To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
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In To Kill a Mockingbird, how does Harper Lee use the symbol of the mockingbird in the novel?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee uses the symbol of the mockingbird to stand for people who do not harm anyone, and even bring them joy, and in turn should be shielded from harm. Throughout the novel, Lee stresses that the immorality of killing mockingbirds is a cornerstone of the philosophy that Atticus Finch teaches his children.

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Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The mockingbird is a central symbol in the novel. The author uses it to represent a type of person who does not cause harm to others and often makes them happy; for that reason they are deserving of other people’s protection. The idea of “killing” a mockingbird about which Atticus Finch frequently speaks is extended into causing any sort of harm to a harmless or an innocent person. Scout grows accustomed to her father’s frequent reminders of the need to be kind and compassionate, which he phrases in turns of sin. However, it is only after the prison guards kill Tom Robinson and she reads B.B. Underwood’s newspaper editorial about “songbirds” that she makes the connection on her own.

The most prominent mockingbird figures are Tom Robinson, who is wrongly convicted of rape and then killed, and Arthur “Boo ” Radley, who stays in his house and harms no one. Not only was Tom falsely accused, he was also trying to be helpful. Despite his innocence, he is tried and convicted based...

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mattyc1996 | Student

Harper Lee uses the symbolism of a mockingbird in several places. A mockingbird as discribed by Maudie is;

"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."

Throughout the novel there are 4 main 'mockingbirds'

1- Tom Robinson - He did no harm to anyone (he actually helped Mayella) but was literally killed by the community

2- Boo Radley - Boo never harmed anyone but was victimized by the social prejudice of the community.

3- Atticus - Along with Tom, Atticus is probably the main mockingbird in the novel. Atticus always treated people fairly and was a role model to not only his children but the whole community,yet he has ridiculed for taking on the case of Tom Robinson simply because Tom was a black man and they felt it was wrong that a white man should try and defend him.

4- 2 minor symbolic mockingbirds - not characters

  • Justice - Justice is meant to serve people fairly and not do harm yet it did not produce a just result
  • Childhood Innocence -