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To Kill a Mockingbird

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It Is a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird

In Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee uses the symbolic imagery of the mockingbird to discover and reveal the issues of prejudice, injustice and discrimination towards the innocence during the time period of the 1930s. Atticus Finch tells Jem and Scout that “it is a sin to kill a mockingbird” (Lee 90). The mockingbird is a symbolic representation of purity and innocence. Throughout the novel, numerous characters can be metaphorically portrayed as a mockingbird. Tom Robinson is the ideal representation of the mockingbird due to his kind-hearted and generous personality. As well, he also took time out of his day to help the underprivileged, more specifically Mayella Ewell.  Furthermore, Boo (Arthur) Radley can be acknowledged as a mockingbird based off his thoughtful actions towards Jem and Scout and the fact that he did not intentionally cause harm to anyone. In addition, Atticus Finch whom is perceived as the epitome of a role model by readers can be, as well, characterized as a mockingbird because he is one of the rare residents of Maycomb with non-racial prejudiced and respectful morals. Also, he chooses to be a kind and caring figure towards everyone while always considering a situation from another’s perspective. These three characters carry the element of innocence throughout the novel and over a lapse of time are ruined by the malicious and immorality of mankind, as the title of the novel signifies.


Tom Robinson, the hardworking, African-American figure can be symbolically recognized as a mockingbird because his only intentions were to be helpful and considerate; he did not want to cause any harm to anyone. Despite his admirable personality, he was often at times misunderstood and judged for his skin colour. Due to the fact that he was a coloured man, Tom Robinson was sent to trial and convicted guilty for raping Mayella Ewell although his innocence was proven by Atticus Finch.  Contrary to society’s beliefs of coloured men during the time period of the 1930s, Harper Lee describes Tom Robinson as a highly respectful and generous man. Lee’s interpretation of his character emphasizes the reason in which why he is the main representation of the symbol of a mockingbird. Miss Maudie explains to Jem and Scout that “mockingbirds don’t do one 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. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (Lee 90). Miss Maudie’s explanation of a mockingbird flawlessly describes Tom Robinson. The reason being is because during the trial, it is informed that “Tom Robinson was probably the only person who was ever decent to her” (Lee 192) because he would help Mayella fix things and greet her while passing by. In addition, although he was falsely convicted guilty of raping Mayella it was a known fact that “[he] didn’t wanta hurt her” (Lee 194). 


 Boo (Arthur) Radley can be metaphorically portrayed as a mockingbird based off his kind actions towards Jem and Scout and in the story he is mostly shut up in his house, therefore, he is not initiating any harm. Yet, he was victimized by the social prejudice of the Maycomb community. Boo Radley was one of the last characters to be established as a symbolic image of a mockingbird, but Harper Lee leaves hints and clues throughout the story that display Boo Radley’s kindness. Despite the peculiar rumors created by the Maycomb residents surrounding Boo Radley, he is, in reality one of the nicest person in town. He leaves gifts for Jem and Scout, wraps a blanket around Scout and saved them from being murdered by Bob Ewell. In the concluding chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch and Mr. Heck insisted that “Mr. Ewell fell on his knife” (Lee 276). Scout came to realization that blaming Boo Radley for the death of Bob Ewell would “be sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird” (Lee 276) because sentencing him to jail or death for saving innocent children from a vile man would be like killing a mockingbird – a sin. Furthermore, in Maycomb “a N**** would not pass the Radley Place at night, he would cut across to the sidewalk opposite and whistle as he walked” (Lee 9). The residents of Maycomb were absolutely frightened of Boo Radley that they would not even walk past his house. However, he would never intentionally cause harm to anyone. Jem quoted, “I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time…it’s because he wants to stay inside” (Lee 231). Jem figures out that the Maycomb residents are systematically ranked based off their race, education and history. He has come to a conclusion that Boo Radley stays indoors to avoid the discrimination and dread of the prejudiced community. Therefore, he is better off than most of the Maycomb residents because knowing that going outdoors means he will be caught up with the evilness of the society and cause harm to others, he avoids going outdoors. 

In addition, Atticus Finch can be identified as a mockingbird because throughout the story, he was always shown as a respectful man with civil morals. As well, he always makes an effort to look at everyone as an individual – even those who are out-casted by the Maycomb community. Harper Lee states that mockingbirds “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” (Lee 90). Similarly, this description can portray Atticus Finch because “[he] is the same in his house as he is on the public streets” (Lee 46), meaning that he is an honest man and makes an effort to respect everyone, whether they are his children, neighbors, friends or family. Yet, he was ridiculed by the community for defending an innocent, coloured man. Many of the Maycomb residents began to label Atticus as a “N****-lover” and whisper about him. Even the children at school began to humiliate Scout and Jem for having a father that defended coloured men. Despite all the harsh comments about Atticus Finch’s choice to take on the Tom Robinson trial, he continued to defend Tom Robinson because, morally, he knew it was the right thing to do. Even though Tom Robinson was out-casted by the community for being a coloured man, Atticus Finch “[he does his] best to love everybody” (Lee 112) including Tom Robinson. Unlike the Maycomb residents, Atticus can see the good and bad of everyone, but chooses to see the good instead while accepting the bad side as well.


In conclusion, Tom Robinson, Boo (Arthur) Radley and Atticus Finch can be metaphorically portrayed as mockingbirds because throughout the story their actions represent the symbolic image of a mockingbird. These three characters were all linked and similar to each other, despite how differently they were viewed by the Maycomb residents in the beginning. They were all innocent and victims of prejudice. As well, they only displayed benevolent actions and had no intentions to harm anyone throughout the story….that is why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.

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