting stereotypes.
The key element of plot related to racial prejudice is the situation around the professional activities of Atticus Finch as a lawyer. He has to defend an African American who is accused of raping a white girl. Despite the fact that the man is not guilty, racial prejudice of the town people is an obstacle to recognizing this fact. The film demonstrates that prejudice is a group characteristic, so Atticus faces the pressure on behalf of the community. In other words, one of the mechanisms of transferring a prejudice is from a group to an individual because the group often appears to be more powerful. Yet, despite the pressure, Atticus is quite strong in his beliefs and that only reinforces the prejudice that other people have. Ewell, the father of the girl who unfairly accuses Robinson, is among those people whose racial prejudice borders on violence and meanness. He tries to cunningly find out if Atticus’ attitude to the accused man is really positive, which he believes to be outrageous just because the man is black. To him, belonging to the race is enough to prove a person’s guilt as he believes that violence is an attribute of the black race that does not need prove. Confronting stereotypes is a challenge that cost struggle and danger to Atticus who would become a total outcast in his own race unless he was such a respected person in terms of social position. Thus, the example demonstrates how the concepts of race and class intermingle and shape a person’s image and other people’s attitude. Yet, Atticus’ opposition to the majority creates an image of rebel for him, which clearly tars his reputation. He is named “nigger lover” by neighbors, a phrase that reflects prejudice both against African Americans and people who are fair to them. A remarkable moment is Atticus’ explaining to Scout the meaning of this phrase, which reveals the fact that moral values are passed from one generation to another one mostly through the family.
A remarkable aspect of cross-cultural communication is revealed when comparing of African American community to the white community of Maycomb. Calpurnia, a black woman who works in the Finches house as a cook, happens to take children to her church, which belongs to African American community. This is a chance for them as representatives of a different culture to be present as insiders, which can give a whole new world about the culture. The black people have a prejudice against the whites too, so it is obvious that this trust is mostly justified by the fact that the white guests are children. It is remarkable that the African community has more unity because of their different traditions and because of people’s necessity to survive. This is why an interesting moment is raising money for Robinson family, who is perceived as part of the family. In this context, it would be true to say that most white people in the film are more dissociated.
When speaking about the film, it is worth mentioning not only direct statement of the facts is used in order to reinforce the theme of prejudice. It is also true that purely cinematic approach is used in order to convey the message. Thus, the enigmatic figure of Boo Radley is metaphoric about prejudice in many ways. So, for instance, the children are unable to see the truth about the man until the very end of the film. Instead, he is presented in rumors, horror stories and appears on screen as a black shadow (the use of black is not a coincidence in this case). This example demonstrates that stereotypes are often shaped without direct communication with the object of stereotyping, and moreover, in this case stereotypes are even stronger. However, everyone appears to be wrong when the man actually saves the children. Boo Radley’s example demonstrates that stereotypes are learned since childhood. Yet, it gives hope that because they are learned, they can be also transformed and eliminated. Thus, Scout manages to change her attitude to Boo whom she would picture to be a monster. Yet, the question is still open whether adults can be as flexible and open-minded to recognize one’s own wrongness and adopt a new mode of thinking.
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However, overall the film is tragic, as it leads how prejudice perverts moral principles of society. Although most people know that Tom Robinson is innocent, the jury still recognizes him to be guilty. The situation end’s in Tom’s death and threat to lives of Atticus and the children, which is resolved but does not leave a happy end aftertaste. Instead, it is made clear that the “mockingbird” ( an innocent person) is killed by the huge machine of a society, which is not changed so easily.
In conclusion, it is worth saying that the theme of prejudice and stereotypes is a central one in the film. Society is presented where discrimination and inequality thrive, which is especially striking because seen by children’s eyes. Intercultural communication is based upon wrong assumptions about a different culture, which increases the gap of dissociation. The film also demonstrates the mechanism of learning stereotypes as a child through family and community, which can yet be changed in case a person is open to the truth and understanding.