When Atticus says "shoot all the bluejays you want" but "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird," what does he mean and where do we see examples of it in Part 1 of To Kill a Mockingbird? I never really...

When Atticus says "shoot all the bluejays you want" but "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird," what does he mean and where do we see examples of it in Part 1 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

I never really understood it that well.

Asked on by claran001

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Atticus doesn't fully explain his rationale for the advice he gives Jem that serves as the title of the Harper Lee novel. Jem and Scout have received air rifles as Christmas presents from Atticus, and he tells Jem that

"I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird." 

It is Miss Maudie who explains to Scout that mockingbirds are harmless creatures who

"... don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy... (and) sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."

Atticus' implication is that shooting cans does not involve the killing of God's creatures; but if it's kill you must, shoot at blue jays (which are harmful, eating fruits and other crops). Atticus unexpectedly takes his own advice later in Chapter 10 when he is forced to fire a gun for the first time in decades: It is not an innocent, harmless mockingbird he shoots, but a dangerous and possibly deadly mad dog which threatens the lives of his neighbors.

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