Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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Which two characters symbolize the mockingbird? Why?

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To answer this question, you must first identify the qualities of the mockingbird as they're given in the novel.  When Jem gets an air-rifle for Christmas, Atticus explains to him that he may shoot as many bluejays as he wants but it's a sin to kill a mockingbird--the only time his father ever called any behavior a sin, Jem noted.

Miss Maudie goes on to explain:  "Mockingbirds don't do a 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."

As applied to people, then, you must look for characters who are "targets" of people who want to "shoot" them, either literally or figuratively.  Characters who are innocent and helpful, wanting nothing more than to help others, yet are in danger from others. That brings two characters to mind:  Boo Radley and Tom Robinson.

Boo is the target of town gossip and children's pranks, yet the only three things we know for certain he does in the novel are acts of selflessness.  Boo puts thoughtful gifts in a tree for the two kids, he puts a blanket around Scout as she watches Miss Maudie's house burn, and he saves Jem's life. The episode with Jem is even more dramatic, of course, because he actually kills Bob Ewell to save the young boy's life.  Boo is the epitome of a mockingbird who wants nothing but to live a peaceful life and make music, so to speak,  for others.

Tom Robinson is another character who is nothing but kind--even to those who eventually turn on him.  Even though Tom helps Mayella out of kindness and pity, Mayella is trapped and must accuse him of accosting her to save her own life. Tom has done nothing wrong or improper, yet he is shot--in this case literally, many times--by a society which does not value the word or the life of a black man.  He, too, is the embodiment of that innocent bird who wants only to live in peace and sing when he can.

While there may be others (perhaps Mayella, and even Ol' Tim Johnson, for example), these two characters most exemplify the qualities of a mockingbird in this novel.

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Which character in the novel is symbolically linked to a mockingbird? Why?

Tom Robinson is symbolically linked to a mockingbird. As Atticus tells his children, "It's a sin to kill a mockingbird because they don't hurt anyone."

Tom doesn't hurt anyone, even though he is falsely accused of raping Mayella.  He is killed physically trying to escape from prison, but he is also "killed" symbolically when his character is besmirched by this accusation. He is unable to work to support his family and, for all intents and purposes, is dead to the community.

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Which character in the novel is symbolically linked to a mockingbird? Why?

There are actually two. Tom Robinson is like a mockingbird. He has done nothing wrong, yet he is found guilty of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to prison where he dies....

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It is a sin that this was allowed to happen.

Boo Radley can also be viewed as a mockingbird. Scout observes, after overhearing Heck Tate and Atticus discuss what to do about Bob Ewell's murder, that putting Boo through a trial would be like killing a mockingbird. Boo has done nothing wrong but silently observe - and once in awhile interact - with the children. When they needed his protection, he didn't hesitate to protect them. Putting this shy, reclusive man on trial for saving Jem and Scout would be like killing a mockingbird. Who knows what kind of effect it would have on him? So Heck Tate states that Bob Ewell simply fell on his knife and Scout walks Boo home.

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Which character is symbolically referenced as a mockingbird? Why?

Tom is referenced as a mockingbird in chapter 25. Mr. Underwood writes an article in The Maycomb Tribune that compares Tom's death to the senseless killing of songbirds. His point must have been that Tom did not deserve to be shot 17 times in his alleged escape. This is comparable to hunters or even children using guns to kill good birds for sport. In fact, in 1918, Teddy Roosevelt helped craft an act that defended many wild birds and songbirds, it would have been in effect during this time.

In the last chapters, Scout is given the opportunity to assess why Heck Tate doesn't want to turn Boo Radley in for the death of Bob Ewell. Even though many in the town would praise his work, it's not like him to want any piece of the spotlight. Atticus asks her if she can understand that Bob Ewell fell on his knife and why the situation is the way it is. She replies that they have to otherwise it would be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird.

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