Illustration of a bird perched on a scale of justice

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Start Free Trial

I would like help in understanding why Harper Lee titled the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. It mentions it is a sin to kill a mockingbird howeverI do not understand how it relates.

Expert Answers

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

Mockingbirds represent harmlessness and a need for protection in the novel. A number of characters are related to these notions, with Tom Robinson and Boo Radley directly connected to mockingbirds in the text. 

Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie help to articulate the meaning of mockingbirds as a symbol in the text.

As Miss Maudie Atkinson explains, it would be thoughtlessly cruel to kill innocent creatures that "don't do one thing but make music for us to enjoy."

Atticus Finch is another character that can be understood as a mockingbird, along with Scout, Jem and Dill. These characters strive to do good and require more protection than they realize. We see this with Atticus in particular as he repeatedly assures himself and his family that Bob Ewell will not try to harm them. 

We can see the place that mockingbirds have in the text through the above examples and evidence. The other part of the title, "to kill", may be seen as referring to the injustice that is done to Tom Robinson, in particular, and to Boo Radley more subtly. 

Both of these characters function as a "mockingbird", doing no harm and also needing more protection than they can give themselves. The legal injustice done to Tom Robinson proves to be fatal when Tom is killed trying to escape from prison. Even here, however, Robinson displays a kinship with the harmless mockingbird.

Even in his escape he shows courage – surely knowing that his escape attempt is unlikely to be successful, but thereby putting an end to the ongoing trauma to all involved.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team