To Kill a Mockingbird
In Harper Lee’s successful novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, the author explores the issue of justice using the symbol of a mockingbird with the characters Boo Radley, Tom Robinson and Atticus Finch. Set in the 1930s Deep South, a time of great intolerance and racial inequity. The novel unfolds as an account of injustice to the most gracious yet unjustly accused citizens of the town of Maycomb.
The kind hearted, but black Tom Robinson is unfairly put on trial for the rape of Mayella Ewell. Despite racial injustices, Boo Radley is victimized by the community’s inaccurate rumors, forcing him to live in banishment inside his house. Atticus Finch, although a strong figure in Maycomb, is ridiculed by people for being a decent human sticking to his morals in defending an innocent colored man. Mockingbirds can be represented by Boo Radley, consequenced by society’s prejudice towards those who don’t conform. The character Tom Robinson also represents this unfair injustice and racial prejudice. Lastly, Atticus Finch’s spirit and reputation are slain by prejudice due to his valiancy to defend a black man. As explained by Harper Lee through her characters Atticus and Miss Maudie, the mockingbird is a symbolic representation of innocence and purity displayed through these three characters.
Boo Radley represents a mockingbird perished by society’s prejudice towards those who don’t conform. Boo is a thoughtful and vulnerable man who is ridiculed by his neighbors. Scout describes Boo as a harmless, shy character, similar to the vulnerability of the mockingbird. His idle neighbors ridiculed him as he was a recluse who failed to meet the town’s standards. The neighborhood did not bother to reach out to him as they were intolerant to his differences. Gossip was spread about him as he was known as a “malevolent phantom”. Despite of the rejection he faced, Boo Radley still persisted and extended his care towards Scout and Jem. Even the times when they were taunting him. Boo left gifts in the hole of the tree for them to collect, repaired Jem’s pants, wrapped a blanket around Scout and most importantly saved the children’s lives. Like Atticus teaches Scout on page 33, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” This tiny yet important part of a conversation finds Atticus giving Scout the crucial piece of moral advice that controls her development for the rest of the novel. The simple wisdom of Atticus’s advice reflects the uncomplicated manner in which he guides himself by this sole principle. Scout struggles, with varying degrees of success, to put Atticus’ advice into practice and to live with sympathy and understanding toward others. At the end of the book, she ends up comprehending Boo Radley’s perspective, fulfilling Atticus’s advice and providing the novel with an optimistic ending. So, these assembled deeds in additional to his harmless personality proves that the neighborhood’s gossip was outrageously incorrect. Tom was not the “malevolent phantom” which his neighbors perceived, but a reserved and benevolent character. In the end, Scout talks about what blaming him and society has done on page 276, “sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird” His personality was left untarnished even though suffering from rejection and hate. The Maycomb society has shot a mockingbird, Boo Radley was vulnerable and good but was heavily misunderstood as he failed to merge into society.
Tom Robinson represents a mockingbird slain by injustice and racial prejudice. Tom is a black man unjustly convicted and executed for a crime he didn’t commit. He was just a noble caring man who was concerned for Mayella Ewell’s wellbeing even though she was white. In keeping with the theme of the munificent mockingbird, Tom does not make any effort to physically push Mayella away for her approaches. Instead, chooses to leave and not harm Mayella in any way. The people of Maycomb attempted to lynch Tom as a means of entertainment as it was a custom to lynch a black man accused of raping a white woman. Tom was left to suffer the wrath of injustice. The jurors decided that Tom was guilty despite being convinced of his innocence. It was in the constitution that “when it’s a white man’s word over the black man’s word, the white always wins” (229). This social tragedy was consistent with the time the novel was written, in the 1960’s, when civil rights movements were often done through violence. Disregarding of Tom’s caring personality, the town was blinded by their racial prejudice and judged him based on his skin color. On page 241, Mr. Underwood’s editorial after the death of Tom Robinson doesn’t mention mockingbirds by name, but it does have a similar message, “Mr. Underwood didn’t talk about miscarriages of justice he was writing so children could understand. Mr. Underwood 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 and children. Maycomb thought he was trying to write an editorial poetic enough to be reprinted in the Montgomery advertiser.” Mr. Underwood may be trying to get through to even the ignorant residents of Maycomb, but his editorial also makes sure that every reader gets the connection. This symbolism that the mockingbird and Tom are in the same class of beings. Tom’s innocence of the crime he’s accused of makes him similar to the mockingbird who does no harm to anyone. Also, it’s the senselessness that’s really key. The execution of Tom brought about no good and prevented no evil, just like shooting a mockingbird. The result, Tom is like the act of slaying a mockingbird. He was compassionate but undeservedly lost his life and the racist men are to blame. Atticus Finch represents a mockingbird slain by society’s prejudice towards those who are valiant enough to help an innocent black man. He always treated people with respect and was a role model to not only his children but the whole town, yet was ridiculed for taking on the case of Tom Robinson because of Tom’s color of his skin. On page 186, a townsman says “‘Lemme tell you somethin’ now, Billy,’ a third said, ‘you know the court appointed him to defend this nigger.’ ‘Yeah, but Atticus aims to defend him. That’s what I don’t like about it.’” The community of Maycomb believed it was wrong for a white man to try and defend a black man. Many of the townspeople begin to whisper about Atticus – even in front of his own children, Scout and Jem – and even some kids at school begin teasing the children about their father being a “nigger lover”. Despite the whispers and the teasing, Atticus tell his children that, morally, defending Tom Robinson in his trial is the right thing to do. “The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.” (86) Atticus’ own self respect is tied in with his good morals and is an unconventional hero. If he did something he knew wasn’t right, he would lose all moral authority over others. He only faces his own sole judgement. He doesn’t care about other people’s opinion or criticisms or gossip, or that they would vote him out of the legislature, or that his children wouldn’t respect him. It mattered what was right or wrong. Atticus Finch just wouldn’t be able to do any of those things if he didn’t do what was morally right by Tom Robinson.
Harper Lee effectively uses the symbol of a mockingbird to show torn souls who were undeservedly destroyed by the prejudice of society. The narrow mindedness of the community destroyed three symbols of good, Boo Radley, Tom Robinson and Atticus Finch. The hypocrisy of Maycomb drives it into chaos, becoming a dysfunctional society. Unfortunately, the fact that there will always be inequality and prejudice in human nature makes Lee’s novel a classic and a theme that will stand the test of time for future readers.