There are many different “mockingbird” characters in Harper Lee’s classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Early on in the novel, Atticus tells his children to “shoot all the blue jays that you want, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (Lee 103). He says this because mockingbirds are known to be harmless creatures that do nothing but sing joyously. Lee cleverly uses this mockingbird imagery to title her classic novel and to describe characters that are kind, innocent people and have done nothing wrong, but are destroyed by the society around them.
The first “mockingbird” in this novel is Boo Radley. At the beginning of the story, Boo is a strange and mysterious person to both Jem and Scout. Because he is unknown and not very well understood, they suppose that he is a monster, along with most of the people in Maycomb. They make up unfair, gruesome stories and accusations about him because he is never seen or heard. As the story progresses, one learns that Boo is a kind man who acts as a type of father figure to the children leaving them gifts in a knothole outside his home and repairing Jem’s pants after he is shot at by Nathan Radley. He does not voluntarily stay locked up in his house, but is kept there almost as a prisoner by Nathan. At the end of the novel, Boo shows that he is very brave by saving the children’s lives by killing their attacker Bob Ewell. It is decided by Maycomb’s sheriff, Mr. Heck Tate, that nobody would tell about this murder because if they did it would be “like killing a mockingbird” because Boo is so shy and reclusive, never harming a soul until it is necessary (Lee 317)
The character of Tom Robinson is that of yet another cruelly treated “mockingbird”. The title of the novel refers most specifically to his character in the fact that Tom is an innocent man, who is “killed” only because he is black. He is accused of raping a young white girl in a town full of prejudice and hatred towards Negroes. In his testimony he states that he feels compelled to help the young girl with her chores, and when she approaches him, he decides to run instead of pushing her away.
This shows his gentile, sympathetic nature and that he is a true “mockingbird” character. The all white jury, though, cannot look past the color of his skin, and when he is accused of the offense and sent to a prison camp, he attempts to escape, but fails because of his crippled left arm and is shot. Mr. Underwood compares his death to “the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children” (Lee 275). This again relates to the mockingbird title by showing Tom’s good natured character and willingness to provide pleasure for others being destroyed by the narrow minded citizens of Maycomb.
Boo and Tom Robinson are both misunderstood by the people of Maycomb. They are both innocent songbirds who have different lifestyles than the others in their community, and since others don’t know them for who they truly are, they are unjustly treated. These characters were not punished for wrong doings, but for being different from the normal. Had the people of Maycomb taken the time to get to know and understand these citizens better, they might not have had to “kill” any “mockingbirds”, thus showing the significance of Lee’s properly placed title.