There are many times where childhood and adolescence, whether they be in metaphors or depicted by actual characters, are used in literature in order to convey different times in the work. Sometimes they can be used to convey tribulation or they can be used to convey times of prosperity. With Haper Lee’s story, To Kill A Mockingbird, she uses adolescence to be able to challenge the perspective of a Southern town still stuck in their older ways. She does this many times throughout the book, however in this essay; we will only discuss three instances that shape the story as a whole.
The first instance that we will refer to is when in chapter 10, Scout and Jem get their rifles for Christmas. Once they receive their rifles, Atticus says,” ‘I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. ’” Scout is confused by the saying and so a few sentences later, she asks Miss Maudie, their help, about why it was a sin to kill a mocking bird. Miss Maudie replies with a “’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. ’” At first one might read this and think that on face value, they are simply talking about birds; however, if you look closer at the text, the mocking bird can be a depiction of children or a child’s innocence. By saying that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, because of the very heavy presence that childhood and adolescence takes within the book, one could take the saying as “it’s a sin to kill or smash innocence” and a mockingbird is a depiction of innocence in the book.
It is a sin or rather a sad thing to take away a child’s innocence because it does no harm to anyone. In another chapter, it explains how Scout thinks of herself as an important figure in her household because she figures that without her, Atticus and Miss Maudie would have no clue what to do, while later on is explained in the same chapter that Dill has become aware of his insignificance of his household and is not better off for having that bit of innocence changed.
This is one way the book is shaped is that it shows that innocence is a key element in the work and that Atticus throughout the book does not wish to taint the innocence of the children before it is time for them to grow up. Another instance in the book where innocence plays an important role in shaping the work, is in chapter 15 when Atticus is sitting at the jail where Tom Robinson is being held captive for his own protection while awaiting the trial. In the scene, Atticus has a lamp and a chair sitting beside the cell outside and is there to guard Tom Robinson before the trial.
As the evening progresses, a crowd shows up with the intention to harm Tom Robinson and to harm Atticus if he does not step aside. During this scene, Scout happens to have been spying on her father and she rushes up to where her father is at, and ends up talking the crowd down with her innocence. In this scene, it is because of her innocence and the way that she speaks with Mr. Cunningham that remind the man that Atticus is a man with a family and that he is a neighbor and not some form of enemy.
In this way, the innocence on Scout’s part shapes the work because it shows that no matter how callous someone might be, that innocence can penetrate through the hardened heart. It also shows that the townspeople do realize that Atticus is their friend and not someone who is out to get their women and children. And then the third way that innocence shapes the book is in chapter 19 when Dill cries after seeing the way that the prosecutor addresses Tom Robinson just because of his color. He sees that there is no reason to talk to a person despite race.
This shapes the work because it shows that naturally even children can see injustice and it shows that we as adults sometimes lose sight of what’s right and wrong because our views can be tainted and skewed by callousness on our part. There is another instance in the book where Scout’s classmates speak poorly of Atticus for defending a man of color. During this time, Atticus shows Scout that regardless of color, that it was Atticus’ duty to defend anyone if they are innocent and that it should be Scout’s duty as well. This also shapes the work because it shows that no matter what, we should lose sight of what the morally right view is.
Throughout the book, innocence is used in numerous occasions and pertaining to different instances in the book. Some of the most important instances where innocence is used is during Tom Robinson’s trial and where the children, Scout, Jem, and Dill can see that the way that the town is treating Tom Robinson is incorrect. At the time Haper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, it would have been a touchy subject to speak out on because of the Civil Rights Movement, and so the author uses the natural innocence of children to show us just how wrong the case and the treatment of Tom Robinson was throughout his trial and up until his death.
Courtney from Study Moose
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