How would you summarize Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird? What is the main idea of the book?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Harper Lee's novel To Kill a Mockingbird is a complex novel with many central ideas and themes. However, a general summary could be written like this: Jean Louis "Scout" Finch and her older brother, Jem Finch, live with their father, Atticus Finch, a prominent lawyer in Maycomb County. The two children enjoy playing simple childhood games and live a life of relative innocence until Atticus agrees to defend a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman. As the case moves forward, Scout and Jem are gradually introduced to the complexity, bigotry, and inequality of the adult world.

There are many main ideas in Mockingbird, but I'll focus on what I think are the three most important ones. First, the book explores the nature of race in America and exposes the subtle nature of racism. I say subtle because many of the neighbors that Scout and Jem grow up with have racist beliefs, although these attitudes are often hidden beneath a friendly, neighborly personality. As such, Lee suggests that racism is not always apparent, but can surface at times of significance. 

Second, Lee focuses on the notion of multiple perspectives. In a world that rigidly adheres to a single, racist worldview, Atticus teaches his children to try looking at things from other people's perspective. Doing so, Atticus suggests, is necessary if we want to avoid judgmental and hateful relationships. Atticus' embrace of difference becomes a vital rallying cry in a society that distrusts those that are not white. 

Finally, Lee's novel is a coming of age story, one that explores the ways in which children navigate the transition from childhood innocence to adult experience. Thus, while the book's exploration of racism is important, Scout and Jem's experience of it and the ways in which this experience forces them into adulthood is just as important. 

slchanmo1885 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question has been asked and answered before.

Briefly, "To Kill a Mockingbird" is about a young girl, Scout, whose father takes on a controversial court case defending a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Through the course of the novel, themes such as human dignity, prejudice, racism, and stereotypes is explored.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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