What are the main themes?
Wow. Mockingbird is such a lovely tapestry of so many things that it feels wrong to try to analyze just one theme, but I will try by focusing on the title. "To Kill a Mockingbird" refers to some advice Atticus once gave his children, and relates directly to a theme. Atticus had told the kids to shoot all the bluejays they could hit, if they wanted to, because bluejays were a pest that destroyed people's property, but that it was "a sin to kill a mockingbird" because mockingbirds don't hurt anyone or tear anything up, they simply sing. By the novel's end, we see how masterfully Harper Lee has woven the mockingbird metaphor into the story of Boo Radley. Atticus, knowing that Boo killed Bob Ewell to save the children, has to make what for him is a very difficult decision--go along with Heck Tate's fictitious story that Ewell fell on his knife to avoid pulling Boo into a spotlight that he is wholly unprepared to deal with. Scout knows this instinctively, when Atticus asks her if she can possibly understand: "Well it'd sort of be like shooting a mockingbird, wouldn't it?" Despite the treatment Boo had withstood at the hands of his harsh father, and then brother, Boo was a mockingbird. He had been involved in some innocent teenage hijinks, for which he paid the price with his life. He had never hurt anyone, and ultimately, save the Finch children from an evil drunk. Because he had lived most of his life without stepping outside the house, he was absolutely unable to cope with the type of gossip, publicity, and attention he would receive if the story of what really happened were to be made public. Although this "mockingbird" wasn't living much of a life, to force him into the spotlight of this incident would surely kill him once and for all, figuratively if not literally.
Harper Lee's great Southern novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, deals with a number of important themes. Among them:
PREJUDICE. There are many examples of prejudice--racial, gender, social and age among them--in the novel. Perhaps the single most important event is the trial of the Negro Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white women. Attorney Atticus Finch knows beforehand that he cannot possibly gain a jury acquittal due to the racial climate of 1935, in part because no white man will accept the word of a black man over the word of another white man. Tom's innocence is obvious--to everyone but the jury.
TOLERANCE. Not unlike the prejudices above, the novel is filled with acts of intolerance. Boo Radley is routinely outcast by the entire community because of his unusual nocturnal habits and past troubles. Many of the women, particularly the single ones, are treated as peculiar. Children are held in less regard than in the 21st century, and the social classes are stereotyped.
LOSS OF INNOCENCE. The children's loss of innocence is another major theme, since Atticus opens the door for his children to observe the adult world in a manner unusual in small town America in the 1930s. Other characters, such as Boo, Tom and Dill, are also affected.
KNOWLEDGE VS. IGNORANCE. Intelligent teachers are made to look foolish, and uneducated jurors have the power of life and death in TKAM. Maycomb is a town that is still behind the times, and many of the people are proud of it. Their ignorance of worldly matters is obvious in several chapters.
If you look at this from the perspective of the title (as your question suggests) the main proof of the theme that it is a crime "to kill a mockingbird" lies in two story lines: Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. Both can be considered "mockingbird" characters. They never harm anyone. In fact, just as the mockingbird gives to society in the form of its song, Tom and Boo also give to society. Tom offers Mayella friendship and assistance - something that she has never experienced before from her family. He is the exact opposite of her father. He is simple and kind, and it is his kindness that gets him in trouble. He is willing to come assist her, even though she is white. He likely senses a kindred spirit in her to a degree as they are both societal outcasts. He feels sorry for her and he helps her, but he is killed for his kindness. Boo gives to society by watching over the children, but he is repaid for his kindness by a town that does not understand him and, to some degree, fears him because he is different. In the end, it is Boo who saves the children. For this mockingbird, however, the story has a different ending. The sheriff will not seek to prosecute him for killing Bob Ewell, preferring to take the stance tat Bob fell on his own knife. In some small way, this provides balance - a sort of karma if you will - that does not make up for the fact that Tom is dead but does even the score in a sense.
I would say that the hollowness that lies at the center of many pursuits is one of the themes of the work. The depiction of the socially elite as one who are in possession of much in way of wealth, power, and privilege, yet leading hollow and vapid lives is a reflection of the modern theme of tragedy. The idea of one appropriating the world in accordance to their own subjectivity while finding personal unhappiness present is something that applies to the Manhattan elite depicted. The "Yuppie" generation of the 1980s, individuals who accepted the premise that wealth and power can translate into personal happiness, is shown as one that lacked a sense of substantiation and firm ground upon which all exploration can commence. Despite more mountains of coke, there was a pain that lies at the heart of failed relationships, emotional unhappiness, and the premise of being "alone in a crowd." At the same time, the theme of 1980s greed and excess is shown in a dominant manner through the use of recreation drug use and the vices that accompany it. I cannot help but see the work as locked into a reflection of the 1980s, and something that shows how the generation, in the form of the narrator, that was poised for so much greatness found an emptiness at the end of its socially dictated pursuits.
Here are the main themes from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird:
- SOCIAL GOOD VS. SOCIAL EVIL:
They're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience. ~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 11, spoken by the character Atticus
- CHILDHOOD INNOCENCE VS. ADULT EXPERIENCE
- RACIAL/CLASS EQUALITY VS. RACIAL/CLASS PREJUDICE
- EDUCATION VS. IGNORANCE/SUPERSTITION
- PROGRESS VS. TRADITION
- COURAGE VS. COWARDICE:
It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived. ~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 11
- EARLY FEMINISM (TOMBOY) VS. SOUTHERN BELLE & ("LADY-LIKE") ATTITUDES
A major theme in Bright Lights, Big City is one of escapism to avoid introspection and self discovery. After a failed marriage overcome by a sense of loss and guilt, a young upwardly mobile writer in Manhattan quickly falls into a cocaine addiction and loses his job, his dignity, and self respect. He is in denial. His lifestyle is now one of sex and drugs and then more drugs and sex. For the most part, he remains in an almost constant drug filled haze which clouds his thinking. Reality versus his imagination haunts him, this fiction and his imagination leads to a deeper truth. He questions concepts of reality and the value of reason, this leads to his lifestyle change. The pursuit of pleasure is overbearing because his imagination prefers pleasure over reality, he is in a state of drug fueled confusion about life. He is shallow and emotionally empty.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" is the story about Atticus, a southern lawyer who defends a black man named Tom Robinson after the man is falsely accused of raping and beating a white girl. The story is narrated by Jem and is told through the children's view of life in the small town. There are several themes through out the story.
Good vs. Evil- The Ewells and the Cunninghams are both poor families. However, Mr. Ewell is a cruel and violent man. Mr. Cunningham is a kind and respectful man.
Innonce versus Guilt- Tom Morrison and Boo Radley, the town scary person, are both innocent good men who people misperceive. They are the mockingbirds in the story.
Racism- The attitude of the people of the town reflects racism. It was easy for Mr. Ewell to place blame on Tom because he knows that none will believe Tom's word over a white girl's word.