To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
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In chapter 10 of To Kill a Mockingbird, what is the symbolic meaning of the mockingbird?

Mockingbirds symbolically represent innocent, benevolent beings who are vulnerable and defenseless. Since mockingbirds are harmless, pleasant birds, Atticus considers it a sin to kill one. A symbolic mockingbird like Tom Robinson is a generous, friendly man who relies on Atticus to protect him from Maycomb's dangerous racial prejudice. Arthur "Boo" Radley is another symbolic mockingbird who needs Sheriff Tate to protect him from the community's limelight.

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As the title of the novel indicates, mockingbirds are an important symbol in the book, but they aren't mentioned until chapter 10. Here, Atticus wants Jem and Scout to be careful about shooting their air rifles, telling them it would be a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Scout goes to Miss Maudie to inquire about why it would be sin. Miss Maudie tells her it is because the birds sing a beautiful song and harm no one.

This speaks to a major theme of the novel: the harm society does to the innocent. Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are the two innocents in the novel. Both suffer as a result of prejudice, though they harm no one and try to do good to others. Tom is condemned to death despite being innocent of raping Mayella Ewell: his crime is being African American in a society where the word of a white is always believed over the word of any African American. Boo is the victim of prejudice in Maycomb because he is reclusive. This makes it easy for the townspeople to spread exaggerated stories about him as a...

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