To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel of childhood, but it is not told by a child. The narrator, Jean Louise (Scout) Finch, is an adult, recalling events that occurred in the mid-1930’s, when her older brother Jem Finch was nearing his teens and she was four years younger. This narrative stance has several advantages. By using the first person, Lee gains immediacy and dramatic effect; by placing the events in the past, she can evaluate incidents that have become much clearer over the years.
The novel concerns innocence and experience, and its theme is more complicated than it might appear. Scout, Jem, and their friend from Meridian, Mississippi, Dill Harris, are not naturally cruel; however, they have not yet learned to empathize with others. To them, outsiders have no feelings. Therefore, it is all right to run up to the porch of a recluse, as a game; it is all right to rub a poor boy’s nose in the schoolyard dirt; it is all right to make a snowman in the image of a neighbor; and it is all right to make fun of crabby old ladies. Although Atticus Finch, the father of the motherless Scout and Jem, is not particularly concerned with proper clothes for them, he is concerned about teaching them to imagine themselves in the position of others, even of people who are not particularly friendly or appealing. In this sense, then, the children’s innocence, which dictates instinctive aversion, must be modified. On the other hand, Atticus hopes that his...
(The entire section is 1950 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Harper Lee Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!