What are six items in To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee that show symbolism and meaning in the story. Anything helps. Thanks!

Expert Answers
price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are a lot of things and people who symbolize or represent something else in the novel. On the basic level, Scout, Jem, and Dill represent the innocence of childhood and the rites of passage they take throughout the novel to grow, learn, and mature. Atticus is a symbol of wisdom, acceptance, humility, and respect. Here are a few more specific symbolic devices Harper Lee uses in the novel.

  • The mockingbird. A mockingbird is a bird that is beloved for its beautiful song. It is appreciated and known for the joy it gives. According to Atticus, ". . . it is a sin to kill a mockingbird." Miss Maudie adds that "Mockingbirds don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. There are many mockingbirds in the story who represent the innocence and beauty of the bird. Scout, Jem, Dill, Boo, and Tom Robinson are considered symbolic mockingbirds.
  • The rabid dog that wanders into town. The rabid dog, named Tim Johnson, is also considered the town dog. He comes into town one day rabid and dangerous. Atticus shoots the dog before it can go into town and harm someone. The dog is a symbol of the "disease" of racism so prominent in Maycomb. Like the dog who is out of his mind with a physical disease, the residents of the South are also afflicted with "Maycomb's disease", racism. It is appropriate that Atticus kills the dog as Atticus is also trying to defeat racism in the Tom Robinson trial. It is also worth noting that the dog has a very human name; this can only symbolize that the dog means more than just a dog who has contracted rabies.
  • Tom Robinson's arm. Tom has a deformed arm that keeps him handicapped as a person. He is unable to do things that a person with two normal arms could do. Tom's arm and disability are symbolic of how blacks are "handicapped" by prejudice and racism in the world in which they live. They do not have the same opportunities and abilities to achieve compared to whites in the community. In many ways, they are "crippled" by society and a culture that still believes in the inequality of human beings.
  • Weather. When the weather changes abruptly and a cold snap brings a dusting of snow, it foreshadows or symbolizes the bad things to come in the novel. Before the storm, To Kill a Mockingbird is a story about children and their games. After the cold snap, the mood of the novel becomes much darker and the conflicts in the novel begin to grow and unravel with the fire at Miss Maudie's, the climactic trial of Tom Robinson, and the attack on Scout and Jem. 
  • The town of Maycomb. On the first few pages of the novel, the town of Maycomb is described as a "tired, old town." The town is symbolic of the racist South and how the South is still hanging onto old values and beliefs. Maycomb is past its prime economically and socially. There is nothing very positive going on in town, and its values and beliefs are reminiscent of the past. Like the sloppy roads Harper Lee describes after a rain, Maycomb represents people mired in their own prejudice and hate.
  • The courthouse. In the beginning of the novel, Harper Lee describes the courthouse as being worn out and old. It is described as looking gaudy because it is a compilation of designs. Only the large columns of the original courthouse remained after a fire destroyed the rest of the building. A new Victorian-style courthouse was built around the columns, and their styles clashed. There is also an old clock tower where the clock often doesn't work. The courthouse is symbolically stuck in the past and is unable to move on from old habits and beliefs. In addition, the courthouse is in disrepair and "sags" physically. A courthouse is often the foundation of a community and is supposed to be a fair place for every citizen. From the front, the large pillars seem to hold up the foundation of a justice system that is fair, unfortunately, we know that the courthouse's foundation is really built on racism and injustice.

These are just some of the symbols in the book that I find particularly interesting and exciting as a reader.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question