How many times are the words "mockingbird/songbird" mentioned in To Kill a Mockingbird?

There are total of seven mentions of a mockingbird in To Kill A Mockingbird. Four are in chapter 10, one is in chapter 21, and one is in chapter 30. In chapter 28, there is a reference to a "mocker," meaning a mockingbird. In chapter 25, there is a reference to a songbird.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the title of the novel indicates, the mockingbird is an important symbol. It represents innocent creatures, including humans, who sing beautiful songs (or do good deeds) and harm no one. Atticus says it is a sin to kill such creatures in chapter 10. Miss Maudie further explains this concept in the same chapter.

Atticus is speaking literally in his first mention of the mockingbird. He does not want Jem or Scout to carelessly kill one of these harmless birds with their air guns. But as the novel goes on, mockingbirds become more explicitly associated with innocent humans, particularly Tom Robinson and Boo Radley.

Robinson is an innocent man who is wrongly convicted of a rape. Further, he is clearly a man who was trying to help the woman who accused him, Mayella Ewell. He is like the innocent songbird—in fact, in a newspaper editorial in chapter 25, Mr. Underwood likens Robinson to a songbird when he mourns his death. Even the name Robinson contains the idea of a bird in the word "robin." In chapter 21, Scout notes that it is as if the mockingbirds are still when Robinson is convicted.

Boo Radley is also like a mockingbird: he does good, but because he is reclusive, the town has made him its bogeyman. Scout mentions in chapter 30 that turning him into the police for stabbing Bob Ewell would be like shooting an innocent mockingbird.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

1. In chapter 10 on page 93, Atticus tells Jem and Scout that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird while they are shooting their air rifles in the front yard. Miss Maudie then elaborates on the reasoning behind Atticus's comment about mockingbirds.

2. In chapter 21 on page 98, Scout mentions that the courtroom felt like the cold February morning when the mockingbirds were still. Judge Taylor then proceeds to read Tom Robinson's guilty verdict.

3. In chapter 25 on page 244, Scout reads Mr. B. B. Underwood's editorial in the Maycomb Tribune, and he likens Tom's death to the "senseless slaughter of songbirds."

4. At the beginning of chapter 28 on page 258, Jem and Scout are walking to the Maycomb Halloween festival and walk past Boo Radley's home. Scout mentions that a "solitary mocker" sang in the tree but its song was drowned out by the "shrill kee" of a nearby bluejay.

5. At the end of chapter 30, Scout metaphorically applies Atticus's lesson about killing mockingbirds to Boo Radley's situation by asking her father, "Well, it’d be sort of like shootin‘ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?" (Lee, 280)

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word "mockingbird" appears six times in the novel, and the word "songbird" appears once. In Chapter 10, Atticus tells Scout and Jem, "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (page 93). He cautions them against using a gun to shoot innocent creatures like mockingbirds. Miss Maudie repeats this on the same page and repeats the word "mockingbird" twice. Later in Chapter 10, as Atticus is chasing the mad dog, there is the following description: "the trees were still, the mockingbirds were silent" (page 98). In Chapter 21, Scout describes the courtroom during the Tom Robinson trial in the following way: "The feeling grew until the atmosphere in the courtroom was exactly the same as a cold February morning, when the mockingbirds were still" (page 214). In other words, everyone is waiting for the verdict in the trial, and it's as still and quiet as a morning without any songbirds singing. Later, at the end of Chapter 30, when Atticus asks Scout if she understands why Mr. Tate claims that Bob Ewell fell on his knife, she says she does and says, “Well, it’d be sort of like shootin‘ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?” (page 280). By this, Scout means that prosecuting Boo Radley for killing Bob Ewell would be like going after an innocent creature like a mockingbird. In Chapter 25, Mr. Underwood writes an editorial in which he "likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children" (page 244). 

Mockingbirds and songbirds are used throughout the novel as symbols of innocence. They are also used to describe Tom Robinson and Boo Radley, who are innocent people persecuted by others around them. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I believe the first reference to the mockingbird comes in Chapter 10 when Atticus, who has just presented his children with air rifles for their Christmas presents, warns Jem to

"Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

Later in Chapter 10, Scout discusses her father's statement with Miss Maudie, who tells Scout that

"Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy... That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

The newspaper editor, Mr. B. B. Underwood, refers to birds in his editorial following the death of Tom Robinson in Chapter 25.

He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children...

Finally, in Chapter 30, Scout recognizes the symbolism of the mockingbird in the simple nature of Boo Radley, who has just saved her life from the attack by Bob Ewell. She knows that Mr. Tate "was right" in calling Ewell's death an accident, since exposing Boo to the "spotlight" of a murder investigation would

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

Yet another songbird is also mentioned often in the novel: the finch.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It seems that the word mockingbird only appears six times in this book. We first hear about mockingbirds in chapter 10. Jem and Scout receive air rifles for Christmas. Scout recalls that Atticus told Jem that he

would rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard. But I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit them. But remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Scout is struck by this. It is the only time that she can recall her father saying that anything is a sin. Miss Maudie explains what Atticus means when Scout asks her about it. She explains,

Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. ... That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Later in that chapter, a rabid dog wanders down the street. Everyone in the neighborhood locks their doors and stays inside for safety. Atticus arrives with the sheriff looking to put the dog down. Scout remarks,

Nothing is more deadly than a deserted waiting street. The trees were still. The mockingbirds were silent. The carpenters at Miss Maude's house had vanished.

The word mockingbird next comes up in chapter 21. Everyone is waiting anxiously in the courtroom for the jury to return with a verdict about Tom Robinson. Scout compares the anxious quietness in the courtroom to the day that the rabid dog was killed on her street.

The feeling grew until the atmosphere in the courtroom was exactly the same as a cold February morning when the mockingbirds were still.

This mention of mockingbirds may serve to make a link between Tom Robinson and the birds that do nothing but make pleasant music.

The final mention of mockingbirds comes near the end of the book, in chapter 30. Sheriff Tate explains why he will not arrest Boo Radley for the death of Bob Ewell. He explains that it would be a sin to drag Boo in front of the public for this act, which likely saved the lives of Scout and Jem. Instead, the official story will be that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife. Atticus asks Scout if she understands all of this. Scout, drawing a comparison between Boo and the innocent mockingbirds, replies,

Mr. Tate was right. ... It would be sort of like shooting a mockingbird, wouldn't it?

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word "mockingbird" or "mockingbirds" occurs six times in Harper Lee's classic novel. In the story, mockingbirds symbolically represent innocent, vulnerable beings, who are defenseless and must rely on others for protection.

Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are considered symbolic mockingbirds in the story. Tom Robinson is an innocent, compassionate black man who is falsely accused of assaulting and raping Mayella Ewell. Tom Robinson relies on Atticus to defend him in court and prove his innocence. By defending Tom, Atticus acts as a positive role model for Jem and Scout, and demonstrates the importance of protecting innocent, vulnerable beings. Tragically, Atticus cannot protect Tom from Maycomb's racist jurors, and Tom becomes a victim of racial injustice.

Similarly, Boo Radley—benevolent, kind, and defenseless—is also considered a symbolic mockingbird. Fortunately, Sheriff Tate protects Boo from the community's limelight by telling the citizens that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife.

The word "mockingbird" shows up three times at the beginning of chapter 10, when Atticus tells his children that it is considered a sin to kill a mockingbird and Maudie elaborates on his comment. Later in the chapter, Scout mentions that all the mockingbirds were silent when the rabid dog staggered down the street. Scout also uses the word "mockingbirds" in chapter 21, before Judge Taylor reads Tom's verdict, and metaphorically applies her father's lesson regarding mockingbirds at the end of chapter 30.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word "mockingbird" is not actually used all that many times in the novel. I believe it is first mentioned in Chapter 10 when Scout reflects about why Atticus wouldn't teach his kids to shoot the air-rifles given as presents by their Uncle Jack. Atticus reminded them "to shoot all the blue jays you want... but remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." Because it was the only time that Atticus had ever said it was a sin to do something, Scout decided to ask Miss Maudie about it. She explained that

"... 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."

Much later, after Scout has survived the attack by Bob Ewell, she tells Atticus that "Mr. Tate was right" about not wanting to bring charges against Boo Radley. Atticus asked what she meant.

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

So, the word "mockingbird" is used at least four times in the novel.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on