How does the point of view in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird change the way we look at the events and characters?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is the recollections of Scout Finch, starting when she was six, told years later. This allows us to look at what occurs in the story (e.g., hatred, hypocrisy, a sense of community and family, values of the post-Civil War South, etc.) with a child's impressions, tempered by "adult insights." We share her surprise, fear and impressions as a Scout (the child) saw the world in a simple and straightforward way.

Scout observes Atticus' behaviors based on his strong moral compass, and important elements of the story are not lost—the adult Scout remembering her childhood provides clarity to the reader, and the events of her childhood in Maycomb are riveting.

Boo Radley is the source of the children's fear of the unknown. Described by Scout, the "searching for Boo" can be frightening. The kids are close to being shot when Scout, Jem and Dill sneak around one summer night to get a look through the Radleys' window:

Then I saw the shadow. It was the shadow of a man with a hat on. At first I thought it was a tree...the shadow, crisp as toast, moved across the porch toward Jem...When it crossed Jem, Jem saw it. He put his arms over his head and went rigid.

Scout's love of family is apparent as the youngster takes on a classmate—in defense against racial slurs delivered by Cecil Johnson because Atticus agrees to defend Tom Robinson:

Atticus had promised me he would wear me out if he ever heard of me fighting any more...Cecil Jacobs made me forget. He had announced in the schoolyard the day before that Scout Finch's daddy defended n***ers.

The reader recognizes Scout's love of—and belief in—her father: he is her hero. Scout shares important lessons learned from Atticus, "translated" by her innocent way of seeing things in black and white. And her perceptions touch the reader in a deeply meaningful way:

"Scout," [Atticus] said, "Mr. Ewell fell on his knife. Can you possibly understand?"

..."Yes, sir, I understand," I reassured him. "Mr. Tate was right."

Atticus...looked at me. "What do you mean?"

"Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?"

...[Atticus] stopped in front of Boo Radley. "Thank you for my children, Arthur," he said.

Scout looks at the world in a simple fashion. It is no wonder that at that time she doesn't understand the hatred Bob Ewell has for Tom Robinson. She tells Uncle Jack that he doesn't understand kids. With believable insight, she reminds him that her father always asks for both sides of the story so he can make an informed decision—inferring that intelligence and information are used when making decisions, not jumping to conclusions or acting without reason. Scout (the adult narrator) shares the value of this event.

Scout's inability to comprehend Ewell's kind of hatred is seen at the jail when the mob tries to lynch Tom.

Don't you remember me, Mr. Cunningham? I'm Jean Louise Finch...I go to school with Walter...He's your boy, ain't he?...He's in my grade...He's a good boy...Tell him hey for me, won't you?

Scout's innocent questions about Cunningham's son pulls the man from the brink of uncivilized mob mentality. Now in the presence of children, much like his own, he sends the other men home.

Lee's use of Scout to describe events and characters is extremely effective: it allows readers to see the world as only a child can. But because the events are shared by Scout years later, it is easier to grasp the complexities of that time period.


clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think this question can be best answered if you consider the specifics of the two main points the question makes: the point of view, and the events/characters.

First, the point-of-view is that of the main character, Scout Finch, as a grown woman looking back on a period of about two years in her childhood.  As far as the events and other characters are concerned, because this is a work of historical fiction, you could focus on the main conflict of the book, which is a white man defending a black man on trial for rape, in the South, during a historical peak of racial prejudice in America.

The question asks how does the point of view change the way we look at this fictional yet historically realistic story and the people within.  Because it is not an objective point of view, it causes the audience to be immersed in Scout's bias.  Her attitude and perception of events is affected by her youth, her unusual upbringing into a home of fairness and integrity, and of course, her intelligence.

Keeping all of these things in mind, I encourage you to consider how such details affected your view of the events and characters, compared to how you might have read them if the storyteller was more objective, or swayed toward the more prejudiced side.  For most, this point-of-view succeeds in revealing the hypocrisy in the thoughts and actions of many southern white people, as well as the irony that most of society lived in and never questioned.  Additionally, Scout's innocence as a child told through her intelligence as an adult allows the entire story to be portrayed with a sense of lightheartedness and humor that might not otherwise be present in a story revolving around such arguably heavy themes.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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