What do Atticus and Miss Maudie Atkinson say about killing a mockingbird?

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mrshh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Atticus did not mind if his children played with air-rifles, but he refused to teach them how to shoot the guns.  Jem and Scout thought that their father had no interest in guns.  They later found out that he had been an excellent shot in his younger years.  One day, Atticus talked to Jem about using the air-rifle:

"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."  (To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 10)

Though he preferred his children not to harm any animals, Atticus remembered his own childhood.  He knew that Jem and Scout would be tempted to shoot at birds.  He urged his son not to shoot at any mockingbirds.  

Scout wondered why her father had said it was a sin.  She decided to ask Miss Maudie about it, because her neighbor was always wise and insightful.  Miss Maudie told Scout that she agreed with Atticus.  She also explained what he meant when he talked about it being a sin if someone were to kill a mockingbird:

"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."

In the novel, mockingbirds represent innocence.  Miss Maudie explained the innocence of mockingbirds and how they brought joy to people and did no harm.

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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