What is the universal theme in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The universal theme in To Kill a Mockingbird is the Coexistence of Good and Evil.

Since they are raised in a loving and kind environment by an educated and good man of sterling values, Jeremy and Jean Louise Finch grow up believing in the innate goodness of mankind. Having a more mature perspective, their father believes that good and evil both surely exist, but he feels that what is good prevails in most people.

It is this belief in the goodness within that Atticus counts when he defends Tom Robinson. Furthermore, it is with this belief that Atticus appeals to the jury to find Tom Robinson innocent of the charges against him. But when the jury returns a guilty verdict, Atticus knows that the evil of racial bias has taken precedence over the jurors' consciences. Indeed, there may have been a number of jurors who truly have felt that Tom is innocent, but public opinion overrides the stirring of their consciences. 

Because Jem was so certain that the jury would find Tom Robinson not guilty, he is disillusioned by the guilty verdict, and he feels that the jury system is greatly flawed. In fact, he becomes convinced that juries should be abolished because men are untrustworthy and evil. While Scout, too, is greatly disappointed in the verdict, she still retains some faith in mankind and the judicial process. She, therefore, does not become as pessimistic as Jem.

Fortunately, it is the true goodness of Boo Radley that restores Jem and Scout's faith in mankind. 

gmuss25's profile pic

gmuss25 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the universal themes that is explored throughout the novel concerns the protection of innocent individuals. When Jem and Scout are playing with their air rifles, Atticus tells them that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Mockingbirds are harmless birds that sing beautifully but cannot defend themselves against hunters. Mockingbirds also symbolize innocent, defenseless beings. Throughout the novel, several characters are considered symbolic mockingbirds. Both Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are innocent beings and symbolic mockingbirds. Atticus illustrates the importance of protecting innocent beings by valiantly defending Tom Robinson in front of a prejudiced jury. Mr. Underwood writes an editorial comparing Tom's death to the slaughter of innocent songbirds (mockingbirds). Also, Sheriff Tate protects Boo Radley from the community's limelight by claiming that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife. Scout metaphorically applies Atticus's earlier lesson by stating that accusing Boo of Bob's murder would be similar to shooting a mockingbird. The title of the novel also applies to the universal theme of protecting innocent beings. Lee explores the importance of protecting innocent, harmless people who cannot defend themselves against others.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The universal theme in To Kill a Mockingbird is coming of age.

A universal theme is one that applies to almost everyone, and every situation.  Universal means it applies to everyone.  Many universal themes are related to conflict in some way.  This book’s universal theme is related to Scout’s growth from a child to an understanding of the adult world.  Coming of age means growing up.  Although there are not a lot of years going by in this book, Scout grows up quickly over a short period of time through the conflicts related to Tom Robinson’s trial and Boo Radley’s isolation.  She learns about race and racism, and about class and discrimination.  She also learns about redemption and justice.  At the end of the book, she is a far different girl than at the beginning.