To Kill a Mockingbird

Introduction To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is a masterpiece written by Harper Lee. The novel was published in 1960 and became an instant hit. Since then, it has found inroads into schools, colleges, and libraries across the world. The novel presents the story of Lee’s hometown, Monroeville in Alabama, her family members, neighbors, and the events that took place in her life in fiction. The novel also deals with the issues of race and racial prejudice as well as racial segregation in the American South during the Great Depression.

Summary of To Kill a Mockingbird

The narrator of the novel is the six-year-old girl, Scout, who lives with her brother and father in Maycomb. Named as Scout Jean Louise Finch, the girl befriends Dill, a boy, who visits her town, Maycomb, each summer to pass his holidays with his aunt. Jem also joins them and the trio enjoy life but are terrified of the recluse, Arthur Radley, who lives in their neighborhood in Maycomb. Living in austerity, the recluse, termed Boo, in the neighborhood, who always stays away from the community. However, the children’s imaginations weave tales about the recluse, making him a butt of their rumors as well as tales. As the three enjoy each other for two summer breaks, they soon find out that somebody is leaving gifts for them in the tree outside the house of Radley, the recluse. Although he sometimes peeped through his door to have an affectionate look at the children, he never emerges out of his home, which terrifies them at first. Therefore, the speculations about him continue.

Meanwhile, an African-American man, Tom Robinson, is accused of committing the crime of molesting a white lady, Mayella Ewell, for which Atticus is appointed by the judge, Taylor, as a defense attorney. Despite disapproval from the Maycomb public about Tom’s defense, Atticus takes up the case and tries to protect Tom from the legal folly of sentencing a black without having committed a crime. It happens that his children Jem and Scout become the butt of jokes and taunts of the children of the town. They call their father, Atticus, as n**-lover, and so on. Even though Scout thinks of standing up to the bullies, her father does not allow it to her and pacifies her rather. When a group thinks of lynching Tom to death, Atticus confronts them. Scout, meanwhile, talks to the father of her friend in an unexpected manner, who happens to be present in this group of the people, and the situation is defused as the people disperse.

Despite his daughter’s fearless support, Atticus does not want his children to involve in the saga or join the trial. However, the Reverend Sykes takes Jem, Dill, and Scout to watch the trial and they see that Atticus confronts Bob and Mayella about their testimony, saying that they are entirely liars. It then becomes clear that the animosity of Mayella is on account of the rebuff she faced from Tom for her sexual encounters, while Bob is already nobody in the eyes of the public, for he is the least-trusted person in the city. Despite these two witnesses having the shady background, the jury sentences Tom which jolts the conscience of the children. However, Atticus’s optimism about the final justice led him to go for an appeal. Tom, in the meanwhile, tries to flee the jail and is shot dead as a result.

On the other hand, Atticus does his best to make the witnesses feel the guilt. He even plays havoc with Bob’s reputation that he has already lost, while he spits on him and tries to bully the judge as well as the widow of Tom, the poor victim. However, he rather takes a long route of avenging by attacking the children of Atticus when they are at the Halloween pageant. Jem’s arm is broken while Boo Radley, as it appears later, jumps in and rescues the children. In the meanwhile, the police arrive and discovers that Bob is dead through his own folly, or as it seems though Boo kills him with his knife. However, there is confusion about his killer as being Boo or Jem. The sheriff, though, decides to frame Bob for attacking them and falling on his how knife. Then Boo begs Scout to walk up to his home that she does, and then he disappears never to come back again.

Major Themes in To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. Conflict between Good and Evil: To Kill a Mockingbird shows the conflict between good and evil through the characters of Scout, Jem, Atticus, and Tom. Whereas Atticus tries to save Tom, it becomes clear that the witnesses are hell-bent on getting him awarded a sentence or even lynched to death. Scout appears at that moment to save him as well as her father to show that goodness wins by the end.
  2. Ambition: The theme of ambition in the novel has been shown through the legal commitment of Atticus Finch who is determined on saving the poor man, Tom Robinson. On the other hand, the society of Maycomb is entirely against this new custom that Atticus is going to impose upon them through legal means. Therefore, the novel shows his ambition of equality in the society that the society refuses.
  3. Education: Education is another important theme in that it is Atticus who instills this education in his children that they should be just and fair in their dealings come what may. The positive thinking and unbiased approach are the hallmarks of this new system instilled by the parents into the minds of their such as Atticus.
  4. Prejudice: Prejudice has been shown in the novel through the character of witnesses as well as the entire Maycomb. It has been proved through the false statements of witnesses that Tom is innocent, yet the jury reaches the verdict of incarcerating him merely due to the innate prejudice. Aunt Alexandra’s suggestion of teaching children the significance of class is the worst type of prejudice shown in the novel.
  5. Moral Complexity: Moral complexity is another theme shown through the character of Scout and Jem who thinks that there is no standardized yardstick to measure good and bad acts. They think that human beings are innocent but then Tom’s trial makes them aware of this flawed notion. Finally, when the Maycomb community reacts to the just and unjust through the racial prism, they see that it is a very complex thing to see morality from a single perspective.
  6. Innocence: The theme of innocence has been demonstrated through the character of Scout and Jem who see that Tom is being tried for none of his crimes, while their father has been demonized merely because he is helping an innocent person. Another theme of innocence is depicted through the character of Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley.
  7. Racism: The theme of racism has been shown through the prejudicial view of Tom’s crime and Atticus’ assistance. Scout and Jem, too, face difficulties at school merely because their father is helping the poor young man, a fact which emerges from this racial prejudice.
  8. Laws and Codes: The novel shows that a society must have a good legal code to punish the criminals. However, it dawns upon the people that even a system must have good upholders, too, for, despite the credibility of the witnesses, an innocent person is punished for none of his crimes.
  9. Knowledge: The theme of knowledge emerges through the character of Scout and Jem, who come to know that even if they help an innocent person, the community could become their enemy on account of race and gender.

Major Characters in To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. Scout Finch: Daughter of a successful lawyer, Atticus. Scout is portrayed as a tomboyish type of girl who stays a symbol of purity and innocence in the society of Maycomb. When she faces racial slurs on account of her father’s legal assistance to Tom, she bears these insults with a heavy heart and comes to know the toxicity of the racial hatred. She even rebuffs the mob by identifying the father of her friend when they are fixed on lynching Tom.
  2. Atticus: A lawyer and good-hearted person, Atticus is also the father of Jem and Scout, two very good children. Leading a successful life in Maycomb, he invites social prejudice and hatred by deciding to help Tom Robinson, a black accused of a crime on false grounds. Despite dangers and insults being hurled at his children, he does not budge from the stand that wins him the respect of his children.
  3. Jem Finch: He is the old brother of Scout and son of Atticus. He makes the trio with Dill and Scout who get gifts from Radley. He knows that his father is helping a black, the reason that the children are teasing them as a “n*** helper.” However, he shows this sense through his courage to stand up to these insults.
  4. Arthur ‘Boo’ Radley: A recluse, Boo, has been portrayed as the mockingbird who is rumored about his reclusive life. He seems quite mysterious who does not stay in the public and yet has the gift to change public thinking. When Tom is redeemed by the end due to Atticus’ determination, Radley, too, seems redeemed for his reclusive lifestyle.
  5. Dill: Dill is a curious friend of Jem and Scout who questions the Maycomb public’s racial prejudice present even in its justice system. A very sensitive child, he lies about his father and tries to get Boo out of his house to enjoy him in the public.
  6. Miss Maudie Atkinson: The old widow stays busy in her yard, tending her garden but stays indifferent to the general public behavior. Despite this indifference, she is optimistic about the public.
  7. Calpurnia: The Atticus caretaker, Calpurnia, brings up Scout and Jem in proper values. She is very kind and generous even to animals and ensures that the children are understanding and caring for others.
  8. Tom Robinson: A honest and hardworking African American, Tom becomes the victim of racial prejudice and is discriminated against even in the judicial system on account of the color of his skin. Despite the flaws in the witnesses’ accounts, he is thrown behind the bars to be hanged.
  9. Myella Ewell: She is a witness who accuses Tom of rape and yet could not conclusively prove it. Although she does not have any witness, she easily uses mob psychology and turns the entire community against Tom. Hers is an opportunistic nature.
  10. Aunt Alexandra: As the aunt of Scout and Jem, Alexandra is the sister of the lawyer, Atticus. Although she resents Scout’s Tomboy attitude, she tries to educate Calpurnia about treating and bringing the children in a proper manner. 

Writing Style of To Kill a Mocking Bird

Although most of the novel is written in conversation, it sometimes takes a humorous turn according to the characters. The direct and straightforward approach of Harper Lee in telling a story that seems suavely deceptive. The story, at times, uses very complex and higher-level language to engage its readers. However, once the narrator sets the stage, she starts using a childlike narrative style. All the characters use the language that suits them such as Scout misuses it to pretend that they are guessing its true meanings, while Miss Maudie turns to the elegance of the sentences. This style also shows how Atticus and Tom are different in their language and style and how Calpurnia and Aunt Alexandra are different in their conversation.

Analysis of Literary Devices To Kill a Mockingbird

  1. Action: The main action of the novel comprises the children’s fascination with Boo Radley, Tom’s trial, and his final exoneration. However, the rising action is the fascination of the children, Jem, Dill, and Scout of Boo Radley. The falling action is of Bob Ewell’s threats to Atticus for supporting Tom, while Boo, the recluse, saves the children from Bob in his final action.
  2. Allegory: To Kill a Mockingbird shows the use of allegorical points as Tim Johnson has been shown as the bird dog of the Maycomb public, Boo is shown as a recluse who shuns society, while Tom is shown as a person who is to sacrifice himself to remove the prejudice prevalent in the society.
  3. Antagonist: Bob Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of raping his daughter, although he has been drunk at the time when, it is stated, the act has taken place. However, the primary conflict is that Tom is an African American and can be easily accused of a crime that he has never committed. As Bob accuses him falsely and frames him in the rape, he is the main antagonist of the story.
  4. Allusion: There are various examples of allusions given in the novel. Thus, we came to know Dill as a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fantasies. (Chapter-1)
    Hours of winter-time had found me in the treehouse, looking over at the schoolyard, spying on multitudes of children through a two-power telescope Jem had given me, learning their games. (Chapter-2)
    Miss Maudie’s face likened such an occurrence unto an Old Testament pestilence. (Chapter-6)The first example shows the use of the allusion of Merlin, the legendary King Arthur’s adviser as well as a magician. The second is an allusion to “Blind Man’s Bluff” a sort of game of children. The third reference alludes to the Plague of Egypt that has been referred to in the Bible.
  5. Conflict: There are two types of conflicts in To Kill a Mockingbird. The first one is the central conflict that is going on between the African American and the white of Maycomb. The second conflict is going on between the white who wants their children to treat all people equal sans the color of their skin such as Atticus. The others are the people who think that Atticus is leaving his section of the white people and joining the African American (black). Therefore, he should be taught a lesson to stay within the social limits.
  6. Characters: To Kill a Mockingbird presents both flat as well as round characters. Atticus is a round character who shows various aspects of his individuality during his drive to save Tom’s skin. Scout and her brother, too, are round characters. However, Bob and Mayella Ewell are both flat characters, as they do not change, neither they want to change themselves even by the end of the novel. They are as prejudicial and unforgiving in the end as they are in the beginning.
  7. Climax: The climax in To Kill a Mockingbird arrives when all the conflicts reach the final moment. Bob Ewell attacks Scout and Jem and breaks the arm of Jem when Boo appears and saves the children. This is the moment when finally Scout finds Radley to speak to him, who has been a mysterious figure for the children for so long. The moment of an anticlimax, however, arrives, when the rumor spreads around that Tom is shot down when fleeing from the prison. Also, Bob tries to intimidate Atticus who does not seem to accept his threats.
  8. Dialogue: The novel shows very good use of dialog as shown below.

    “Cry about what, Mr. Raymond?” Dill’s maleness was beginning to assert itself. “Cry about the simple hell people give other people—without even thinking. Cry about the hell white people give colored folks, without even stopping to think that they’re people, too.” “Atticus says cheatin‘ a colored man is ten times worse than cheatin’ a white man,” I muttered. “Says it’s the worst thing you can do.” (Chapter-20)

    This is the example of dialogue between Raymond and Dill in the 20th chapter of the novel. They are talking about

  9. Foreshadowing: Examples of foreshadowing in To Kill a Mockingbird occurs at several places. For example,

    I wouldn’t be so sure of that, Atticus . . . His kind’d do anything to pay off a grudge. You know how those people are. (Chapter-23).
    Ruth Jones, the welfare lady, said Mr. Ewell openly accused Atticus of getting his job. She was upset enough to walk down to Atticus’s office and tell him about it. (Chapter-27)
    High above us in the darkness a solitary mocker poured out his repertoire in blissful unawareness of whose tree he sat in, plunging from the shrill kee, kee of the sunflower bird to the irascible qua-ack of a bluejay, to the sad lament of Poor Will, Poor Will, Poor Will. (Chapter-28)

    The first example of foreshadowing shows that Alexandra warns the lawyer, Atticus, that Bob is a revengeful person and will always try to avenge his insult. It proves that she is true. The second example occurs in the 27th chapter where Scout thinks that these three ordinary things have something special in it that Bob is revengeful. The third example occurs in the 28th chapter, where Scout again tells that Boo is the mockingbird.

  1. Hero: Although Boo and Scout seem, protagonists of the scenes where they appear, Atticus Finch is the real hero who fights for Tom to end racial prejudice.
  2. Hyperbole: Hyperbole or exaggeration occurs when Harper Lee writes about Maycomb in the first chapter. For example,

    A day was twenty-four hours long but seemed longer. There was no hurry, for there was nowhere to go, nothing to buy and no money to buy it with, nothing to see outside the boundaries of Maycomb County. (Chapter-1)

    It is hyperbole in that a day cannot be longer than 24 hours. Yet it seems that the author wants to stress upon the fact that it could be otherwise in Maycomb.

  3. Irony: Irony in the novel occurs when Scout and Jem try to bring mysterious Boo Radley out of his hiding and another irony is about Bob that he tries to exonerate himself but is killed in his own action.
  4. Metaphor: The novel shows the use of a mockingbird as a metaphor for someone who makes you enjoy things and bring happiness in life. Some other metaphors used in the novel are:

    Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.
    You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view-“
    “Sir?”
    “- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
    One time (Atticus) said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.

    These beautiful metaphors show the comparisons; first of Maycomb to an old town, of a person to another person, and then the same again.

  5. Mood: The novel uses a serious mood in the beginning when Jem is shown through the narrative of Scout. Then it becomes light and humorous but very profound and somber at times when incidents of racial prejudice, hatred, and discrimination take a serious turn.
  6. Motif: Most important motifs of the novel, including the character of Boo Radley, the darkness that is quite real, night, and gothic jail.
  7. Narrator: The novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, has been narrated by a first-person narrator. It happens to be the hero as well, for it is the girl Jean Louise Scout Finch who narrates the story from her own perspective and tries to eliminate the wall of the racial hatred.
  8. Protagonist: Scout Finch is the main protagonist of the story, as it is she from whose point the story has been narrated. However, Boo Radley is also the protagonist, as he saves the children from Bob by the end of the story.
  9. Paradox: To Kill a Mockingbird shows that justice is a paradox in the regions where white and black people try to come to terms with each other through the rule of law.
  10. Resolution: The conflict of To Kill a Mockingbird, seems to resolve when Boo Radley becomes a hero by saving Scout Finch and Jem. Earlier, he seems to be a mystery for the children.
  11. Rhetorical Questions: The play shows good use of rhetorical questions at several places. For example,

    What was the evidence of her offense?
    What did she do?
    What did her father do?

    These examples show the use of rhetorical questions mostly used by Atticus to make the jury aware that actually there is no such case for want of evidence of the offense against Tom Robinson.

  12. Theme: It is a central idea that the novelist or the writer wants to stress upon. The novel, To Kill a Mockingbird’s core themes are good versus evil, racial discrimination, injustice, class difference, racism, bravery, etc.
  13. Setting: The setting of the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, is a fictional town of Maycomb in Alabama in the United States.
  14. Simile: The novel has rich use of various similes. For example,

    He was as good as his worst performance. (Chapter 4).
    The tire bumped on gravel, skeetered… and popped me like a cork onto pavement. (Chapter-4)

    The first simile compares Dill to his worst performance and the speaker to a cork.

  15. Symbol: The mockingbird is a symbol of innocence and vulnerability, Atticus is a symbol of justice and fair play, while Boo Radley is a symbol of loyalty and love.

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