What is the conflict and resolution of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird?

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lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like any exceptional novel, there are many layers to Harper Lee's novel; on one level, it can be seen as a coming of age story of a young girl, on another, a depiction of Southern lifestyles during the Great Depression.  However, the central conflict concerns an innocent black man named Tom Robinson, accused by a local alcoholic of assaulting his daughter.  Atticus Finch is handed the case, and sets "tongues wagging" in the little town of Maycomb when he makes it clear he intends to provide Robinson with the best defense possible--even though it will almost certainly be in vain, for in the South in the years between the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement, a black man accused by a white person of anything was guilty--period.  A trial might be held, but it was a foregone conclusion that the verdict would be guilty. 

And so Atticus is in conflict with Maycomb's "old school" population (man versus society) in his quest to help Robinson in his conflict with Bob Ewell (man vs. man) despite well-entrenched racism and prejudice (man vs. society).  Robinson's fate, of course, is sealed before the trial even begins, but Atticus's conscientious defense keeps the jury out for an unprecedented length of time, seen by some as a small victory.  Robinson goes to prison, ignores Atticus's pleas for him to be patient as he engineers an appeal, tries to escape and is shot to death. 

On a related note, the far less sympathetic character Bob Ewell is looked down upon by everyone in Maycomb, and in some ways wages his own battle with society, which nearly ends on a tragic note when he attempts to kill Scout and Jem.  One could probably also make an argument that Ewell's alcoholism was a catalyst for a "man vs. self" type of conflict. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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