To Kill a Mockingbird A Discussion of Major Themes
Within the TextThe novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a rich text consisting of themes that were the harsh reality of the novels setting; rural Alabama during the 1930s. Racism, discrimination, prejudice, and hatred are all among the issues that author Harper Lee deals with. In addition to these weighty and unsettling topics in the novel, Miss Lee revolves her plot around the life of a young girl named Scout Finch.
Scout is telling the reader the story in retrospect when the novel begins. We learn she is six years old and has an older brother named Jem. Central to the plot is the childrens innocence. Their relative naivete can be observed through the simple ways in which they play and pass the time. Jem and Scout are fascinated with the mysterious Boo Radley, a recluse who, according to Jem, comes out only at night to eat cats and squirrels in addition to looking through peoples bedroom windows. The scare each other with ghosts stories and Scout gets into fights almost daily. When the novel concludes, she looks back at the events that have transpired throughout the length of the story and we realize to what extent both her and Jems characters have grown. One of the most profound examples of the innocence the children bear is during Tom Robinsons trial. Jem is convinced that the jury will be forced to acquit Tom because his father Atticus had proven him innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt. When the verdict returned is in fact the exact opposite, Jem is astonished. His hands were white from gripping the balcony rail. And his shoulders jerk as if each guilty is a separate stab between them. Unlike many of those in Maycomb, the children see things with an unbiased eye. They harbor no prejudice or discriminatory feelings towards anyone, no doubt because of their upbringing by their morally inclined father, Atticus Finch.
One of the more evident of the themes present in To Kill a Mockingbird is without a doubt racism and prejudice. When Mayella Ewell accuses Tom Robinson of rape, despite Atticus Finchs airtight cross-examination proving his innocence, the moment Tom walked into the courtroom to stand before an all-white, unforgiving jury, his fate had been sealed. No doubt the setting of the novel, 1930s Alabama, plays a role in amount of hostility fostered by so many of Maycomb Countys citizens. The magnitude to which this hostility is felt is so great that even white people who befriend and assist Negroes (in the case of Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson) are looked down upon. They too become the subject of debate and animosity. A perfect example of this is the repercussions that Atticus feels due to his earnest defense of Tom. He is accosted by a mob late one night while standing guard outside Toms jail cell. While there are many people who are appreciative of his kindness, in particular the Negro population of Maycomb and Toms family, others are not so delighted by his efforts. After the trial, Bob Ewell spits in Atticus face and vows to get revenge. After Tom is killed in prison for trying to escape, although there is a certain air of suspicion surrounding his death, namely why he would have gone into a sudden rage and tried to climb the fence and how seventeen bullets found their way into his body before stopping him, Mr. Ewell is rumored to have said one down, two to go. He is, we later learn, referring to Jem and Scout. There is also another type of prejudice that exists within the text of To Kill a Mockingbird. It is particularly exhibited by Jem and Scouts Aunt Alexandra. She says that poor folks such as the Cunninghams are lower class. So low she says, that if they were relatives of the Finches, they would not associate with such people. Alexandra prides herself and her family on having such a strong background and coming from such a privileged family. Jem later reveals to Scout that background has nothing to do with it, it is just as long as your family has been reading an writing that is key.
The title of Miss Lees novel is in fact a reference to something that the wiser-than-his-years Atticus Finch tells his children. He says that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because all they dont do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. The killing of a mockingbird, a creature that harbors only good intents, can be applied to several characters in the novel. Tom Robinson was a good kind man who had never harmed a soul. However, guilt, hatred, and bigotry lead to his murder. Boo Radley is another instance in which the author applies this metaphor. After Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout coming home from the Halloween pageant, Boo in turn assaults him; stabbing him in the ribs and killing him. When Atticus figures out that Boo had done it and that Sheriff Tate is not going to prosecute him, he tries to explain the situation to Scout. However, Scout is already more aware of the circumstances than Atticus thinks, and says that taking Boo to trial would be like killing a mockingbird in that it would be unfair to punish Boo for saving their lives and for simply being a good person.
It goes without saying that Atticus Finch is an exemplary man. He is a man of great intelligence, morality, and self-control. He is nothing less than extraordinary. During a point in the plot of the story, the author reveals how disappointed Jem and Scout were that their father was not like the fathers of other children. He would not play football, tackle anyway, he did not have an interesting occupation (not in their minds so far), and had no exciting hobbies. Not much later they learn from Sheriff Tate himself that Atticus is the best shot in all of Maycomb County. Maybe in all of Alabama. The point is, Atticus Finch never chose to make anything of this unusual talent because he did not have the need, will, nor desire to destroy things. Atticus is also a man of amazing self-control. When Bob Ewell spits in his face, Atticus only looks back at him. He does not throw a punch or go into verbal fits of rage. He simply stares straight back at Mr. Ewell. Jem and Scout learn from Miss Maudie just how exceptional their father is during a particular point in the novel concerning Toms trial. Most of the cases like Toms went to a new lawyer, one who would have just gone through the motions of due process. But Judge Taylor personally asked Atticus to take it. The judge knew how good a man and a lawyer Atticus was and that justice needed to be served.
In conclusion, there are many outstanding themes and issues that Miss Lee presents in her novel To Kill a Mockingbird that make it nothing short of an amazing and brilliant work of classical literature.