What is the major problem/conflict in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's not really possible to pin down a single conflict in Harper Lee's novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. There are actually two major plots: Part One of the novel focuses on Jem's and Scout's fascination with their unseen neighbor, Boo Radley. The primary conflict in this section is the children's fear of Boo vs. their unquenchable urge to get a look at him. The children eventually come to realize that Boo is friendly enough, though the section ends with Boo still being invisible to them.

Part Two of the novel deals with the trial of Tom Robinson. There are many conflicts concerning the trial: Atticus' decision to defend a black man accused of raping a white woman is the major one. Whether Tom will receive a fair trial because he is black is another. The family's standing in the town is compromised because of Atticus' decision, and eventually, all of the Finches come to realize that Bob Ewell's threats following the trial may be for real.

The final conflict of the novel arises when the two plots are tied together in the end. When Bob Ewell, who had made the false charges against Tom, attacks Jem and Scout on a dark Halloween night, it is Boo who emerges to save them, killing Bob in the process. Though it is never discussed, Boo's decision to protect the children must have been a trying one; Sheriff Tate then has to resolve the conflict with a decision of his own.

gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The major conflict throughout the novel centers on Atticus's decision to represent and defend Tom Robinson in front of a prejudiced jury and community. Atticus's decision to defend Tom is extremely unpopular throughout the racist community of Maycomb and causes his family problems throughout the novel. Atticus and his children are ridiculed, and he is labeled a "nigger-lover." Scout and Jem are forced to defend their father on more than one occasion and encounter dangerous situations because of Atticus's stance. In chapter 15, the Finch family ends up preventing a lynch mob from harming Tom Robinson before the trial. Later on in the novel, Scout and Jem are attacked by Bob Ewell, who wishes to enact revenge on their family after Atticus "ruined" his reputation. Tom's wrongful conviction leads to his subsequent death as he is shot escaping from the Enfield Prison Farm, and Atticus's children are forced to alter their perspectives on their hometown.

In addition to the main conflict revolving around Atticus's defense of Tom Robinson, other significant conflicts involve Scout understanding the true identity of her reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley and the Finch family's response to the malevolent Bob Ewell.

davedaveson | Student

racism and evil

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To Kill a Mockingbird

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