To Kill a Mockingbird Questions and Answers
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
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What is the main idea of To Kill a Mockingbird?  

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Since the book is called To Kill a Mockingbird, the major symbolism associated with the title is also linked to the main idea of the story. Mockingbirds are discussed a couple of times in the story as teaching and reference points for the way people should behave. The first time mockingbirds are discussed is when Jem and Scout receive air rifles for Christmas. In chapter ten, Scout tells Miss Maudie that her father told them not to shoot at mockingbirds because that's a sin. Miss Maudie responds with the following:

"Your father's right. . . 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. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (90).

Heck Tate then uses the analogy to validate his reasons to cover up the fact that Boo Radley killed Bob Ewell in defense of the children's lives.

Boo Radley, and Tom Robinson as a matter of fact, are people who are like mockingbirds. Boo and Tom are both kind, innocent people who don't do anything to hurt anyone in society. They are also at a disadvantage in life because of their individual differences. Boo is a very shy introvert who stays in his house all day long and can't function normally in society. Tom is a black man whose arm is disabled, and he is charged with a crime against white people that he didn't commit. People take advantage of these men in ways akin to shooting innocent mockingbirds, which makes them key examples in the lesson that the children learn about respecting others and treating those more vulnerable than they are with kindness rather than malice. Hence, this is the main idea: Never take advantage of or hurt other people who are more vulnerable, or less fortunate, than you are because it's like killing an innocent mockingbird.

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