Representation in “To kill a mockingbird” Essay
Representation in “To kill a mockingbird”
The mockingbird represents innocence. Like hunters who kill mockingbirds for sport, people kill innocence, or other people who are innocent, without thinking about what they are doing. Atticus stands firm in his defense of innocence and urges his children not to shoot mockingbirds both literally and figuratively. The mockingbird motif arises four times during To Kill a Mockingbird. First, when Atticus gives Jem and Scout air guns for Christmas and instructs them not to kill mockingbirds. Second, when B.B. Underwood writes about Tom Robinson’s death in his column. Third, a mockingbird sings right before Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout. Finally, Scout agrees with Atticus that prosecuting Boo for Ewell’s murder would be like killing a mockingbird.
Atticus: Father of Jem and Scout, Atticus Finch sits on the Alabama State Legislature and acts as Maycomb’s leading attorney. The epitome of moral character, Atticus teaches his children and his community how to stand up for one’s beliefs in the face of prejudice and ignorance by defending a black man, Tom Robinson, wrongfully accused of raping a white woman. Having lost his wife when Scout was two years old, Atticus devotes himself to his children despite criticism from family and neighbors who think his children lack discipline and proper guidance. Atticus stands as one of literature’s strongest and most positive father figures. 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. atticus’s wisdom, Scout learns that though humanity has a great capacity for evil, it also has a great capacity for good, and that the evil can often be mitigated if one approaches others with an outlook of sympathy and understanding. Atticus Finch – Scout and Jem’s father, a lawyer in Maycomb descended from an old local family. A widower with a dry sense of humor, Atticus has instilled in his children his strong sense of morality and justice. He is one of the few residents of Maycomb committed to racial equality.
When he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man charged with raping a white woman, he exposes himself and his family to the anger of the white community. With his strongly held convictions, wisdom, and empathy, Atticus functions as the novel’s moral backbone. The father of Scout and Jem, Atticus is a lawyer and an extremely morally upright man who strives to deal with everyone fairly. Atticus is sometimes overly optimistic, but his unshakable hope in mankind and self-created role as the town ‘do-gooder’ sustain him. Atticus’ wife died when Scout was very small, and he has raised his children only with the assistance of Calpurnia, his black housekeeper and cook.
I remember when my daddy gave me that gun. He told me that I should never point it at anything in the house; and that he’d rather I’d shoot at tin cans in the backyard. But he said that sooner or later he supposed the temptation to go after birds would be too much, and that I could shoot all the blue jays I wanted – if I could hit ’em; but to remember it was a sin to kill a mockingbird. Well, I reckon because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat people’s gardens, don’t nest in the corncrib, they don’t do one thing but just sing their hearts out for us.
Atticus’s advice to Scout deals with his philosophy about tolerance, and how if you try and put yourself in another person’s place, one might better understand their reasoning. 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. His stern but fair attitude toward Jem and Scout reaches into the courtroom as well. He politely proves that Bob Ewell is a liar; he respectfully questions Mayella about her role in Tom’s crisis.
One of the things that his longtime friend Miss Maudie admires about him is that “‘Atticus Finch is the same in his house as he is on the public streets.'” The only time he seriously lectures his children is on the evils of taking advantage of those less fortunate or less educated, a philosophy he carries into the animal world by his refusal to hunt. And although most of the town readily pins the label “trash” on other people, Atticus reserves that distinction for those people who unfairly exploit others.
Atticus believes in justice and the justice system. He doesn’t like criminal law, yet he accepts the appointment to Tom Robinson’s case. He knows before he begins that he’s going to lose this case, but that doesn’t stop him from giving Tom the strongest defense he possibly can. And, importantly, Atticus doesn’t put so much effort into Tom’s case because he’s an African American, but because he is innocent. Atticus feels that the justice system should be color blind, and he defends Tom as an innocent man, not a man of color. Our first-person narrator is Scout Finch, who is five when the story begins and eight when it ends. From the first chapter, though, it’s clear that Scout is remembering and narrating these events much later – after all, the second paragraph of the novel begins, “When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to [Jem’s] accident” (1.2).
For the most part, Scout recounts the events from her childhood perspective, as she understood them at the time, rather than imposing an adult commentary. This makes the narrative perspective a naïve one: often we get descriptions of events just as she experiences them, without commentary on what they mean, or a commentary that is humorously innocent. But having the adult perspective be there in the background, even if it isn’t in play for most of the narration, means it can pop out when it’s needed to point out important things that the narrator realizes only later, to make sure that the reader sees them too.
The strongest element of style is Lee’s talent for narration, called “tactile brilliance”. “Harper Lee has a remarkable gift of story-telling. Her art is visual, and with cinematographic fluidity and subtlety we see a scene melting into another scene without jolts of transition. Lee combines the narrator’s voice of a child observing her surroundings with a grown woman’s reflecting on her childhood, using the ambiguity of this voice combined with the narrative technique of flashback to play intricately with perspectives. This narrative method allows Lee to tell a “delightfully deceptive” story that mixes the simplicity of childhood observation with adult situations complicated by hidden motivations and unquestioned tradition.
However, at times the blending causes reviewers to question Scout’s preternatural vocabulary and depth of understanding. Lee uses parody, satire, and irony effectively by using a child’s perspective. After Dill promises to marry her, then spends too much time with Jem, Scout reasons the best way to get him to pay attention to her is to beat him up, which she does several times. Scout’s first day in school is a satirical treatment of education; her teacher says she must undo the damage Atticus has wrought in teaching her to read and write, and forbids Atticus from teaching her further. Lee treats the most unfunny situations with irony, however, as Jem and Scout try to understand how Maycomb embraces racism and still tries sincerely to remain a decent society. Satire and irony are used to such an extent. Scout narrates the story herself, looking back in retrospect an unspecified number of years after the events of the novel take place.
POINT OF VIEW · Scout narrates in the first person, telling what she saw and heard at the time and augmenting this narration with thoughts and assessments of her experiences in retrospect. Although she is by no means an omniscient narrator, she has matured considerably over the intervening years and often implicitly and humorously comments on the naïveté she displayed in her thoughts and actions as a young girl. Scout mostly tells of her own thoughts but also devotes considerable time to recounting and analyzing Jem’s thoughts and actions.
TONE · Childlike, humorous, nostalgic, innocent; as the novel progresses, increasingly dark, foreboding, and critical of society
MAJOR CONFLICT · The childhood innocence with which Scout and Jem begin the novel is threatened by numerous incidents that expose the evil side of human nature, most notably the guilty verdict in Tom Robinson’s trial and the vengefulness of Bob Ewell. As the novel progresses, Scout and Jem struggle to maintain faith in the human capacity for good in light of these recurring
instances of human evil.
RISING ACTION · Scout, Jem, and Dill become fascinated with their mysterious neighbor Boo Radley and have an escalating series of encounters with him. Meanwhile, Atticus is assigned to defend a black man, Tom Robinson against the spurious rape charges Bob Ewell has brought against him. Watching the trial, Scout, and especially Jem, cannot understand how a jury could possibly convict Tom Robinson based on the Ewells’ clearly fabricated story.
CLIMAX · Despite Atticus’s capable and impassioned defense, the jury finds Tom Robinson guilty. The verdict forces Scout and Jem to confront the fact that the morals Atticus has taught them cannot always be reconciled with the reality of the world and the evils of human nature.
FALLING ACTION · When word spreads that Tom Robinson has been shot while trying to escape from prison, Jem struggles to come to terms with the injustice of the trial and of Tom Robinson’s fate. After making a variety of threats against Atticus and others connected with the trial, Bob Ewell assaults Scout and Jem as they walk home one night, but Boo Radley saves the children and fatally stabs Ewell. The sheriff, knowing that Boo, like Tom Robinson, would be misunderstood and likely convicted in a trial, protects Boo by saying that Ewell tripped and fell on his own knife. After sitting and talking with Scout briefly, Boo retreats into his house, and Scout never sees him again.