Atticus tells his children it is a "sin to kill a mockingbird." Explain what he meant, how this phrase could relate to different characters in the novel, and the significance to the novel as a...

Atticus tells his children it is a "sin to kill a mockingbird." Explain what he meant, how this phrase could relate to different characters in the novel, and the significance to the novel as a whole. 

Expert Answers
gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the main themes throughout the novel is the corruption of innocence. Mockingbirds symbolize innocent characters throughout the novel who have been unfairly exploited by society. In Chapter 10, when Jem and Scout are playing with their new air-rifles, Atticus says,

"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." (Lee 119)

Miss Maudie elaborates as to why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird by saying,

"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They 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 119)

Two characters that are symbolic of mockingbirds are Tom Robinson and Arthur "Boo" Radley. They are both innocent human beings that are unfairly exploited by society. Tom Robinson, who is a black man living in Maycomb County, is wrongly convicted of a crime he did not commit. Tom is a "mockingbird" because he had nothing but good intentions of helping Mayella Ewell. Tom was an obedient, respect individual who became a victim of prejudice. Tom's conviction is similar to a person killing a "mockingbird," because he was an innocent individual who was destroyed by a corrupt society.

Boo Radley's character is a harmless, reclusive individual who turns out to be a caring, selfless neighbor. Throughout the novel, Boo Radley is the victim of rumors that portray him as a "malevolent phantom." He is wrongly viewed as a psychotic, terror who wreaks havoc on the community of Maycomb. At the end of the novel, Boo Radley saves Jem and Scout but murders Bob Ewell during the struggle. Instead of the telling the community about Boo Radley's heroic actions, Sheriff Tate decides otherwise. Boo Radley is a shy, reclusive individual who would have been forced into the limelight if the real information reached the public. When Atticus asks Scout if she understands, she says, "Well, it'd be sorta like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" (Lee 370) Forcing Boo into the public spotlight would be harmful to him as an individual, thus paralleling the killing of innocent mockingbirds. Harper Lee uses characters such as Tom Robinson and Boo Radley to convey how society has the ability to take advantage and corrupt innocent individuals.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question