Why is it called To Kill a Mockingbird?

The story is called To Kill a Mockingbird because it's primarily concerned with the destruction of mockingbirds, or innocent people, by evil. The expression is used in chapter 10 of the book, where Miss Maudie confirms that Atticus is right in saying that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Metaphorically, killing a mockingbird stands for the destruction of innocence.

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Harper Lee originally intended to name her book Atticus, which would've been the obvious choice, given that Atticus Finch is a major character in the book. But she changed her mind and chose to use To Kill a Mockingbird instead. The title carries considerable psychological weight in that much...

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Harper Lee originally intended to name her book Atticus, which would've been the obvious choice, given that Atticus Finch is a major character in the book. But she changed her mind and chose to use To Kill a Mockingbird instead. The title carries considerable psychological weight in that much of the story is concerned with the “killing,” or destruction, of the innocent.

One only has to think of Tom Robinson in this regard, an African-American man shot dead while trying to escape from prison after being falsely convicted of rape and assault. Tom is one of life's mockingbirds in that he's completely innocent. As Miss Maudie explains to Scout, mockingbirds do nothing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill them.

Boo Radley is also a mockingbird, albeit for different reasons. He's been tagged by the local community as some kind of bogeyman, a crazed psychopath with a taste for violence. But in actual fact, he's as innocent as the day is long.

Scout and Jem don't understand this at first; they simply see Boo as a scary guy and constantly try to get him to come outside his house as part of a game. But eventually, when Boo starts to reach out to them by leaving them little keepsakes in the knothole of a tree, they realize that hurting this shy and kind man in any way would be like shooting a mockingbird.

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In Chapter 10, Scout recalls the time Atticus gave her and Jem air-rifles but would not teach them to shoot. This is interesting because Scout and Jem will later learn that Atticus was a superb marksman. Uncle Jack taught them instead. However, Atticus did instruct the children that if they did go shooting at birds that they could shoot blue-jays but not mockingbirds. He added that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. 

Scout then asked Miss Maudie about it. Miss Maudie replied: 

Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. 

This becomes a theme for the entire novel. It is a sin to kill or harm something or someone who does nothing but offer beauty, help, and innocence to the world. Therefore, it would be a sin to harm Boo Radley and Tom Robinson, (and Atticus, Jem, and Scout for that matter) because these are people/characters who do nothing wrong and in some cases, they offer to help others. 

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