In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Mr. Underwood, in his editorial on Tom Robinson's death, evoke the symbol of the mockingbird? 

In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Mr. Underwood, in his editorial on Tom Robinson's death, evoke the symbol of the mockingbird?


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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tom Robinson dies attempting to climb a prison fence with one good arm and one disabled. The prison guards shoot warning shots, but when Tom doesn't stop, they fire to kill. In chapter 25 of To Kill a Mockingbird, B.B. Underwood writes an editorial in his newspaper about Tom Robinson's death, which is interesting because Atticus stated earlier that Underwood never liked black people. Whether that still remains true by the time the editorial is unclear, but Underwood does compare killing Tom to killing a mockingbird. The editorial included the following comments (as paraphrased by Scout):

Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children (241).

Scout learns about the symbolism behind shooting mockingbirds in chapter 10 when Atticus tells his children it is a sin to shoot them, but it is Miss Maudie who later translates the meaning.

Your father's right... 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" (90).

Tom never did anything to hurt anyone and he was a good man. It seems as though everyone in Maycomb believes, understands, and teaches the principle of the mockingbird. Sheriff Tate later refers to the mockingbird regarding Boo Radley. Mr. Underwood must have included the symbol of the mockingbird in his editorial because everyone understands the phrase and will be able to connect the saying to Tom more easily. Hopefully, people will understand it is never a victory when someone who has less of an advantage in life is ridiculed and taken advantage of by the privileged, and it's even worse when they are killed for it.

lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Underwood compares the killing of Tom Robinson, who was handicapped with one useless arm, to the killing of an innocent bird.  Even though Robinson escaped (after the ridiculous and predictable guilty verdict of his trial), it was still cruel and unnecessary to shoot someone who clearly wasn't going to get very far.  This editorial evokes the same sentiment in the stern admonition Atticus had given his children when they received their BB guns for Christmas:  "Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."  He went on to explain that bluejays were pests that destroyed crops, but that all a mockingbird ever did was to sing. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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