What is this quote's significance in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? How does it relate to human dignity?
"Mockingbirds don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (Lee 90).
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Miss Maudie says this in response to a question Scout asks her. Atticus has told his kids they can shoot lots of other things but not mcokingbirds. Atticus called it a "sin," in fact, which was strong language for the normally more temperate lawyer.
Maudie agrees, and her point is simple--mockingbirds don't take what's not theirs, they don't go where they're not welcome, they just make music for the enjoyment of others.
The mockingbird is one of the few symbols in this novel, and it represents those who are innocent of wrongdoing but are wrongly punished, when all they wanted to do was be helpful.
As this relates to human dignity, people deserve to be left alone if they aren't doing anything wrong or in fact are being helpful and making a positive contribution or doing something beautiful for others.
Scout and Jem receive air rifles for Christmas and Atticus says that they can kill bluejays, but killing mockingbirds is a sin. Scout discusses this with Miss Maudie in Chapter Ten; whereupon Miss Maudie agrees with Atticus by saying the following:
"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. Mockingbirds don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (90).
Miss Maudie's quote is significant because it applies to a major theme and lesson that Scout learns throughout the novel. Mockingbirds symbolize anyone who is innocent and easily taken advantage of by other people who are mentally, physically, or even socially stronger. Mockingbirds don't stop to think about defending themselves because they are busy spreading joy and happiness. As Maudie said, mockingbirds don't seek to hurt anyone or anything. They aren't pests, either, so there's no reason to hurt them.
When applying the symbol of the mockingbird to someone like Boo Radley or Tom Robinson, it is clear that neither of these men deserve the treatment that the community inflicts upon them through gossip, ostracization, or degradation. These men are innocent and harmless to their community, but they are hurt nonetheless. Therefore, Boo and Tom's human dignity are trampled on by others simply because they are not in positions of power to defend themselves; and those who do the trampling are sinning.
This is one of the most important quotes in the novel, and the novels entire message can be explained by this quote. In Chapter 10 Scout was told by Atticus that shooting a mockingbird is a sin. Atticus had never told her something was a sin before, so she asked her teacher Miss Maudie to discuss this. Miss Maudie informs her that a mockingbird is an innocent defenseless bird that only "sing their hearts out for us." So to kill such an innocent creature who has done nothing but attempt to help people would be a huge injustice, it would be a sin; and humans should be dignified enough not to commit such sins.
This quote has been used to draw similarities between Boo Radley and the mockingbird. Boo Radley is harmless throughout the entire novel, but despite that he is hated by most people. The mockingbird being killed parallels Boo Radley being ostracized, and both are huge injustices. This also applies to Tom Robinson. Atticus knows Tom Robinson to be innocent and harmless, and Atticus believes that the actions committed by the society towards Tom are heinous.
This quote also relates to human dignity by explaining that the essence of humanity is being just and fair, and not harming innocent creatures. If one is to do such inhumane acts, it is equivalent to sinning.
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