Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

Mockingbird Metaphor

Why is Tom a mockingbird? Explain.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Atticus says that mockingbirds never cause anybody any harm. They only make beautiful music for people to enjoy. To kill a mockingbird is a sin, he says. Similarly, Tom never did anyone any harm. On the contrary, he went out of his way to help Mayella Ewell on many occasions as he passed her house. Killing Tom is like killing a mockingbird because neither cause any harm.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, the mockingbird represents innocence. When Atticus says to his children, “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird,” Scout muses, “That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something,” implying that killing an innocent creature was not only against man’s law, but against God’s as well.

Like the bird, Tom Robinson is also an innocent creature. His only intention was to be helpful and hard working man. He was targeted, not for his character, but for his appearance. Young Jem might want to kill a mockingbird, because like most young boys of his time he liked to shoot, but his father warned him to distinguish between the innocent “mockingbird” and the guilty “bluejay.”

Interestingly, Harper Lee intimates that there is an appropriate time to kill. Just like Atticus giving permission for Jem to kill the nest-stealing bluejay, so Lee assents to the killing of Bob Ewell by Boo Radley. Ewell represents bigotry, child abuse, and falsehood. Boo Radley, though not a completely innocent character like Tom Robinson, is vindicated by what he does, because he saves Scout’s life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The entire idea behind the title To Kill a Mockingbird is that you should never kill a mockingbird because all it does is make beautiful music and harms no one. Two of the best examples of "mockingbirds" would be Boo and Tom. Tom would be considered a mockingbird because he was a kind man who harmed no one. On many occasions he helped Mayella with different chores around her house. His intensions were good; he meant no one harm. He only wanted to be kind and helpful. Sadly, as a mockingbird, Tom was killed because of nothing he did. He was misjudged and misunderstood. While Tom was an example of a killed mockingbird, at the end of the novel it was Boo who could have been killed by others because of people who didn't bother to look into Boo's actions. It was Scout who realized that killing Boo (or putting him into a situation that could have killed him) would be like killing a mockingbird. Both Tom and Boo did good things for others and never intended to harm anyone.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Why is Tom Robinson a mockingbird?

Scout and Jem get air-rifles for Christmas in chapter 9. Then in chapter 10, Scout mentions that Atticus tells Jem the following one day:

"I'd rather you shot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" (90).

Scout asks Miss Maudie about this and is told that mockingbirds are not pests like bluejays are. Mockingbirds provide beautiful music for everyone to enjoy, in fact. Also, mockingbirds are innocent, vulnerable, and don't hurt anyone or anything; therefore, Maudie backs up what Atticus says. But there certainly is a symbolic and parallel meaning between mockingbirds and Tom Robinson. Tom is an innocent man with a wife and children; he goes to work faithfully each day; and he is kind enough to help out a young girl named Mayella Ewell a few times by chopping wood for her. As a result, he gets caught in her vixen trap as she tries to kiss him one day. Her father, Bob Ewell sees this and presses rape charges! Poor Tom is like a mockingbird because he never hurt anyone, yet he dies because of the discriminatory and racist social system in the South.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on