What are some major differences between the novel and film of To Kill a Mockingbird?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A couple of major differences between the 1962 film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Robert Mulligan, and Harper Lee's original novel is that the film version made quite a few changes to the characters and the courtroom scene. The film version eliminated a few...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

A couple of major differences between the 1962 film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, directed by Robert Mulligan, and Harper Lee's original novel is that the film version made quite a few changes to the characters and the courtroom scene.

The film version eliminated a few different characters, both major and minor. Two characters important to the original novel that are missing in the film are Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Jack. A couple of minor characters are also missing, including Dill's aunt Miss Rachel and Mr. Underwood. In the film, Miss Stephanie Crawford plays the role of Dill's aunt, and the two separate characters of Miss Stephanie and Miss Rachel were melded into one role.

Changes were also made to Mrs. Dubose's character.  Mrs. Dubose actually does make a brief appearance in the film, but her character is changed slightly. Instead of being called Mrs. Dubose, she is called Miss Dubose. Characterizing her as an unmarried spinster reduces some of the greatness in her that Atticus wanted his children to see in Lee's novel. In the film, she is no longer a great widow that has fallen into a terrible state due to illness as she is in the book. Instead, in the film she is just a cantankerous old woman who no one has ever wanted to get near, including a potential husband. As a result, Miss Dubose is used by Atticus in the film as only a lesson of tolerance and the ability to maintain one's civility at all times; she is no longer the  lesson of courage Atticus teaches his children in the book. The lesson of courage is left out of the film entirely because Jem never goes and reads to Miss Dubose.

One change in the film made to the courtroom scene concerns Mayella Ewell's cross-examination. In the film, during Atticus's cross-examination of Mayella, after having Tom Robinson stand before the court, Atticus throws him a glass from the judge's bench and asks Robinson to catch it; Robinson very deftly catches the glass in his strong right hand. Atticus then asks Robinson to catch another glass in his left hand, and Robinson explains to the court that his left arm and hand are crippled because he got them caught in a cotton gin as a child. In the book, Reverend Sykes explains to Jem, Scout, and Dill how Robinson's hand and arm became crippled. In the book, Robinson's arm has an obviously shriveled appearance. Since Brock Peters, the actor who played Robinson in the 1962 version, was obviously strong in both arms, the director had to invent a believable way for the information of Robinson's disability to become known.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Needless to say, not every scene of a 200+ page novel can be included in a two hour film adaption, and such is also the case with To Kill a Mockingbird. Differences between the two versions include the following:

  • Among the characters not included in the movie are Aunt Alexandra, Uncle Jack, Cousin Francis, Mr. Avery, Miss Stephanie, Link Deas, Miss Caroline, Miss Gates, Dolphus Raymond and Burris Ewell.
  • Important scenes left out of the movie include all of Scout's classroom scenes; Christmas at Finch Landing; the children's visit to Calpurnia's church; and the Missionary Circle tea.
  • Changes between the novel and movie include one of the opening scenes when Scout invites Mr. Cunningham into the house when he attempts to quietly repay his debt to Atticus; in the novel, Atticus deliberately allows Cunningham to leaves his goods anonymously. Another difference comes when Bob Ewell spits in Atticus' face. In the novel, he encounters Atticus downtown, but in the movie, he expectorates on Atticus in front of Tom Robinson's house.
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on