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

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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As author Harper Lee explains through her characters Atticus and Miss Maudie in To Kill a Mockingbird, the mockingbird is a symbol of purity and innocence. According to Maudie,

"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."

The innocence of the mockingbird is symbolized in human terms, especially in many of the children in the novel. Jem and Scout are two human mockingbirds, and their loss of innocence is another important theme of the novel. Lee has even given them the symbolic name of Finch--another type of innocent songbird. There are also adult mockingbirds--particularly the unjustly accused innocents Tom Robinson and Boo Radley.

The song of the mockingbird is not heard during several serious scenes, including the killing of the mad dog (Chapter 10) and during the sentencing of Robinson (Chapter 21). B. B. Underwood references "the senseless slaughter of songbirds" in his editorial concerning Tom's death (Chapter 25), and Scout later understands that subjecting Boo to an investigation into Bob Ewell's death would be "sort of like shootin' a mockingbird" (Chapter 30).

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mattyc1996 | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 2) eNoter

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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 -

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