How are Tom Robinson, Boo Radley, and Jem like mockingbirds?  Why does the author portray them this way?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In chapter 10, Atticus tells his children that it is considered a sin to kill a mockingbird. Miss Maudie elaborates on Atticus's comment by saying that mockingbirds do nothing but bring joy to everyone, cause no harm, and are defenseless beings, which is why it is considered a sin to harm one. Throughout the novel, Tom Robinson, Boo Radley, and Jem Finch are symbolic mockingbirds because they are innocent, kind, sympathetic beings, who are vulnerable and relatively defenseless.

Tom Robinson is a symbolic mockingbird because he goes out of his way to help Mayella with various chores and causes no harm to anyone. However, Tom is defenseless against the prejudiced jury and unfortunately becomes a victim of racial injustice. Boo Radley is a symbolic mockingbird because he gives gifts to the children, clothes Scout during Maudie's house fire, and repairs Jem's pants. However, Boo is vulnerable to the negative rumors surrounding him throughout Maycomb and needs protection from the community's limelight at the end of the novel. Jem Finch is also a symbolic mockingbird because he is naive and innocent. Jem loses his childhood innocence after witnessing the Tom Robinson trial and becomes jaded with his prejudiced community. He also needs Boo's protection when Bob Ewell attacks him towards the end of the novel. Harper Lee uses certain characters to represent symbolic mockingbirds to emphasize and develop the theme concerning the importance of protecting innocent beings. 

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee portrays Tom Robinson, Boo Radley and Jem as people with the mockingbird trait for several reasons.  If you remember Miss Maudie's comment describing mockingbirds, she says, "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy."  She continues with "..they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us."  She is describing the innocence of a bird who only sings, bringing pleasure to those willing to listen.  Each of the three characters selected are also innocents, willing to help people, seeing the world as a positive place even if circumstances look differently.  Tom is willing to help a terribly lonely girl who needs his help because her father will not, and is innocent of the crime of which he is accused.  Boo Radley is the town recluse, hiding in his house, but willing to befriend the children with his small gifts and his rescue of them from Bob Ewell's attack.  Jem is the innocent boy playing imaginary games and being a child until forced to give up his innocence in order to make sense of the trial and why his father would subject his family to the outcry of defending a black man.  Each of these characters is like the mockingbird in the sense that they are all "singing their hearts out for us" in order for us to learn the lessons they can teach.  We have to be willing to listen in order to learn the lessons of life these mockingbirds can teach us.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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