One need look no further than the haunting title of this novel to see a hint of what might be the most important theme of To Kill a Mockingbird, that of the intolerance many people have for anyone they consider to be different, less than, or unfit according to some set of personal or social criteria. The novel's primary character, Scout Finch, is growing up in a small Southern town where everyone knows everyone's business; people judge each other constantly based on family history, community folklore, gossip, and of course, skin color. Scout sees intolerance everywhere she looks in her community, except when she is at home with her father, Atticus Finch, who has taken the thankless job of defending a black man accused by a white woman of assault. As far as most Southerners were concerned, Tom Robinson, the black man accused was guilty the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth--even though no one had much faith that she or her drunken father were telling the truth. Atticus is nonplussed by the town's less than enthusiastic reaction to his determination to give Robinson the best defense he possibly could--which he does, setting into motion a chain of events that nearly costs Scout and her brother Jem their lives.
The coexistence of good and evil; the importance of moral education; social class.