What is the author's purpose for the novel To Kill a Mockingbird?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The three main reasons authors write are usually to persuade, to inform, and/or to entertain. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird contains all three of these reasons. Whether Lee planned her novel out accordingly is a different question, but the fact that one book can achieve so much from a little girl's perspective creates a unique masterpiece. The issues discussed about this little southern Alabama town reaches deep into readers' souls and persuades them to be better neighbors, informs them about the consequences of prejudice, and entertains them with the perspective of life from a spunky child. 

One of the first reasons for Lee's story to be told is to persuade people to be better citizens and neighbors in their communities. A community is made up of different people who come from many different backgrounds. In order for every one to be able to live a fulfilling life, each one needs to let the other live freely without prejudice. One of the best quotes from Atticus drives this thought home:

"First of all, . . .if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view--until you climb into his skin and walk around in it'" (30).

If everyone could be persuaded to do this "simple trick" there would be a lot less judgment passed upon other people in this world, for which everyone would be better off. 

Next, To Kill a Mockingbird informs readers of the bigotry and discrimination deeply rooted in the South. Those who have only studied about the Civil War, the Klu Klux Klan, and Martin Luther King, Jr. may only have a slight understanding of what happened during those critical years in places like Alabama. But by reading Lee's novel, one can learn from a native's perspective how the South slowly evolved from one generation to the next--and how they dealt with racism and their caste system. For example, Aunt Alexandra finds it best to tell Scout that everyone has a genetic streak that can't be broke by anything new or modern:

"Aunt Alexandra, in underlining the moral of young Sam Merriweather's suicide, said it was caused by a morbid streak in the family. Let a sixteen-year-old girl gigle in the choir and Aunty would say, 'It just goes to show you, all Penfield women are flighty.' Everybody in Maycomb, it seemed, had a Streak: a Drinking Streak, a Gambling Streak, a Mean Streak, a Funny Streak" (129).

Aunt Alexandra's attitude clearly contradicts Atticus's, and luckily, Scout figures that out. Scout learns not to look down on other people who are different than her; and, in fact, Lee teaches this to the reader in a fun and entertaining way through Scout's eyes. Consequently, Scout finally learns to respect others no matter who they are. She learns the following:

"'. . . Atticus, when they finally saw him, why h e hadn't done any of those things. . . Atticus, he was real nice.' 

His hands were under my chin, pulling up the cover, tucking it around me.

'Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them" (281).

Read the study guide:
To Kill a Mockingbird

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