Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the novel as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to help get you started.

Topic #1

The theme of the mockingbird is an important one in To Kill a Mockingbird. Write a paper on the mockingbird theme in Harper Lee’s only book. Be sure to tell what a mockingbird is and tell exactly why both Boo and Tom are mockingbirds. Are fears and superstitions associated with the mockingbird theme, with Boo, and/or with Tom? Explain your answer.


I. Thesis Statement: Harper Lee uses the mockingbird theme with both Boo and Tom as examples and with fears and superstitions attached to the mockingbird and both characters.

II. Definition of a mockingbird

A. Songbird

B. Gives its music

C. Expects nothing in return

D. Does no harm

E. Sin to kill mockingbird

III. Boo

A. Like the songbird

B. Gives gifts in tree and in end protects children

C. Expects no gifts or favors in return

D. Does no harm

E. Sin to harm or kill Boo

IV. Tom

A. Like the songbird

B. Gives gifts of labor

C. Expects no gifts or favors in return

D. Does no harm

E. Sin to harm or kill Tom

V. Superstitions attached to each

A. Mockingbird

1. Sin to kill

2. Spends life giving

B. Boo

1. Rumors spread about him

2. Fear attached to him and the Radley Place

C. Tom

1. Rumors spread about him

2. Fears associated with him and his race

a. “No lady safe in her bed” (Mrs. Farrow)

b. “Sin to kill a cripple” (Underwood)

Topic #2

Both Atticus and Bob Ewell are important characters in the novel. Compare and contrast these important characters.


I. Thesis Statement: In the novel To Kill a Mockingbird there are similarities and differences between Atticus and Bob Ewell, but the differences outweigh the similarities.

II. Similarities

A. Fathers

B. Single parents

C. Set examples for their children

III. Differences

A. Atticus Finch

1. Same in public as private

2. Set example of honesty and concern for others to children

3. Did not use corporal punishment

4. Works as lawyer

B. Bob Ewell

1. Does evil works in secrecy

a. Scares Helen Robinson when she is alone

b. Cuts judge’s screen

c. Attacks children at night when they are alone

2. Sets contentious example for children

3. Beats children

4. Does not hold job

Topic #3

Atticus teaches many lessons to his children. What are some of the lessons that Atticus taught? How does he teach his lessons? Cite examples from the novel.


I. Thesis Statement: Atticus teaches many lessons to his children through his examples and through his patient lessons.

II. Lessons

A. Answer children when they ask you something

B. Do not hurt the defenseless

C. Be the same in public as in private

D. Use compromise when possible

E. Try to crawl into someone else’s skin

III. Means of instruction

A. Tells brother to do so and does himself

B. Example

C. Example

D. Shows Scout how to do so by doing with her

E. Mentions many, many times to children

Topic #4

Lee chooses Scout as narrator for the novel. In what way does it accomplish Lee’s purpose to have a young, innocent narrator? Can she make a profound statement about the hypocrisy of society? Explain your answer.


I.Thesis Statement: Through Scout’s innocent point-of-view, the reader sees Maycomb society with its barriers of class, race, and sex.

II. “Different kinds of folks”

A. Jem

1. Ordinary folks like the Finches and neighbors

2. The Ewells

3. The Cunninghams

4. The Negroes

B. Aunt Alexandra

1. Heredity

2. Shortcomings in other tribal groups

C. Scout

1. Says that “Folks is folks”

2. Less prejudiced than most other characters

III. Sees evidence of racial differentiation

A. Said Calpurnia was “supposed to use back door”

B. Jury was White men from outside town

C. Is told by Reverend Sykes that he “ain’t ever seen any jury decide in favor of a colored man over a white man. . . .”

IV. Sex lines in Maycomb

A. Women not on a jury

B. Expect girls to act and dress in a certain way

C. Southern womanhood

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