Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird


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In the last century, there have certainly been many "greats" - novels, books and stories

that impress, amaze and make one think. Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird", however, is

unique among all these poignant pieces of literature in that the novel solely develops Lee's idea,

brought out by Atticus in the novel, to "...shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but

remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (90). This phrase is expounded by the character Miss

Maudie when she says "...mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They

don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts

out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. :(90) In the bird kingdom, the bluejay is

considered as the "bully", as they are very loud, agressive and territorial; this reminds one of Bob

Ewell. The phrase of "killing a mockingbird" represents the iniquity to vitiate something good and

relatively unmarred, as mockingbirds do nothing but sing beautiful songs; they are innocent and

harmless. This motif can also be interpreted as a symbol of imitation, or "mocking" - the

mockingbird is known for its ersatz of other birds' songs. This mockingbird motif, the foremost

theme, is exemplified by the actions and words of three characters in "To Kill A Mockingbird" -

Arthur (Boo) Radley, Tom Robinson and Jean-Louise (Scout) Finch.

It is obvious and simple to understand why one of the "mockingbirds" in Lee's novel is
Tom Robinson, as he is not only a cripple, “His left arm was fully twelve inches shorter than his
right, and hung dead at his side. It ended in a small shriveled hand, and from as far away as the
balcony I could see that it was no use to him.” (186), but innocent, kind and softhearted as well.
This is recognized when he helps out Mayella Ewell, in exchange for nothing. "...'did all this for not
one penny?' 'Yes, suh.' " (197) He is the victim of not only racial prejudice, but the system of
segregation the town of Maycomb lived in. Even when he was sentenced, the jurors had no
quarrel with him - they just felt that to take the word of a black man over two whites' would
jeapordize that system of segregation that they lived by. Tom as a symbol is further continued by

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Mr. Underwood, when he writes after Tom's death, trying to escape from his captivity, that he
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"simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom's
death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters or children." (241) This correllation is
evident, as both mockingbirds and Tom, a crippled man, are completely defenceless before their
hunters and persecutors.

Another illustration of the mockingbird symbol in "To Kill A Mockingbird" is the young 5-

year-old character and narrator of the novel, Jean Louise, or "Scout" Finch. The name "Finch"

represents another small bird, and indicates that Scout is particularly vincible in the racially

prejudiced world she grew up in, Maycomb, a place that often treats the innocence of childhood

harshly. Scout experiences her first contact with evil when her father, Atticus Finch, becomes the

lawyer for Tom Robinson, and she has to bear the brunt of racial prejudice from teachers,

'friends', relatives and other citizens of Maycomb. " "I guess it's not your fault if Uncle Atticus is a

nigger-lover besides, but i'm here to tell you it certainly does mortify the rest of the family-" " (83).

Because of this exposure, Scout's develpment is ruled by the question of how she will emerge

from it - with her conscience and state of mind intact or with it being spoiled and destroyed like the

characters Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. Even thought Scout remains a child throughout the

entire book, her perspective on life in general develops from that of a naive and innocent child into

a near-adult. This is displayed when Scout seems to understand a concept that even some adults

don't - " 'Yes sir, I understand," I reassured him. "Mr Tate was right." ..."Well, it'd sort of be like

shootin' a mockingbird, wouldnt it?" " (276) This is partly due to Atticus' wisdom, as through him,

Scout learns that even thought mankind will always have the ability to perform much evil, it also

has the same capacity to do the opposite. " "Atticus, he was real nice..." His hands were under my

chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me. "Most people are, Scout, when you finally see

them." " (281). Scout's realization and development into the idea that evil can often be alleviated

with a prospect of understanding and empathy indicates the climax and conclusion of the novel,

and creates the feeling that whatever evil Scout confronts, she will be ready and will withhold her

conscience without becoming biased or jaded herself.

The final portrayal of the mockingbird motif is Arthur Radley, or "Boo" Radley as he is

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referred to among the children of Maycomb. Boo is generally regarded by the town's citizens as

an evil and mysterious character that nobody knows much about, and in a way, because of this

common inquisitiveness about who he really is, he is the subject of many stories and tales about

him. These included inveracities such as "Radley pecans will kill you. A baseball hit into the

Radley yard was a lost ball and no questions asked." (9). However, these are refuted when Scout

responds " 'Yes sir, I understand," I reassured him. "Mr Tate was right." ..."Well, it'd sort of be like

shootin' a mockingbird, wouldnt it?" " (276) to Atticus' query of if she understood why Heck Tate

decided not to arrest Boo Radley, instead adducing the murder of Bob Ewell as a hapless

contretemps. Boo Radley symbolifies the mockingbirds theme in a second way in that

mockingbirds are known as "imitators" - their songs copy, or imitate, other birds' songs, therefore

making themsleves visible through other birds. Likewise, Boo Radley is only visible through what

the citizens of Maycomb have said about him. This artificial visage, therefore, represents his

character until near the end of the book. He was supposed to have stabbed his father in the leg

with scissors, peeped through windows at night, and was supposed to be "six-and-a-half feet tall,

dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch.. his hands were bloodstained; what teeth he

had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time." (13). In the final

pages of the novel, however, we find out that none of these fabrications are true - the stories tell

us more about the people telling them rather than Boo Radley himself.

The three characters of Tom Robinson, Scout Finch and Boo Radley in Harper Lee's "To

Kill A Mockingbird" represent and symbolify the mockingbird motif because of their innocence,

imitations and blameless existences. This motif stands for the wrongdoing of harming something

that is innocent and defenceless, and comes mainly from the character of Miss Maudie when she

says "mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's

gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why

it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. " (90). This symbol is evident through the lives of the three

characters mentioned above, and teaches many lessons about racial prejudice, rumors and

stories, and just evil in general. For the past 70+ years, Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird" has

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been read by many people, of all ages and race. Because of it's individualism and uniqueness, in

that Lee is the only author known to have developed this theme, this book will most likely remain

famous and thought-provoking in the next 70+ years as well, as well as continue as one of the

most outstanding books in the past century.


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