To Kill a Mockingbird Style, Form, and Literary Elements
by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird book cover
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Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

To Kill a Mockingbird examines southern religious practices and beliefs, revealing the tension that exists within a society that discriminates against select neighbors rather than loving them. Atticus uses Christian values to raise Scout and Jem. Serving as their primary example, he teaches the children to be ethical, moral, and just. He demonstrates compassion, morality, and forgiveness. Atticus encourages Scout and Jem to forgive relatives, classmates, and neighbors who make offensive remarks about him. Yet, Scout struggles to refrain from pummeling anyone who decides to hurl insults at her. When Bob Ewell spits in Atticus’s face, it affords Atticus the opportunity to show Jem and Scout what he has tried to teach them all along: A Christian must turn the other cheek.

As a lawyer and state representative, Atticus is respected in the community and known for his honesty and moral standing. Judge Taylor purposely chooses Atticus to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman, because he knows Atticus will work hard to prove Tom’s innocence. This case places Atticus is the position of being a Christ-like figure, bearing the sins of the community. “Let this cup pass from you, eh?” Atticus’s brother says. Miss Maude argues, “We’re so rarely called on to be Christians, but when we are, we’ve got men like Atticus to go for us.” Critics suggest that Atticus’s courage to defend Tom stems from his strong spiritual foundation and his need to make the truth of Tom’s innocence evident to the community.

Lee also uses the action around the case to illustrate the tension between Christianity, bigotry, and hypocrisy. Hypocrisy and hatred are learned behaviors, suggests Lee, just as love and compassion are. Tom feels compassion for Mayella, a poor, uneducated young woman physically abused by her father. Similarly, Atticus shows love and friendship to Tom when he helps protect him from a mob intent on hanging him for a crime he did not commit. Compassion sets both men apart from other members of the community and is the catalyst for most of the conflict that surrounds them.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Maycomb

Maycomb. Seat of Alabama’s fictional Maycomb County, located twenty miles east of Finch’s Landing. Through its citizens from professional, middle, and lower classes, Harper Lee analyzes the values and problems common in small southern towns during the Great Depression. Scout learns from Atticus to reject the racial and social prejudices of the town without hating its inhabitants. By walking in the shoes of others both before and after the Tom Robinson trial, she respects Mrs. Henry Lafayette Dubose, who is determined to cure her morphine addiction before dying, and she appreciates Judge Taylor, Sheriff Tate, and farmer Link Deas, all of whom try to give Tom Robinson as fair a trial as possible in Maycomb.

Radley place

Radley place. Home of Arthur (Boo) Radley and his family; located near Atticus Finch’s home. Community rumors about the seclusion of Boo in his home and about his violent actions provide mystery and excitement for Scout, Jem, and Dill during their summers. Actually seeing Boo or enticing him to leave his dark, isolated home becomes a goal for the children and a lesson in tolerance and acceptance. Through the gifts they find in the hollow tree in the Radley yard, they learn of Boo’s tentative attempts at friendship with them. When Boo saves their lives by killing Bob Ewell in the woods behind the school, they learn to respect his privacy and his desire to remain hidden from the probing eyes of the community.

Schoolhouse

Schoolhouse. School attended by the Finch children. By having children from the town and from the rural community in the same classes, Lee shows the various social classes in the county and how all have learned to live together. Miss Caroline Fisher, Scout’s first-grade teacher, is considered an outsider because she is from Clanton in northern Alabama. She does not understand the social...

(The entire section is 3,092 words.)