How Is Tom Robinson A Symbol Of A Mockingbird

Discuss the mockingbird symbol in relation to Tom Robinson.

Expert Answers
readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question. The most obvious choice of a mockingbird figure is Tom Robinson. To get to this conclusion, we have to first define what a mockingbird is. 

Atticus says to Jem and Scout that he would prefer that they only shoot tin cans with their new guns. He also says that they will undoubtedly want to shoot birds. However, they should never shoot a mockingbird, because they only do good. Miss Maudie expands on this by saying:

“Your father’s right,” she said. “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.”

So, if a character in the book only does good for others, then he or she would be a mockingbird. Also if someone harmed that person, then it would be sin. 

Tom Robinson is such a character. He only does good. He is a good husband, father, church goer, worker, citizen, and person. During the trial, Tom stated that he often helped Mayella. He helped her, because he was kind. He even went out of his way after a hard day's work. Here is the text:

Tom Robinson’s forehead relaxed. “She’d call me in, suh. Seemed like every time

I passed by yonder she’d have some little somethin‘ for me to do—choppin’ kindlin‘, totin’ water for her. She watered them red flowers every day—”

“Were you paid for your services?”

“No suh, not after she offered me a nickel the first time. I was glad to do it, Mr. Ewell didn’t seem to help her none, and neither did the chillun, and I knowed she didn’t have no nickels to spare.”

As this quote shows, Tom only did good to all. This is what makes him a mockingbird. So, when he is mistreated and later killed, a great sin has taken place. 

price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird cleverly develops a bird motif throughout the novel with names and people who are symbols of the mockingbird.  The names, “Finch”, and “Robinson” are both connections to this recurring bird motif.  However, the mockingbird allusion is probably the most powerful.  Atticus tells Scout and Jem that it “is a sin to kill a mockingbird.”  Miss Maudie goes on to explain that the mockingbird is harmless, and its purpose is to sing for our enjoyment. 

Although there is a good argument for who the mockingbirds are in the novel, Tom Robinson is definitely one of the main characters symbolic of the innocent, harmless bird.  Tom is a man of character who only helps Mayella Ewell because he feels sorry for her sad existence.  Mayella is raising her brothers and sisters on her own and is abused by her father, Bob Ewell.  Her loneliness leads her to seek out affection wherever she can, and unfortunately, she decides to prey on Tom Robinson. 

Tom is innocent of the charges of rape, and it is only because he is a black man that he is found guilty.  He is killed trying to escape prison because he knows that even an appeal will not save him from his fate.  The mistreatment of Tom and his eventual killing is a sin committed by the racist values of southern people. 

Other important “mockingbirds” in the story can include, Boo Radley, Scout, Jem, Dill, and even Mayella Ewell who has no control over her life.  They are all harmless innocents in a bigoted, racist world.

bmadnick eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's a sin to kill a mockingbird because it does no harm and only gives us pleasure with its song. Tom Robinson is like the mockingbird because he was only trying to help Mayella Ewell. He felt sorry for her and her situation. Just like the mockingbird, Tom is an innocent, good man who is killed for his kindness just because his skin is black. Boo Radley is the other mockingbird in the story.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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