Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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How should I write an essay about To Kill a Mockingbird? What are the key characters, themes, and quotes I should include in my essay?

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An essay about Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird could focus on a several key characters or themes, for this is a complex novel that presents a portrait of reality through eyes of a very unique young girl. Let's look at some possibilities for essays about this novel.

We will start with Scout, the story's narrator, who is just getting ready to start first grade when the novel opens. She is an intelligent girl, but she is far from perfect. In fact, she can be quite difficult at times. You might write a delightful essay about how Scout grows and learns throughout the novel. Think about how and why she changes from beginning to end.

Atticus is another major character. He is a lawyer and politician, but his children come first in his life. Atticus strives to always do the right thing as he sees it no matter how hard that might be or what consequences may arise from it. You could create a good essay about Atticus' philosophy of parenting or about his motives for taking on Tom Robinson's case and pursuing it as he does. Think about what drives Atticus in his life.

Boo Radley is arguably one of the most maligned characters in the story. The children are terrified of him, yet he grows to love them in his own way and is willing to do whatever he must to save them from the hands of Bob Ewell. You might choose to focus an entire essay on Boo, looking at why he is a recluse, his reasons for interacting with the children, and his courage to come to their rescue.

As for themes in this novel, we cannot overlook issues of race and discrimination and the efforts on the part of some characters to overcome that discrimination while others pursue it, sometimes unthinkingly, sometimes quite deliberately. You could look at the reasons for racial prejudice as expressed by the characters and then delve down into the real reasons why African American characters are treated as they are. You might also look at the story from an African American perspective and discuss what African Americans do (or not do) to overcome the prejudice they face. Other themes include appearance versus reality, coming of age (for both Scout and Jem), right versus wrong, and justice.

The quotations you choose to include in your essay will depend on your topic and thesis. If you choose to focus on appearance versus reality, for instance, you might quote Atticus, who explains to Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” If you choose to focus on race issues, you might quote another gem from Atticus: “As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”

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