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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Student Question

How are Boo Radley, Atticus Finch, and Tom Robinson metaphorically portrayed as mockingbirds?

Quick answer:

The sin of killing a mockingbird is to harm an innocent person in any way. Boo Radley, Tom Robinson, and Atticus Finch are all innocent characters who are hurt by the citizens of Maycomb.

Expert Answers

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In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, a mockingbird is a metaphor for purity and innocence. Boo Radley, Tom Robinson, and Atticus Finch are all metaphorical mockingbirds in different ways.

Atticus tells his children that killing mockingbirds is sinful because they are harmless creatures that do nothing “but make music for [people] to enjoy.” Mockingbirds symbolize goodness and innocence in the novel, and their qualities parallel those of three of the story’s most important characters.

Despite the rumors circulating about him, Boo is a kind, caring, innocent being. He does not bother anyone, and he tries to be helpful when he can. For example, he does not hesitate to risk his own life to protect Scout when Bob Ewell tries to kill her. He does not want credit or recognition for his good deeds; he simply wants to be kind and live in peace.

Tom is another example of a metaphorical mockingbird. He is a good man who wants nothing more than to earn an honest living and take care of his wife and children. Contrary to Mayella Ewell’s accusations, Tom is a gentle, non-violent, pure soul. Unfortunately, the people of Maycomb are so blinded by hatred and racism, they wrongfully convict Tom of a crime he did not commit. Tom is fatally shot while trying to escape from the prison he should not have been in. The Maycomb townsfolk metaphorically kill a mockingbird when they convict Tom.

Atticus is another example of the personification of goodness and innocence. He is fair-minded, kind, and tries to help those in need (even at his own expense). He decides to defend Tom knowing that Tom does not stand a chance at a fair trial because of the color of his skin. Atticus knows he will receive backlash for his decision, but he does not let that deter him and he remains determined to do what is right in spite of the threats and abuse he and his family endure.

The prejudiced, racist, hateful views and behaviors of the citizens of Maycomb are illuminated and emphasized through their terrible treatment of the mockingbirds of the town: Boo, Tom, and Atticus.

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