Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How does Jem Finch symbolize a mockingbird in To Kill a Mockingbird?

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Jem Finch symbolizes a mockingbird in To Kill a Mockingbird in that he's an innocent soul who (usually) does no harm. Jem's innocence can be seen by his belief that Maycomb people are the best in the world, a belief that is destroyed by the wrongful conviction of Tom Robinson.



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When teaching his children about guns, Atticus tells them that they can shoot at tin cans and blue jays but that they should never shoot at a mockingbird. He even goes so far as to call this action sinful, which shocks Scout, as her father has never classified actions in that way. She asks her trusted neighbor, Miss Maudie, what Atticus meant by this comment. Miss Maudie tells her that mockingbirds only exist to create beautiful music; they never cause anyone any harm.

Those who read this novel often analyze who or what is the symbolic mockingbird of the novel's title. Some believe that Jem is the mockingbird because of the conflict he faces, particularly during Tom Robinson's trial. Jem is a fairly ideal young man. Early in the novel, he finds Scout holding Walter Cunningham's face in the dirt and invites the young boy to their home for some food; this proves that he has a heart for helping others.

Yet early in the novel, Jem is quite young and hasn't fully matured into this mindset. Recall that he spent his summers enacting "Boo Radley" skits and engaging in "daring" feats to touch the man's house. Later, he destroys Miss Dubose's prized flowers. These actions don't quite fit the description provided by Miss Maudie.

The Tom Robinson trial is a turning point for Jem. Because of the outcome, Jem begins to look at the world differently and understands that not everyone is given a fair chance to live his best life. While he and Scout sit in a place of privilege, Tom dies because of the prejudices of his Maycomb neighbors. This greatly bothers Jem, who then extends a newfound need to help the less fortunate to a roly-poly bug he finds.

Although Jem demonstrates the capacity for goodness from the beginning of the novel, the conflict he faces further grows him into a young man who will likely protect the innocent and will make the world a more beautiful place through his newfound voice. This demonstrates that Jem is growing into a faithful mockingbird.

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In the story, mockingbirds symbolically represent innocent, compassionate beings who are vulnerable and in need of protection from others. Atticus teaches his children the importance of protecting innocent, defenseless beings by instructing them not to kill mockingbirds and representing Tom Robinson in court. Although Tom Robinson and Boo Radley are the most notable symbolic mockingbirds, Jem Finch shares many similar traits with them and also fits the description of a mockingbird. Jem is depicted as a pure, innocent child who goes out of his way to support Scout but has a naïve outlook on Maycomb's prejudiced community.

According to Miss Maudie, mockingbirds cause no one harm and simply make beautiful music for people to enjoy. Similar to a mockingbird, Jem demonstrates his generous nature by offering Scout encouraging words when she feels upset, sharing some of his birthday money with her to purchase a baton, and comforting Scout following the Maycomb Halloween festival. There are many other examples of Jem displaying his benevolence, like his courageous decision not to abandon Atticus in front of the mob.

In addition to his selfless, altruistic personality, Jem is also innocent and does recognize the true nature of his racist town. Growing up in Maycomb, Jem is blind to the reality of his prejudiced community, which is segregated by racial laws and customs. During the Tom Robinson trial, Jem naively believes Atticus has won the case because he made a valid argument for Tom's innocence. However, Jem is heartbroken and loses his childhood innocence when Tom receives a guilty verdict.

Following the traumatic experience, Jem describes his feelings to Miss Maudie by saying,

It's like bein' a caterpillar in a cocoon, that's what it is ... Like somethin' asleep wrapped up in a warm place. I always thought Maycomb folks were the best folks in the world, least that's what they seemed like.

His comments and feelings regarding Tom's wrongful conviction highlight his vulnerable nature. Overall, Jem is considered a symbolic mockingbird because of his innocence, altruistic personality, and vulnerability.

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Jem Finch, like his sister Scout, is undoubtedly one of life's mockingbirds as defined by Miss Maudie. Like a mockingbird, Jem is good and completely innocent; he never (or perhaps rarely) does anyone any harm. In this sense, he's like most children. And one could argue that it's this innocent quality of his to which Boo Radley responds when he saves Jem and Scout from the evil clutches of Bob Ewell near the end of the story.

Jem is also innocent in that he assumes that the people of Maycomb are the best in the world. But that assumption is completely shattered after the wrongful conviction of Tom Robinson for the rape and assault of Mayella Ewell.

In his innocence, Jem thought that the jury would look at the evidence and see that Tom was completely innocent of any crime. But because of their deeply ingrained racial prejudice, they'd already made their minds up that he was guilty before they'd even set foot in the courtroom.

Jem is truly heartbroken by the patently unjust verdict. As his father said, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird, and the jury has committed a sin by wrongfully convicting an innocent man, Tom Robinson, and robbing a child, Jem Finch, of his innocence.

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It is first important to define what a mockingbird is. This comes out clearly in a conversation between Atticus and his children. Atticus says that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. The children are shocked to hear Atticus's strong words. So, they ask Miss Maudie. Miss Maudie responds with these words:

“Your father’s right,” she said. “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.”

Based on this definition, a mockingbird is someone who always does good. So, if someone tried to hurt a mockingbird, then it would be a grave sin. 

Jem, along with all the children, are mockingbirds. They are not only innocent, but they have good hearts. They want to do good. For example, Jem invites Walter Cunningham for a meal, when he and Scout were fighting. Jem also reads to Mrs. Dubose in her illness. Atticus also says that if the jury were comprised of boys like Jem, Tom Robinson would be free. Finally, at the end of the book, Jem seeks to save Scout from Bob Ewell's mad attack. 

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How does Atticus symbolize a mockingbird in To Kill a Mockingbird?

The title, To Kill A Mockingbird, comes from these famous lines from the novel:

“Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it.
“Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy...but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”

In this quote, Atticus tells Scout and Jem that "it's a sin to kill a mockingbird," because mockingbirds are innocent, kind creatures that do nothing except try to make the world a better place with their music.

Atticus is much the same. Throughout the novel, Atticus Finch ("finch" also being a kind of bird) is portrayed as an honest, driven, and just man. He works tirelessly to do what's right and to teach his children to do the same. Even though he knows Tom Robinson will almost certainly be convicted, Atticus chooses to risk his reputation and his own personal safety to defend the man he knows to be innocent.

In response to his advocacy, Atticus is threatened by both a lynch mob and Bob Ewell, and his children are even attacked. If Atticus is a mockingbird, then these threats are analogous to "killing" a mockingbird. Although Atticus is a truly good man working only to better his community, the hatred and racism common in his time threaten him nonetheless.

Through the symbol of the mockingbird, Lee depicts the hatred and racism common in the 1930s Deep South as an ultimate sin and betrayal of both humanity and God.

Other characters, like Tom Robinson, Scout, Boo Radley, and even Mayella Ewell can also easily be compared to the mockingbird. Tom is an innocent man who does nothing but attempt to help a neighbor, yet he is literally killed. Scout is an innocent child who is harmed both emotionally and physically by the hatred and racism rampant in her town. Boo Radley actually only helps people throughout the novel (culminating in saving the children's lives), yet he is ridiculed and shunned by a town fed by gossip. Mayella is a young, clearly abused woman, who has been forced into an awful situation by her abusive father. These are also incredibly compelling comparisons beyond Atticus!

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How does Atticus symbolize a mockingbird in To Kill a Mockingbird?

The mockingbird can symbolize Atticus because Atticus never intends to harm anyone.

Like the mockingbird he describes in Chapter 10 as merely "singing his heart out" all day, Atticus does his best to avoid antagonism and he nurtures his children with gentle persuasions rather than harsh punishments.

When a disgruntled Scout returns from her first day of school, Atticus listens as she describes her perceived antagonist, Miss Caroline, who has said that Atticus has "taught [her] all wrong," so they cannot read any more. Instead of growing angry at the insult, Atticus stands and quietly walks to the wisteria vine at the end of the porch; he then tells Scout that sometimes people need to "climb into the skin" of another person "and walk around in it" so that they can really know and understand that person (Ch. 3). He explains to Scout what they can do in order to continue their nightly practice of reading the newspaper without causing Miss Caroline to feel consternation in thinking that he is "teaching" his daughter.

Further, Atticus does not want harm done to Boo Radley, so he forbids the children to bother him by slipping him a letter, or performing other acts of intrusion. Atticus tells the children,

What Mr. Radley did was his own business. If he wanted to come out, he would. If he wanted to stay inside his own house, he had the right to stay inside free from the attentions of inquisitive children.... (Ch. 5)

He is always polite to Mrs. Dubose despite the vituperative things she says about Atticus. Later, when Jem tears the blooms off the camellias, Atticus has Jem read to her in order to bring her some pleasure before she dies.

Further, Atticus is reluctant to shoot the rabid dog, and he takes the Tom Robinson case because he believes in everyone's right to justice. When the mob comes to take Tom and lynch him, Atticus is not cruel in his speech or demeanor as he talks to Mr. Cunningham at the jailhouse. During the trial of Tom Robinson, at which Atticus does his best for the innocent man, he is polite and professional in his questioning of Bob Ewell and Mayella Ewell. Even after the trial, when Ewell spits in his face, Atticus does not strike the man or call him names.

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How does Atticus symbolize a mockingbird in To Kill a Mockingbird?

In the book "To Kill A Mockingbird,", Atticus Finch is portrayed and described as an honest innocent man.  He is a lawyer by trade and has represented Maycomb county in the state legislature.  Atticus is considered by most in the town to be an honest and virtuous man.  The book reaches an important zenith in this character portrayal when Atticus is assigned to defend Tom Robinson, a black man, accused of raping a white woman.  One of the important quotes in the book has to do with Jem and Scout receiving air rifles for Christmas.  Atticus tells them "Shoot all the blue jays you can; but don't kill a mockingbird, it would be a sin."  Mockingbirds are considered innocent, making a living by imitating all the other birds in their general locale.  The entire book is a work portraying innocence:  innocence as a virtue, as a characteristic of age, and the loss thereof by growing up and seeing the contrasting values of other people within our society.  Thus, it is fitting to symbolize Atticus with the imagery of the mockingbird itself.

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How is Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird symbolized as a mockingbird?

You could argue that Atticus is like a mockingbird in that he is harmless, reserved, and makes the world a better place. He is not the character who is explicitly compared to one, though. The character who is compared to a mockingbird in the book is not Atticus, but Boo Radley.  

In Chapter 30, Atticus and Heck Tate argue about whether to cover up the fact that Bob Ewell was stabbed and say he "fell on his knife." At first, Atticus is dead set against a cover-up because he believes Jem stabbed Ewell. He argues strongly that, if this is covered up, Jem will have a cloud of doubt hanging over him for the rest of his life, and also that Atticus will lose his integrity in front of his children.

Eventually, Heck Tate helps Atticus see that it wasn't Jem who stabbed Bob Ewell, but Boo Radley. Heck points out that, if the truth got out, the shy Boo would become a town celebrity. Every lady in Maycomb would come to Boo's house to bring him food. That kind of attention would destroy Boo, a fragile recluse. Heck is not willing to do this.

Atticus sees this is so, but he still can't stand the idea of his children seeing him participate in any kind of deception. He pleads with Scout, who has been listening all along, "Scout, Mr. Ewell fell on his knife. Can you possibly understand?" Scout replies, "Yes, sir, I understand. Mr. Tate was right. It'd be sort of like shooting a mockingbird, wouldn't it?"

Boo is a mockingbird because he is shy and harmless, yet fragile and in need of protection.

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