In "To Kill a Mockingbird", what does it mean to be a mockingbird?And how are characters such as Scout, Boo Radley, and Tom  Robinson portrayed as "mockingbirds"? Please give some quotes from the...

In "To Kill a Mockingbird", what does it mean to be a mockingbird?

And how are characters such as Scout, Boo Radley, and Tom  Robinson portrayed as "mockingbirds"? Please give some quotes from the book and page numbers if possible.

Expert Answers
MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Boo Radley is one powerful example of the mockingbird motif in the novel. Constantly hidden in the shadows, he only truly emerges at the end of the story. In his quiet way, through the gifts left in the tree and the blanket around Scout’s shoulders the night of the fire that destroys Miss Maudie’s house, Boo has been interacting with Jem and Scout throughout the entire text, but it is not until the end that the children understand his true nature.

This lesson is first revealed when Atticus buys the children guns.

Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

That’s the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.

“Your father is right,” she said. “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.”

Without realizing, Jem, Scout, and Dill have in a way been trying to kill that mockingbird. The children have built up a view of Boo based solely on a preconceived notion that is completely wrong. This is similar to the racism evident in the rest of the town: a judgment made before knowledge. Yet from that notion they have developed a pattern of behavior that seeks to destroy the true nature of Boo by pretending that it could not possibly exist.

It is through the attack on the children and Sheriff Tate's understanding that Boo’s identification as a mockingbird becomes most clear. The sheltered innocence of Boo’s life would be threatened should he be brought to trial for the death of Bob Ewell, even though he would most likely be acquitted as a hero. It is this hero worship that would “kill” the mockingbird, Tate believes. The people, especially the women, would bother him continually with food and praise for such a brave act. Such attention would ultimately destroy who Boo is, his innocence, and his quiet love for the children of Atticus Finch. Scout and Jem finally acknowledge this at the end. When Atticus asks Scout if she understands why they will say Bob Ewell fell on his own knife, she replies that is they did it any other way, "Well, it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?

lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Harper Lee's classic novel, the mockingbird is a metaphor for Boo Radley.  Atticus Finch tells his children when they receive BB guns for Christmas that they can shoot all the bluejays they want, because bluejays are destructive and tear up people's foliage and crops.  However, Atticus warns them that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird," because mockingbirds only sing for others' enjoyment and don't tear up property or crops.  Boo Radley, long thought by the children to be a dangerous, malevolent spook, turns out to be a "mockingbird."  He only emerges from his home to leave small treats for the children in the crook of the tree, and to save the children from attack by a drunken Bob Ewell. 

khan10 | Student

Mockingbirds continue to symbolize an image of innocence and good. As Atticus tells Scout and Jem, they have done nothing but make beautiful music for people to listen to. Boo Radley is an important mockingbird in the novel: he has done utterly nothing wrong and yet endures harsh rumors from the society as a savage "beast" who remains within his haunted lair for virtually no reason. Simply because he is different from the majority, Boo has remained inside the Radley Place because he no longer wants to face the untrue and horrific myths society has created about him. The African Americans, as a whole, also represent the image of a mockingbird because, like Boo Radley, the color of their skin brand all of them as inferior creatures (compared to whites). They have done nothing wrong yet are all judged by a part of themselves that is unchangeable. Both examples lead to the idea of scapegoating that the society of Maycomb does constantly. They continue to blame their problems on others (Boo Radley and the African-American community) which results in prejudice.

sherleytemple | Student

To be a mockingbird, it means that you are graceful. all mockingbirds do is just sit there and whistle their tune of song. they don't harm anyone and that is why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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