I love teaching this book to sophomores because there's so many life lessons. Jem and Scout learn to see what's inside of people instead of just seeing their first impressions or their reputation. There are so many issues in the book that relate today, like the power of education, poverty, race, and the justice system. The problems explored in the world of the novel are not really different from today's world. I think that is why it's so popular--it's timeless and there's something that everyone can relate to.
In your essay you could explore Scout's character development. How do characters like Atticus, Miss Maudie, and Boo Radley help her see people differently? You could also explore how the residents of Maycomb represent different types of people in society.
Another question this novel raises is the idea of "authenticity." This is an issue commonly raised in books that take place in the "Old South" but that doesn't mean the same two-faced attitudes presented by the ladies of the Missionary Society do not still exist. Close-mindedness, hypocrisy, and fear of things that are different are still alive and rampant in our world. These are perpetuated in small towns or small communities where there is so little coming and going of newcomers that ignorance and intolerance is rarely challenged.
Wow. There are lots of ways in which To Kill a Mockingbird causes us to reflect on our "real" lives and question both our behaviors and the bahaviors of others. I'm sure you'll get plenty of ideas as this discussion continues, as this is a rich text with many things to think about. I'd encourage you to think first, though, about what made you think as you read this novel. Did you see yourself in any of the characters' actions, words, or traits? Did you find yourself getting angry at any of the injustices or cheering when someone in the novel spoke up for what's right? If so, start there.
That being said, I think of several ways I'm prompted to look at my own world as I read. One is when the foot-washin' Baptists condemn Miss Maudie for...well, it doesn't even really matter what. For anyone to walk by a house using Scripture to condemn is wrong. While I haven't done something so openly, I wonder if I've condemned another with the same kind of holier-than-thou attitude. Certainly and shamefully, the answer is yes.
Another area which causes me to reflect is making judgments about people before I do what Atticus suggests--walk around in their skin for a while. It's so common in every aspect of our world to make judgments based on appearance or on other things that may or may not reflect true character. It's said that everyone has a story, and I need to quit judging and listen to stories.
Lots of bigger-picture issues are evident in this novel, and I'm confident they'll show up later in this discussion.