What does the title To Kill a Mockingbird mean?

Expert Answers
Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The novel means different things to different people, but generally it is seen as a "growing up" story with a strong message against racism, intolerance, and cruelty. I think you must be asking about the phrase itself, "to kill a mockingbird," which becomes the title of the book.

This is a reference to an incident in the novel when Jem gets an air rifle and Atticus lays down the rules. He tells Jem that he can shoot certain birds, but he is not to kill mockingbirds because they are harmless--in no way destructive--and bring only beauty into the world with their song. This becomes a motif in the novel and helps develop its themes.

Several characters have been interpreted to be "mockingbirds" according to Atticus' explanation, primarily Boo Radley. Boo is innocent and essentially helpless. He harms no one. At the conclusion of the novel, Scout makes the connection between Boo and mockingbirds. When Heck Tate refuses to bring Boo into the glare of publicity, Scout observes that "it'd be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?"

Sometimes Scout and Jem are interpreted as being mockingbirds in that they are innocent and harmless yet brutally attacked by Bob Ewell in a despicable act of drunkenness, but the mockingbird motif is developed mainly through Boo Radley's character.

jess1999 | Student

There is a actually a symbolism that goes was the Mockingbird. In ch 10, Atticus states that killing a mockingbird was a sin. Later on Miss Maudie states that "Mockingbirds don't eat up people's garden, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts our for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (Ch 10). This basically represents how we shouldn't have prejudice against people who we don't know, or don't harm the innocent. This theme was brought up multiple time throughout the book as a huge event. For example the Tom Robinson trial, where basically Robinson an innocent man was convicted for rape because of his skin color. Later on there was Boo Radley who ended up killing Bob Ewell because he wanted to save Scout and Jem. Heck Tate decides not to blame Radley because he knew that Radley did nothing wrong.