Definition: having a bias for or against
Causes: growing up in a family or culture that perceives a prejudice as right or acceptable, previous experiences that justify (in the character's mind) a prejudicial attitude toward a person or group of people, a desire for power or domination over said group of people, peer pressure, jumping to unfair or poorly-thought-out conclusions
Characters in Literature: Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), The Malfoys, most of Maycomb County (To Kill a Mockingbird)
Positives: The positive side of the prejudiced person is that they are often very loyal, to a group of people or an ideal (however misguided). It also takes a great deal of determination to stick to an idea that is patently wrong (as most prejudices are). These characteristics can be used to build empathy for a prejudiced character. Prejudice is also a great vehicle through which to create misunderstanding and conflict within your story.
Negatives: Prejudiced people think they're better in some way than the people they judge, and so come off as self-righteous. They dismiss people or whole groups of people and cheat themselves of possible friends, lovers, and mentors, and miss out on the knowledge and experiences those people would share. Another problem with prejudice is that it often occurs in groups, so those who are prejudiced have no one to tell them they're wrong. The group (mob) mentality encourages their bias, making it difficult for them to see the wrongness of their thinking and change their ways.
Common Portrayals: the old South, white supremacists, Nazi Germany, judges and juries, crooked cops. I tried to also list groups of people who are commonly prejudiced against, but the list went on and on and on. And for every group that is misjudged, there's an opposing group doing the judging. So really, just about any people group can be the victim or purveyor of prejudice.
Cliches to Avoid: the backwoods hick, prejudice in the small town, prejudice described as ignorance or closed-mindedness (however true either may be)
Twists on the Traditional Prejudiced Character:
- The prejudiced character who is well-learned and highly intelligent instead of ignorant
- Instead of applying prejudice against a race or nationality, have your character judge another based on a simple character trait (like Elizabeth Bennet in Pride or Prejudice). Your character might judge a shy person to be stuck-up, misjudge kindness for manipulation, or dismiss a popular person out of an assumption that they're superficial.
- To my knowledge, the prejudiced person in literature is always portrayed as wrong. But what if the rest of society was wrong and the prejudiced person was right?
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Prejudiced Character unique or more interesting: apologetic, cautious, gracious, shy, curious, kindly, rational, wise