To Kill a Mockingbird
Critical Analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird
Table of Content
1. To Kill a Mockingbird Summary
2. Roles and Analysis of all Characters in To Kill a Mockingbird
3. Themes of To Kill a Mockingbird
4. Symbols of To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird Summary
To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in Alabama during the Depression, and is narrated by the main character, a little girl named Jean Louise “Scout” Finch. Her father, Atticus Finch , is a lawyer with high moral standards. Scout, her brother Jem, and their friend Dill are intrigued by the local rumors about a man named Boo Radley, who lives in their neighborhood but never leaves his house. Legend has it that he once stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors, and he is made out to be a kind of monster. Dill is from Mississippi but spends his summer in Maycomb at a house near the Finch’s.
The children are curious to know more about Boo, and during one summer create a mini-drama they enact daily, which tells the events of his life as they know them. Slowly, the children begin moving closer to the Radley house, which is said to be haunted. They try leaving notes for Boo on his windowsill with a fishing pole, but are caught by Atticus, who firmly reprimands them for making fun of a sad man’s life. Next, the children try sneaking over to the house at night and looking through its windows. Boo’s brother, Nathan Radley, who lives in the house, thinks he hears a prowler and fires his gun. The children run away, but Jem loses his pants in a fence. When he returns in the middle of the night to get them back, they have been neatly folded and the tear from the fence roughly sewn up.
Other mysterious things happen to the Finch children. A certain tree near the Radley house has a hole in which little presents are often left for them, such as pennies, chewing gum, and soap carved figures of a little boy and girl who bear a striking resemblance to Scout and Jem. The children don’t know where these gifts are coming from, and when they go to leave a note for the mystery giver, they find that Boo’s brother has plugged up the hole with cement. The next winter brings unexpected cold and snow, and Miss Maudie’s house catches on fire. While Jem and Scout, shivering, watch the blaze from near the Radley house, someone puts a blanket around Scout without her realizing it. Not until she returns home and Atticus asks her where the blanket came from does she realize that Boo Radley must have put it around her while she was entranced by watching Miss Maudie, her favorite neighbor, and her burning house.
Atticus decides to take on a case involving a black man named Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping a very poor white girl named
Mayella Ewell , a member of the notorious Ewell family, who belong to the layer of Maycomb society that people refer to as “trash.” The Finch family faces harsh criticism in the heavily racist Maycomb because of Atticus’s decision to defend Tom. But, Atticus insists on going through with the case because his conscience could not let him do otherwise. He knows Tom is innocent, and also that he has almost no chance at being acquitted, because the white jury will never believe a black man over a white woman. Despite this, Atticus wants to reveal the truth to his fellow townspeople, expose their bigotry, and encourage them to imagine the possibility of racial equality.
Because Atticus is defending a black man, Scout and Jem find themselves whispered at and taunted, and have trouble keeping their tempers. At a family Christmas gathering, Scout beats up her cloying relative Francis when he accuses Atticus of ruining the family name by being a “nigger-lover”. Jem cuts off the tops of an old neighbor’s flower bushes after she derides Atticus, and as punishment, has to read out loud to her every day. Jem does not realize until after she dies that he is helping her break her morphine addiction. When revealing this to Jem and Scout, Atticus holds this old woman up as an example of true courage: the will to keep fighting even when you know you can’t win.
The time for the trial draws closer, and Atticus’s sister Alexandra comes to stay with the family. She is proper and old-fashioned and wants to shape Scout into the model of the Southern feminine ideal, much to Scout’s resentment. Dill runs away from his home, where his mother and new father don’t seem interested in him, and stays in Maycomb for the summer of Tom’s trial. The night before the trial, Tom is moved into the county jail, and Atticus, fearing a possible lynching, stands guard outside the jail door all night. Jem is concerned about him, and the three children sneak into town to find him. A group of men arrive ready to cause some violence to Tom, and threaten Atticus in the process. At first Jem, Scout and Dill stand aside, but when she senses true danger, Scout runs out and begins to speak to one of the men, the father of one of her classmates in school. Her innocence brings the crowd out of their mob mentality, and they leave.
The trial pits the evidence of the white Ewell family against Tom’s evidence. According to the Ewells, Mayella asked Tom to do some work for her while her father was out, and Tom came into their house and forcibly beat and raped Mayella until her father appeared and scared him away. Tom’s version is that Mayella invited him inside, then threw her arms around him and began to kiss him. Tom tried to push her away. When Bob Ewell arrived, he flew into a rage and beat her, while Tom ran away in fright. According to the sheriff’s testimony, Mayella’s bruises were on the right side of her face, which means she was most likely punched with a left hand. Tom Robinson’s left arm is useless due to an old accident, whereas Mr. Ewell leads with his left. Given the evidence of reasonable doubt, Tom should go free, but after hours of deliberation, the jury pronounces him guilty. Scout, Jem and Dill sneak into the courthouse to see the trial and sit in the balcony with Maycomb’s black population. They are stunned at the verdict because to them, the evidence was so clearly in Tom’s favor.
Though the verdict is unfortunate, Atticus feels some satisfaction that the jury took so long deciding. Usually, the decision would be made in minutes, because a black man’s word would not be trusted. Atticus is hoping for an appeal, but unfortunately Tom tries to escape from his prison and is shot to death in the process. Jem has trouble handling the results of the trial, feeling that his trust in the goodness and rationality of humanity has been betrayed.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ewell threatens Atticus and other people connected with the trial because he feels he was humiliated. He gets his revenge one night while Jem and Scout are walking home from the Halloween play at their school. He follows them home in the dark, then runs at them and attempts to kill them with a large kitchen knife. Jem breaks his arm, and Scout, who is wearing a confining ham shaped wire costume and cannot see what is going on, is helpless throughout the attack. The elusive Boo Radley stabs Mr. Ewell and saves the children. Finally, Scout has a chance to meet the shy and nervous Boo. At the end of this fateful night, the sheriff declares that Mr. Ewell fell on his own knife so Boo, the hero of the situation, won’t have to be tried for murder. Scout walks Boo home and imagines how he has viewed the town and observed her, Jem and Dill over the years from inside his home. Boo goes inside, closes the door, and she never sees him again.
Roles and Analysis of all Characters in To Kill a Mockingbird
Role and Character Analysis of Jean Louise Finch (Scout) in To Kill a Mockingbird
Jean Louise Finch (Scout)
The narrator of To Kill a Mockingbird , Scout is Atticus ‘s daughter, Jem ‘s sister, Alexandra and Jack’s niece, and friends with Dill. In the three years the novel covers, she grows from six-years-old to nine. Scout is intelligent and loves to read, but is also headstrong, outspoken, and a tomboy. As the novel opens, Scout is both innocent and intolerant of anything new or different. Scout’s innocence falls away in part because she is growing up and in part from the trial of Tom Robinson: she discovers how cruel and violent people can be. But she also learns, through Atticus’s careful teaching, that the necessary response to intolerance is to try to understand its origins, to relate to people in terms of their dignity rather than their anger, and to use that foundation as a way to try to slowly change their minds.
Role and Character Analysis of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird
As one of the most prominent citizens in Maycomb during the Great Depression, Atticus is relatively well off in a time of widespread poverty. Because of his penetrating intelligence, calm wisdom, and exemplary behavior, Atticus is respected by everyone, including the very poor. He functions as the moral backbone of Maycomb, a person to whom others turn in times of doubt and trouble. But the conscience that makes him so admirable ultimately causes his falling out with the people of Maycomb. Unable to abide the town’s comfortable ingrained racial prejudice, he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man. Atticus’s action makes him the object of scorn in Maycomb, but he is simply too impressive a figure to be scorned for long. After the trial, he seems destined to be held in the same high regard as before.
Atticus practices the ethic of sympathy and understanding that he preaches to Scout and Jem and never holds a grudge against the people of Maycomb. Despite their callous indifference to racial inequality, Atticus sees much to admire in them. He recognizes that people have both good and bad qualities, and he is determined to admire the good while understanding and forgiving the bad. Atticus passes this great moral lesson on to Scout—this perspective protects the innocent from being destroyed by contact with evil.
Ironically, though Atticus is a heroic figure in the novel and a respected man in Maycomb, neither Jem nor Scout consciously idolizes him at the beginning of the novel. Both are embarrassed that he is older than other fathers and that he doesn’t hunt or fish. But Atticus’s wise parenting, which he sums up in Chapter 30 by saying, “Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him,” ultimately wins their respect. By the end of the novel, Jem, in particular, is fiercely devoted to Atticus (Scout, still a little girl, loves him uncritically). Though his children’s attitude toward him evolves, Atticus is characterized throughout the book by his absolute consistency. He stands rigidly committed to justice and thoughtfully willing to view matters from the perspectives of others. He does not develop in the novel but retains these qualities in equal measure, making him the novel’s moral guide and voice of conscience.
Role and Character Analysis of Dill (Charles Baker Harris) in To Kill a Mockingbird
Dill (Charles Baker Harris)
A friend of the Finch children, who is a little older than Scout, quite short for his age, has an active imagination, and exhibits a strong sense of adventure. He initiates the first expeditions toward the Radley house, and is Scout’s best friend. His family life is less than ideal, and he tends to resort to escapism when confronted with difficult situations. Dill spends summers with his aunt, who lives next door to the Finch family.
Role and Character Analysis of Jem Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird
If Scout is an innocent girl who is exposed to evil at an early age and forced to develop an adult moral outlook, Jem finds himself in an even more turbulent situation. His shattering experience at Tom Robinson’s trial occurs just as he is entering puberty, a time when life is complicated and traumatic enough. His disillusionment upon seeing that justice does not always prevail leaves him vulnerable and confused at a critical, formative point in his life. Nevertheless, he admirably upholds the commitment to justice that Atticus instilled in him and maintains it with deep conviction throughout the novel.
Unlike the jaded Mr. Raymond, Jem is not without hope: Atticus tells Scout that Jem simply needs time to process what he has learned. The strong presence of Atticus in Jem’s life seems to promise that he will recover his equilibrium. Later in his life, Jem is able to see that Boo Radley’s unexpected aid indicates there is good in people. Even before the end of the novel, Jem shows signs of having learned a positive lesson from the trial; for instance, at the beginning of Chapter 25, he refuses to allow Scout to squash a roly-poly bug because it has done nothing to harm her. After seeing the unfair destruction of Tom Robinson, Jem now wants to protect the fragile and harmless.
The idea that Jem resolves his cynicism and moves toward a happier life is supported by the beginning of the novel, in which a grown-up Scout remembers talking to Jem about the events that make up the novel’s plot. Scout says that Jem pinpointed the children’s initial interest in Boo Radley at the beginning of the story, strongly implying that he understood what Boo represented to them and, like Scout, managed to shed his innocence without losing his hope.
Role and Character Analysis of Boo Radley and Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird
Boo Radley and Tom Robinson
Boo Radley and Tom Robinson share many similarities in spite of fact that one man is white and the other black. By juxtaposing these two characters, Lee proves that justice and compassion reach beyond the boundary of color and human prejudices. The novel’s title is a metaphor for both men, each of whom is mockingbird. In this case however, one mockingbird is shot, the other is forced to kill.
Boo and Tom are handicapped men. Lee hints that he may be physically unhealthy, and she makes statements that lead the reader to believe he may be mentally unstable. However, no character sheds any light on his actual condition, leaving the reader wondering whether Boo’s family protects him or further handicaps him. Tom is physically handicapped, like a bird with a broken wing, but his race is probably a bigger “disability” in the Maycomb community. As a result of these handicaps, both men’s lives are cut short. Whatever Boo’s problems may be, the reader knows that something happened to Boo that has caused him to become a recluse. For all practical purposes, Tom’s life ends when a white woman decides to accuse him of rape.
Boo sees Scout and Jem as his children, which is why he parts with things that are precious to him, why he mends Jem’s pants and covers Scout with a blanket, and why he ultimately kills for them: “Boo’s children needed him.” Apparently his family disapproves of his affection for the children or Mr. Radley wouldn’t have cemented the knothole. But Boo is undeterred and loves them, even with the probable knowledge that he is the object of their cruel, childish games. Tom also recognizes Mayella as a person in need. On the witness stand, he testifies that he gladly helped her because “‘Mr. Ewell didn’t seem to help her none, and neither did the chillun.'” Tom helps Mayella at great personal expense.
Both men know their town very well. Unbeknownst to the Finch children, Boo has watched them grow up. The reader can fairly assume that Boo is also familiar with the Ewells, and probably doesn’t think much more of them than the rest of Maycomb. Boo and Tom have had minor skirmishes with the law, but that past doesn’t tarnish the kindness they show to others in the story. The moment that Mayella makes a pass at Tom, he inherently knows that he’s in serious danger. Truthfully, he probably knew that helping her without pay was not the safest thing for him to do, but the compassion of one human being for another won out over societal expectations. The children treat Boo with as much prejudice as the town shows Tom Robinson. They assign characteristics to Boo without validation; they want to see Boo, not as their neighbor, but as a carnival-freak-show-type curiosity. Ironically, watching the injustice that Tom suffers helps the children understand why Boo may choose to be a recluse: “‘it’s because he wants to stay inside.’
Role and Character Analysis of Bob Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird
Bob Ewell – A drunken, mostly unemployed member of Maycomb’s poorest family. In his knowingly wrongful accusation that Tom Robinson raped his daughter, Ewell represents the dark side of the South: ignorance, poverty, squalor, and hate-filled racial prejudice.
Role and Character Analysis of Charles Baker in To Kill a Mockingbird
Charles Baker “Dill” Harris – Jem and Scout’s summer neighbor and friend. Dill is a diminutive, confident boy with an active imagination. He becomes fascinated with Boo Radley and represents the perspective of childhood innocence throughout the novel.
Role and Character Analysis of Calpurnia in To Kill a Mockingbird
A black woman who works as the Finch family’s cook and housekeeper. She is one of the many motherly figures in Scout’s life and one of the few who can negotiate between the very separate black and white worlds of Maycomb.
Role and Character Analysis of Maudie Atkinson in To Kill a Mockingbird
A kind, cheerful, and witty neighbor and trusted friend of Scout’s, who also upholds a strong moral code and helps the children gain perspective on the events surrounding the trial. She also loves gardening.
Role and Character Analysis of Mayella Ewell in To Kill a Mockingbird
The oldest of the many Ewell children, at age nineteen. She lives a miserable and lonely existence, despised by whites and prohibited from befriending blacks. However, she breaks a social taboo by trying to seduce Tom, then reacts with cowardice by accusing him of rape and perjuring against him in court.
Role and Character Analysis of Heck Tate in To Kill a Mockingbird
Maycomb County’s trusty sheriff, who is ultimately an honest and upstanding man.
Role and Character Analysis of Aunt Alexandra in To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus’s sister, who has very strict, traditional ideas of how society works and the role a Southern woman should play. She earneslty tries to pass along this information to Scout, who is not particularly interested. Alexandra is concerned with raising Atticus’s children “properly,” and thus appears during the summer of Tom’s trial to stay with them.
Role and Character Analysis of Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose in To Kill a Mockingbird
Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose – An elderly, ill-tempered, racist woman who lives near the Finches. Although Jem believes that Mrs. Dubose is a thoroughly bad woman, Atticus admires her for the courage with which she battles her morphine addiction.
Role and Character Analysis of Nathan Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird
Nathan Radley – Boo Radley’s older brother. Scout thinks that Nathan is similar to the deceased Mr. Radley, Boo and Nathan’s father. Nathan cruelly cuts off an important element of Boo’s relationship with Jem and Scout when he plugs up the knothole in which Boo
Role and Character Analysis of Reverend Sykes in To Kill a Mockingbird
The reverend for the all-black congregation, First Purchase African M.E. church, which Scout and Jem visit one day with Calpurnia.
Role and Character Analysis of Judge Taylor in To Kill a Mockingbird
The judge for Tom’s trial. Taylor is a good, sensible man with a sense of humor, who manages a strict courtroom.
Role and Character Analysis of Mr. Gilmer in To Kill a Mockingbird
Lawyer for the Ewell family in Tom Robinson’s case.
Role and Character Analysis of Link Deas in To Kill a Mockingbird
Tom Robinson’s employer.
The writer, editor, and publisher of Maycomb’s newspaper.
Role and Character Analysis of Mr. Dolphus Raymond in To Kill a Mockingbird
Mr. Dolphus Raymond
A wealthy white man who lives outside town with his black mistress and interracial children.
Role and Character Analysis of Mr. Cunningham in To Kill a Mockingbird
One of the poor Cunningham farmers and the father of Walter Cunningham.
Role and Character Analysis of Walter Cunningham in To Kill a Mockingbird
Mr. Cunningham’s son and Scout’s classmate.
Role and Character Analysis of Miss Rachel Haverford in To Kill a Mockingbird
Miss Rachel Haverford
Dill’s aunt and one of the Finch’s neighbors.
Role and Character Analysis of Mrs. Grace Merriweather in To Kill a Mockingbird
Mrs. Grace Merriweather
A member of Aunt Alexandra’s social circle in Maycomb.
Role and Character Analysis of Miss Stephanie Crawford in To Kill a Mockingbird
Miss Stephanie Crawford
A neighbor of the Finch’s and a big gossip.
Role and Character Analysis of Helen Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird
Wife of Tom.
Role and Character Analysis of Uncle Jack in To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus’s brother, a doctor Jem and Scout are very fond of.
Role and Character Analysis of Francis in To Kill a Mockingbird
One of Aunt Alexandra’s grandchildren, who spends Christmas with the Finch family and annoys Scout by being both boring and cruel.
Role and Character Analysis of Miss Stephanie Crawford in To Kill a Mockingbird
Miss Stephanie Crawford
A neighbor of the Finch’s and a big gossip.
Role and Character Analysis of Mr. Avery in To Kill a Mockingbird
Another of the Finch’s neighbors.
Themes of To Kill a Mockingbird
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
in To Kill a Mockingbird
THE COEXISTENCE OF GOOD AND EVIL
The most important theme of To Kill a Mockingbird is the book’s exploration of the moral nature of human beings—that is, whether people are essentially good or essentially evil. The novel approaches this question by dramatizing Scout and Jem ’s transition from a perspective of childhood innocence, in which they assume that people are good because they have never seen evil, to a more adult perspective, in which they have confronted evil and must incorporate it into their understanding of the world. As a result of this portrayal of the transition from innocence to experience, one of the book’s important subthemes involves the threat that hatred, prejudice, and ignorance pose to the innocent: people such as Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are not prepared for the evil that they encounter, and, as a result, they are destroyed. Even Jem is victimized to an extent by his discovery of the evil of racism during and after the trial. Whereas Scout is able to maintain her basic faith in human nature despite Tom’s conviction, Jem’s faith in justice and in humanity is badly damaged, and he retreats into a state of disillusionment.
The moral voice of To Kill a Mockingbird is embodied by Atticus Finch , who is virtually unique in the novel in that he has experienced and understood evil without losing his faith in the human capacity for goodness. Atticus understands that, rather than being simply creatures of good or creatures of evil, most people have both good and bad qualities. The important thing is to appreciate the good qualities and understand the bad qualities by treating others with sympathy and trying to see life from their perspective. He tries to teach this ultimate moral lesson to Jem and Scout to show them that it is possible to live with conscience without losing hope or becoming cynical. In this way, Atticus is able to admire Mrs. Dubose’s courage even while deploring her racism. Scout’s progress as a character in the novel is defined by her gradual development toward understanding Atticus’s lessons, culminating when, in the final chapters, Scout at last sees Boo Radley as a human being. Her newfound ability to view the world from his perspective ensures that she will not become jaded as she loses her innocence.
Themes of Perspective in To Kill a Mockingbird
Throughout the novel, Atticus urges his children to try to step into other people’s shoes to understand how they see the world. Whenever Scout doesn’t understand Jem, Atticus encourages her to try to understand how he might be feeling. Usually, Scout finds this advice helpful, and her attempts to gain insight into other people’s perspectives on life and the world broaden her moral education and social understanding.
When Mrs. Dubose , the mean old woman who lives down the street from the Finch family yells insults at Jem and Scout on her way to town, Jem reacts by returning and cutting up all the flowers in her front yard. His punishment is to read to Mrs. Dubose for a specified time period every day. He complains to Atticus that she is an awful woman, but Atticus tells Jem and Scout to try to understand Mrs. Dubose’s point of view. She is an old woman, very set her in ways, and she is entirely alone in the world. Jem and Scout agree to visit her. After Mrs. Dubose dies, Atticus reveals that by reading to her each day, the children were helping her break her morphine addiction. Atticus explains that Mrs. Dubose was fighting to regain sobriety, even as she stood on the brink of death. Because of this, to Atticus, she is the bravest person he has ever known. He explains this to the children to try to make them understand the terrible pain she was experiencing, and how their presence helped her through the process. Although she might have said some horrible things, Atticus encourages the children to try to see the world from her perspective and to understand how brave and strong she was.
At the end of the book, Scout escorts Boo Radley back to his home. After Boo closes the door, she turns around and surveys the neighborhood from his perspective. She imagines how he has witnessed all the happenings of the recent years, including her and Jem running by the house on their way to and from school, her childhood Boo Radley games, Miss Maudie’s fire, the incident of the rabid dog, and finally, Bob Ewell’s attack. As she steps into Boo’s shoes, Scout gains a new respect for his life, and understands that his experience is just as valid as hers. With this understanding, she is humbled.
Themes of Race
in To Kill a Mockingbird
Imagine a world where everyone with blue eyes got to give orders to everyone with brown eyes. If you’re born with blue eyes, you get the good jobs, the good schools, the good houses, and all the fair trials you could want. If you have brown eyes—too bad. It’s menial labor, rudimentary education, and a house by the dump.
Yeah. It doesn’t make any sense. And if it happened overnight, there’d be massive protests. But what if it happened gradually, and what if generations after generations slowly came to accept it? Pretty soon, you’d have people arguing that brown-eyed people are just naturally inferior, and that’s Just the Way It Is. And if you’re living in a
like Maycomb, there’s even less reason to question the status quo. And that’s where we are in To Kill a Mockingbird : a town even more traditional-bound than the rest of the South, where it’s not just black people who Are the Way They Are, but the white families, too. So is there hope for this town?
Themes of Prejudice in To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus ‘s belief in treating and respecting everyone as an individual is contrasted in To Kill a Mockingbird with a number of other worldviews. These other visions are all quite different from each other—they are religious, racist, classist—but they all share one thing in common: they treat people as groups, demand conformity, and give no respect or credit to individuals. In other words, they are all forms of prejudice, which is a preconceived notion about a person based on the groups to which that person belongs. Over and over again, To Kill a Mockingbird reveals prejudice not just as closed-minded and dangerous, but also as ridiculous.
The most obvious form of prejudice in the novel is racism, which causes otherwise upstanding white citizens of Maycomb to accept the testimony of an obviously corrupt white man over the evidence supporting the testimony from a black man. Yet prejudice is also visible in the racially condescending Mrs. Grace Merriweather ; in Aunt Alexandra’s and many other character’s belief in the importance of social class; in the gender stereotypes that people try to force on Scout; and even in the way the town views Boo Radley as a monster because he acts differently from everyone else.
Themes of The Mockingbird in To Kill a Mockingbird
When Scout and Jem receive airguns for Christmas, Atticus tells them that although he would prefer that they practice their shooting with tin cans, if they must shoot at living things, they must never shoot at mockingbirds. Atticus explains that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Clearly, this is the title scene, but the theme continues throughout the book. Miss Maudie explains why Atticus is correct – mockingbirds never do anyone any harm, and are not pests in any way. All they do is sing beautifully and live peacefully. Therefore, it is a sin to kill them. The mockingbird comes to represent true goodness and purity. Tom Robinson is one example of a human “mockingbird”. He stands accused of raping and beating Mayella Ewell , but is innocent of the charges. The town commits the ultimate sin by finding him guilty and sentencing him to death. In effect, they have killed a mockingbird. Boo Radley is another example of a human “mockingbird”. He has spent his entire life as a prisoner of his own home because his father was overzealous in punishing him for a childhood mistake. Boo Radley observes the world around him, causing no harm to anyone, and then saves Jem and Scout’s lives when Bob Ewell attacks. The sheriff determines that Ewell’s death will be ruled an accident to avoid forcing Boo to go to trial, even though Boo killed him to protect the children. Atticus agrees, and wants to make sure Scout understands why this little white lie must be told. She replies saying of course she understands, putting Boo on trial and in the public sphere would be like killing a mockingbird. The mockingbird represents true goodness and innocence that should always be protected.
Themes of Growing Up
in To Kill a Mockingbird
In the three years covered by
To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout and Jem grow up. At the start of the book they are innocents, with an uncomplicated sense of what’s good ( Atticus , the people of Maycomb) and what’s evil ( Boo Radley). By the end of the book, the children have lost their innocence and gained a more complex understanding of the world, in which bad and good are present and visible in almost everyone. As the children grow into the adult world, though, they don’t just accept what they see. They question what doesn’t make sense to them—prejudice, hatred, and violence. So while To Kill a Mockingbird shows three children as they lose their innocence, it also uses their innocence to look freshly at the world of Maycomb and criticize its flaws.
Like every kid growing up, Scout attends school for the first time. But rather than contribute to her education, Scout’s school is depicted as rigid to the point of idiocy, with teachers who criticize students who got on early start on reading and hate the Nazis but can’t see the racism present in their own town. To Kill a Mockingbird does not so much explore standardized school education as condemn it, showing how it emphasizes rote facts and policies designed to create conformist children rather than promote creative critical thinking, sympathy, and mutual understanding across racial and socioeconomic boundaries.will
Themes of The Law in To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus is a lawyer, and the book is centered around his representation of Tom Robinson. Although Atticus loses the trial, he believes strongly that despite social inequalities, all men are equal in the courtroom. He includes this information in his closing statements to the jury, and during his later discussions with Jem and Scout regarding jury selection and the trial process, makes this statement again. Atticus believes that progress towards racial equality can and will be made in the courtroom.
In addition, although he believes powerfully in upholding the law, Atticus understands that it must be bent in certain situations. For example, Bob Ewell is permitted to hunt even in the off season because the town authorities know that if he is prevented from hunting, his children might starve. In addition, at the end of the novel, the law would require Boo Radley to be placed on trial to determine whether he killed Bob Ewell is self defense or not. However, Atticus understands, as does Heck Tate and Scout, that Boo should not be forced to experience powerful public attention or criticism. Therefore, it is necessary to bend the law in this case to protect Boo.
Themes ofMORALITY AND ETHICS in To Kill a Mockingbird
MORALITY AND ETHICS
Atticus thinks that everyone deserves a fair trial. Maycomb thinks that only white men do. Scout thinks that her father is right. Maycomb thinks that her father is wrong. So, who’s more moral—the community standard, or the individual conscience? Where do the rights of the community end and the rights of the individual begin? To Kill a Mockingbird examines the conflict between the individual and the community. On the one hand, standing up for your beliefs can get you into a lot of trouble. But if your beliefs are moral, then you just might end up dragging the whole community in a more satisfactory direction. After all, a community’s morals are the sum of what its individuals believe.
THE IMPORTANCE OF MORAL EDUCATION
Because exploration of the novel’s larger moral questions takes place within the perspective of children, the education of children is necessarily involved in the development of all of the novel’s themes. In a sense, the plot of the story charts Scout’s moral education, and the theme of how children are educated—how they are taught to move from innocence to adulthood—recurs throughout the novel (at the end of the book, Scout even says that she has learned practically everything except algebra). This theme is explored most powerfully through the relationship between Atticus and his children, as he devotes himself to instilling a social conscience in Jem and Scout. The scenes at school provide a direct counterpoint to Atticus’s effective education of his children: Scout is frequently confronted with teachers who are either frustratingly unsympathetic to children’s needs or morally hypocritical. As is true of To Kill a Mockingbird’s other moral themes, the novel’s conclusion about education is that the most important lessons are those of sympathy and understanding, and that a sympathetic, understanding approach is the best way to teach these lessons. In this way, Atticus’s ability to put himself in his children’s shoes makes him an excellent teacher, while Miss Caroline’s rigid commitment to the educational techniques that she learned in college makes her ineffective and even dangerous.
Themes of WOMEN AND FEMININITY in To Kill a Mockingbird
WOMEN AND FEMININITY
Being called a girl is about the worst thing possible—or so thinks Scout, the female protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird. Girls wear frilly pink dresses, and don’t get to play outside, swear, or pretty much do anything fun. And they have to grow up to be ladies, which means being plunged into a confusing world where no one says what they mean. Scout’s in for a big lesson, though: thanks to the examples of radical chicks Aunt Alexandra and Miss Maudie, she learns that being a lady can take as just as much courage as being a wild . Even if you have to wear a dress while doing it.
Themes of Social Inequality in To Kill a Mockingbird
Along with struggling with concepts of good and evil, Scout and Jem spend a great deal of time trying to understand what defines and creates social strata. Scout tends to believe that “folks are just folks”, while Jem is convinced that social standing is related to how long people’s relatives and ancestors have been able to write.
Scout elucidates the town’s social strata quite clearly on her first day at school when Walter Cunningham does not have lunch or lunch money. Her classmates ask her to explain to the teacher why Walter won’t take a loaned quarter to buy lunch, and she lectures the teacher on the Cunningham’s financial situation and how they trade goods for services. Scout and the other children have a very clear understanding of the social inequalities in their town, but see these inequalities as natural and permanent. The Finch family falls rather high up in the social hierarchy, while the Ewell family falls at the bottom. However, this hierarchy only includes white people. Maycomb’s black population fall beneath all white families in Maycomb, including the Ewells, whom Atticus labels as “trash”.
Scout understands this social structure, but doesn’t understand why it is so. She believes that everyone should be treated the same, no matter what family they are from. For instance, when she wants to spend more time with Walter Cunningham,
Aunt Alexandra objects saying no Finch girl should ever consort with a Cunningham. Scout is frustrated by this, as she wants to be able to choose her own friends based on her definition of what makes a good person: moraliB
Symbols of To Kill a Mockingbird
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The title of To Kill a Mockingbird has very little literal connection to the plot, but it carries a great deal of symbolic weight in the book. In this story of innocents destroyed by evil, the “mockingbird” comes to represent the idea of innocence. Thus, to kill a mockingbird is to destroy innocence. Throughout the book, a number of characters (Jem, Tom Robinson, Dill, Boo Radley, Mr. Raymond) can be identified as mockingbirds—innocents who have been injured or destroyed through contact with evil. This connection between the novel’s title and its main theme is made explicit several times in the novel: after Tom Robinson is shot, Mr. Underwood compares his death to “the senseless slaughter of songbirds,” and at the end of the book Scout thinks that hurting Boo Radley would be like “shootin’ a mockingbird.” Most important, Miss Maudie explains to Scout: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but . . . sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That Jem and Scout’s last name is Finch (another type of small bird) indicates that they are particularly vulnerable in the racist world of Maycomb, which often treats the fragile innocence of childhood harshly.
As the novel progresses, the children’s changing attitude toward Boo Radley is an important measurement of their development from innocence toward a grown-up moral perspective. At the beginning of the book, Boo is merely a source of childhood superstition. As he leaves Jem and Scout presents and mends Jem’s pants, he gradually becomes increasingly and intriguingly real to them. At the end of the novel, he becomes fully human to Scout, illustrating that she has developed into a sympathetic and understanding individual. Boo, an intelligent child ruined by a cruel father, is one of the book’s most important mockingbirds; he is also an important symbol of the good that exists within people. Despite the pain that Boo has suffered, the purity of his heart rules his interaction with the children. In saving Jem and Scout from Bob Ewell, Boo proves the ultimate symbol of boo