In Chapter 25, Harper Lee's character/narrator Scout relates how she had been playing with a "roly-poly," a rather ugly land-based crustacean that lives anywhere it is dark and wet, and are found in the South under old wood or rocks. Jem scolds her not to smash it. When she asks him why, Jem replies significantly, "Because they don't bother you." This remark foreshadows the editorial of Mr. Underwood who writes about the tragic death of Tom Robinson in the "Colored News" section of the Maycomb newspaper. Since she has been reading the Mobile Register for years, Scout has probably read this editorial since it is she who relates its message,
Mr. B.B. Underwood was at his most bitter, and he couldn't have cared less who canceled advertising and subscriptions....Mr. Underwood didn't talk about miscarriages of justice, he was writing so children could understand. Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children, and Maycomb thought he was trying to write an editorial poetical enough to be reprinted in The Montgomery Advertiser.
Earlier, in Chapter 10, Miss Maudie explains to the children what their Father meant when he said "...it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." She tells the children that mockingbirds are not destructive; "they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
So, to put this in the student's own words, the student may wish to paraphrase Mr. Underwood's editorial in a manner something like this:
- Tom Robinson was an innocent man; he never harmed anybody or anything. Instead, he was charitable to many, including Mayella Ewell, repairing things for her and stopping to talk with her when no one else would. The killing of this kind and harmless man with a crippled arm was as senseless as killing mockingbirds, that only "sing their hearts out for us," as Miss Maudie says.