Last Updated 27 Mar 2020

To Kill a Mockingbird: Innocence

Words 1021 (4 pages)

A songbird's melody can evoke happiness in anyone, as can the smiling face of a child. The mockingbird sings for the sake of singing, and an innocent child possesses an inborn joyfulness, as natural as instinct. Yet a mockingbird's song dies as easily as the innocence of a child. In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout and Jem are portrayed as innocents, uncorrupted by our world of prejudice and racism. Their world is simple, sensible, a child's world.

However, three years in the life of 8-year-old Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their father, Atticus, are consumed by the arrest and eventual trial of a young black man accused of raping a white woman. By the end of the novel, their world has expanded to enclose the irrational nature of humans. Jem and Scout's growing up is portrayed by a series of events that shatters their innocence as easily as a mockingbird can be silenced.

Lee uses a combination of insignificant and profound events: the trial of Tom Robinson, Walter Cunningham, and their relationship with Boo Radley to develop and display the children’s growth in maturity. One of the first cracks in Scout’s armour of naivete occurs due to the fact that she speaks her mind. On Scout’s first day of school Scout tries to explain to her teacher that she is embarrassing Walter Cunningham by offering him something that he will not be able to pay back. Scout realizes that because her teacher is not a local, she will not know that about the Cunningham’s, but Scout's explanation gets her into trouble.

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When Scout explains “Walter’s one of the Cunningham’s,” (26), she was not trying to be insulting, but Miss Caroline mistakes her frank and innocent explanation as arrogance or rudeness and punishes her for it. Scout's perception of the world and her classmates is not yet marred by the social divisions that adults see. When Scout has Walter over for a meal Scout really does insult Walter this time as she questions the way he eats by saying “But he’s gone and drowned his dinner in syrup” (32) and makes him feel self-conscious.

She is not doing it intentionally, she is just curious because she has never seen people who eat that way. She is too young to understand the social graces of Southern hospitality that dictate that you are always to make people feel at home and welcome no matter how unusual their habits may be. Scout and Jem are surrounded by racism and prejudice as children, but until they mature , they do not see it for what it is, until something enormously, obviously wrong occurs close to home. At first Scout does not understand what is wrong and keeps asking Jem questions about what is happening.

While Atticus is asking questions directed to Mayella, “Slowly but surely [she] could see the pattern of Atticus’ questions” (244). Although this shows that Scout’s understanding about her father has improved, she is still oblivious to the deeper meaning of the trial. While Jem is explaining to Dill, Scout “supposes” it is “the finer points of the trial” (252). With Jem being able to do this, this proves that Jem has matured greatly since the beginning. But what surprised Scout and blew Jem away was the obvious unfairness of the verdict.

When Jem states “You just can’t convict a man on evidence like that,” proves that Jem realizes the injustice that Tom Robinson faced (295). Atticus has shielded Scout and her brother from any outward prejudice against blacks. However, even he could not keep out the thought that coloured were not quite the same. Racism has been so deeply ingrained that Scout didn't realize its intensity and results until that tragedy opened her eyes. As a result, racism and its effects entered the ever-expanding world of the Finch children.

Because of the perspective of childhood innocence, Boo Radley is given no identity apart from the youthful superstitions that surround him, and it is these superstitions that leave Jem and Scout oblivious to the fact that Boo just wants to protect them. Scout at first describes Boo as a “malevolent phantom,” (10) while Jem illustrates him as a “six-and-a-half feet tall” man that “dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch” (16). With these expressions they demonstrated how innocent the children are.

After the children have found gifts inside a knot hole in a tree, their father finds out about their “game”. When Atticus witnesses his children leaving a note in the hole, he believes his children are causing harm so he tells them to “stop tormenting the man” (65). When Atticus says, “You just told me,” Jem did not realize that without actually saying that they were playing the Boo Radley game he still admitted to his father that that is what they were doing. Originally portrayed as a freak and a lunatic, Boo Radley continues to gain the sympathy of the children.

When Nathan Radley closes the hole, Scout sees it as no more gifts, but Jem takes it more to heart. Nathan Radley claims that the “tree’s dying” (83) so Jem asks his father where he says that the tree is fine. When Jem realizes that Nathan had just cut off their connection, he was “crying,” (84). It is when Scout and Jem need saving that Scout understands that Boo was just merely looking out for them. While saying “Hey Boo” in person, this shows how mature Scout has gotten during the three years (362).

Scout losses her innocence when she realizes that Boo Radley has given so much to them- gifts in the tree, a warm blanket on a cold night, folded up pants on a fence and their LIVES, but they have never repaid him. As if they were the harmless songbirds, the children's innocence is shattered by these events. Through their interactions with Walter, Tom’s trial and Boo Radley social prejudice, racism, mobs, and "social exceptions" are now a part of their world. The naivete and purity have been replaced by the knowledge of human nature and the corruption of our world. The world is no longer simple, and the mockingbird is dead.

To Kill a Mockingbird: Innocence essay

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