To Kill A Mockingbird Message

What is the overall message is in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

Central messages of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird are the importance of empathy and that the only way to judge others is by their behavior and their actions.

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There are numerous messages contained in To Kill a Mockingbird. However, one of the most significant is the importance of empathy. The people of Maycomb, with the notable exception of Atticus Finch, are quick to judge others, demonstrating a marked lack of empathy for them and their predicaments.

Whether it's Tom Robinson, Boo Radley, or anyone else in town who just happens to be different, those who stand out in society can expect little or no empathy from the local townsfolk.

Initially, the Finch children are also somewhat lacking in empathy, although in their defense, one could say that they're much too young to understand its immense value. Thankfully, the wise and morally upstanding Atticus is on hand to teach Scout and Jem the importance of walking a mile in someone else's shoes. Such a valuable moral lesson even extends to unpleasant characters like Mrs. Dubose and the unspeakable Bob Ewell.

Thanks to Atticus's lessons, Scout and Jem are able to see Boo Radley as a human being rather than the scary boogie-man figure of local legend. This allows them to establish a unique connection with him that gives them a privileged insight into what Arthur Radley is really like as a person.

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Set in the fictional town of Maycomb in segregated Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird tells the story of a man wrongly accused of a crime based on the color of his skin. It is a story about class and racial prejudice, discrimination, justice and injustice, equality, honor, and the many forms of courage; but, most importantly, it is a story about humanity.

Lee uses her characters to send a powerful message. Through Tom Robinson, a Black man wrongly convicted of the rape of a young white woman, Lee teaches readers about the true meaning of justice and morality and openly criticizes the social norms, standards, and values of racist societies and cultures. She writes about the mistreatment of the African American community and points out the horrific consequences of intolerance, discrimination, and prejudice.

Through the Atticus Finch, an honest and honorable lawyer, Lee teaches the readers about the importance of kindness, compassion, tolerance, and acceptance. She implies that, no matter the circumstances, people should always try to understand and respect each other and to keep an open mind, as this is how society can move forward. In the words of Atticus,

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.

What Lee is essentially trying to say is that we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but by its contents. Who or what people are, how they look like, the color of their skin, their social status, their sexuality, their religion, their gender—none of it matters. The only thing that matters is what people do and how they do it, as actions speak louder than words.

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The overall message, or theme, in To Kill a Mockingbird is that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity.

In the beginning of the story, we learn that children should be treated with dignity.  Scout is offended when her new teacher Miss Caroline punishes her instead of listening to her, and complains that her father taught her wrong.

Scout also advises her Uncle Jack on how to respect children when he spanks her for cussing.

"Well, in the first place you never stopped to gimme a chance to tell you my side of it- you just lit right into me. When Jem an' I fuss Atticus doesn't ever just listen to Jem's side of it, he hears mine too…” (ch 9)

Poor Scout is learning that the world isn’t fair, but she has a point.  Everyone, even a child, deserves to be listened to before a judgment is made.

We also learn that you should respect people regardless of how different they are in To Kill a Mockingbird.  Boo Radley is the ridicule of the neighborhood because he had some trouble in his younger days and has been locked up in his house ever since.  Children make fun of him and adults gossip about him, but in the end we learn that he is a kind, sweet, gentle man who never wants to hurt anyone and just wants to be left alone. 

Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough. (ch 31)

He befriends Scout and Jem, looking out for them and giving them gifts.  He also saves their lives.

People of all social classes deserve respect.  Calpurnia and Atticus lecture Scout on her treatment of Walter Cunningham when she protests his use of syrup while visiting their house for lunch.

“Don't matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house's yo' comp'ny..” (ch 3)

This is a lesson everyone needs to learn.  You should always respect anyone, and not think you’re better than anyone, just because you are from a “better” family or have money.

Finally, we need to treat people as equals regardless of color.  Atticus teaches his children this, by example.  He is respectful of everyone.  In the courtroom, he explains that most evidence was presented with confidence.

[They presented evidence] confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption- the evil assumption- that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings … (ch 20)

This is the moral of the story.  Everyone is equal, regardless of the color of his or her skin.  Skin color does not make one inferior—actions do.

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