To Kill a Mockingbird is an autobiographical novel written by an outstanding American female writer Harper Lee. It was published in 1957 when the American black rights movement is ongoing fiercely. In 1961, the book gained The Pulitzer Prizes and was translated into more than forty languages. In the same year, the film of the same name was adapted from it. With more than 30 million copies have been sold, the book acquired an illustrious reputation.
The story is told by Jean Louise Finch, a six-year-old girl.
It takes place in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. There are two main storylines of the novel. The first one is about the childhood of Scout (Jean Louise Finch), Jem(Jeremy), and Dill, who are terrified, yet fascinated by their neighbor, the reclusive Arthur “Boo” Radley. The people in the town are reluctant to have contact with him and seldom see him for many years. The children are convinced by the rumors that Boo is a monster.
But, the misunderstandings gradually are cleared up. The other storyline is about the case that the black people Tom Robinson who is accused of raping. And Jean Louise Finch( Scout’s and Jem’s father) is appointed to defend Tom and faces many difficulties and prejudices, but still tries all his best to reveal the truth. The two storylines cross in the end and evil finally got his payback. The story discloses the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race, gender, class in the Deep South of the 1930s.
The image of the mockingbird is not only the thread that holds the whole fiction together but also a symbol of the central idea of the full text. It provides the main clues for the development of the plot and plays an important role in deepening the theme of the novel.
The mockingbird is first mentioned in “It is a sin to kill the mockingbird. Because mockingbirds don’t do anything but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us”(Harper Lee, 1981,51) .
I think the mockingbird in this book symbolized those innocent and kind people or the children’s nature. The innocent and kind people like Tom Robinson and “Boo”, who do no harm to anybody and always treat people with kindness. And the nature of children is freedom, doing the things she likes and with clear love, hatred, and passions. But I’d like to focus on the symbol of Tom Robinson in my essay.
First, in the context of the novel, although the Civil War has abolished slavery, the social status of blacks has not improved, especially in South America. The discrimination against the black has planted deeply in most people’s minds. They demonized and distorted the character of the black people. Historically, black people were slaves since entering America. In order to defend white supremacy, they boost the wrong image of the black, falsely claiming that they represent war, crime, and all the evil things.
Then, in the book, the mockingbird represents Tom Robinson which just reveals the racial discrimination. Tom Robinson, a passionate simple, and honest black man works in a plantation. He tries to help a white woman out of sympathy but ends up being accused of rape. It is clear that the woman is hit by a left-hander, and Tom has a disability in his left hand while the woman’s father, the drunkard Ewell, turns out to be a left-hander. But the citizens that are under the control of racial discrimination, even knowing the truth, still insist on scolding the black Robinson, treating him unfairly, even forcing the crime on the innocent Robinson. Just like the speech, Atticus delivers in the court,
“The witnesses ” in the cynical confidence that their testimony would not be doubted, confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption—the evil assumption—that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men are not to be trusted around our women, an assumption one associate with minds of their caliber. Which, gentlemen, we know is in itself a lie as black as Tom Robinson’s skin, a lie I do not have to point out to you. You know the truth: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men” . (Harper Lee, 1981, 207)
Then the mockingbird appears again before the outcome of the trial, “The feeling grew until the atmosphere in the courtroom was exactly the same as a cold February morning, when the mockingbirds were still” (Harper Lee, 1981, 214), which implies the disappointing result that even though with such overwhelming evidence of Tom’s innocence, the jury still polled the guilt upon him. And Tom is killed with excessive violence during an attempted escape from prison, being shot seventeen times.
Not only in this case, but there are also many plots show the deep discrimination toward the black. For example, Miss Maudie holds the opinion that the three-fourths lies are made by colored folks, the black people can’t go to the church that set up by white people and no black people in the jury, and so on.
We can see that the author is trying to demonstrate that it’s a sin to take advantage of a black man’s ignorance and sympathies, to destroy a person’s innocence for racial injustice. That’s just the sin of killing a mockingbird.
The ending of these “mockingbirds” is different. “Boo” returns to his normal life with people’s gratitude and the cleared-up misunderstandings. Scout can continue living in her way with the protection of her brother, father, Dill, and other people who love her. But Tom helped the poor white woman with a sympathetic heart but was smeared and became a victim of racial discrimination.
The different endings imply a lot. A prejudice that a person holds toward another person can be changed, as long as they begin to know each other. Like Scout knows that “Boo” is a kind man in the end. And the stereotypes toward women also wither away gradually upon the Scout. Even Aunt Alexandra, who pushes so hard on Scout, but brings overalls to Scout after she was almost hurt by Ewell, which implies that she began to comprehend Scout’s nature of personalities. It shows that love can hold many things. But the bad ending of Tom shows the deep-rooted racial hatred which can’t be changed easily. And the obvious truth can be understood by children while the adults turn blind to it. This ironic irrationality reaches a peak in the scene of chapter 15. When the “justice” white people want to lynch Tom and are stopped by Atticus. Then the children come and “wake up” one of the mobs. In those people, most of them choose to follow the herd out of the fear of being alienated as well as holding the prejudice toward black men. They even don’t know people treat black people as an inferior race. What they have done just breaks the moral codes, and they try to reassure themselves by convincing themselves that what most people are doing is always right and they won’t be blamed.