English lit : To Kill a Mockingbird

Summary of themes

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Growing Up


The story is told by a mature narrator who is looking back at her past. Scout's naivety is highlighted when the reader understands events better than Scout herself

Scout learns various lessons:

  • From Cal - politeness should be shown to all
  • From Atticus - to be tolerant and act calmly to events, to be able to turn the other cheek and to appreaciate different kinds of courage
  • From Aunt Alexandra - the value of being a 'lady' 
  • From Heck Tate and Atticus - the destructive implications of society's prejudices. 

By the end of the novel Scout has successfully learnt Atticus's key lesson - that of seeing another person's point of view. We witness a dramatic transformation in her behaviour towards Boo. She is still a child, however after her traumatic incident with Bob Ewell she returns back to the 'grey ghost' a book she was reading at the beginning of the novel. She feels she has learnt all she can for the moment. 

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At the beginning of the novel Jem likes to play superstitious games about Boo Radley with Scout and Dill.

The start of Jem's maturing is marked when:

  • He goes to retreive his trousers (chap.6)
  • He organises the building of the snowman - not seeing this as a game but taking a mature approach to finding resources (chap.8)
  • He begins to recognize Boo's human side and the childish games end (chap 8)
  • He tells Scout to start behaving like a girl
  • He makes a mature approach by telling Atticus Dill has run away from home
  • When he shows an emotional response to the unjustices of the trial

Jem gradually becomes more seperate from Scout and Dill, particularly after the punishment involving Mrs Dubose. His adulthood is acknowledged in different ways: Miss Maudie gives him a slice from the big cake and when Cal starts calling him "Mister Jem" Although he is not a young child anymore he is having trouble coming to terms with the adult world. 

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Prejudice is arguably the most prominent theme of the novel. It is directed towards groups and individuals in the Maycomb community and linked with ideas of fear, superstition and injustice. The dominant form of prejudice in the novel is racial prejudice. The period during which Harper Lee was writing and the time at which the novel was set would have greatly informed her presentation of this topic

Maycomb is divided into clearly defined groups. The black community in Maycomb is seen as the bottom of the social strata, below the lowest class of white people - the ewells - who are categorised as "white trash". When Tom says he felt sorry for Mayella this is immediately seized upon by Mr Gilmer as it would be interpreted as the lowest class citizen showing superiority towards a class above it. 

Although women are not seen as a seperate class group we learn from Miss maudie in terms of religion and from Atticus in terms of law that women are regarded as unequal to men. They are not permitted to sit on the jury and Scout learns they are expected to dress in a certain way..

Atticus's response to Scout saying Boo was "real nice" at the end of the novel leavers the reader on an up beat note "most people are scout when you finally see them". This implies that although those barriers of prejudice have not yet been broken down, it is only a matter of time. 

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There are many example of courage shown throughout the novel:

  • Little Chuck Little standing up to Burris Ewell in class (chap.3)
  • Jem Rescuing his trousers at night from the Radley place (Chap.6)
  • Miss Maudie's optimism after her house has burnt down (chap.8)
  • Atticus facing a mad dog (chap.10)
  • Boo Radley heroically resucing Jem and Scout (chap 28)

Although there are many example of physical and moral courage, Harper Lee mainley focuses on two major types:

  • Real Courage - Mrs Dubose - when you continue what you are doing even though you are fighting a losing battle. Mrs Dubose, continues to fight her morphine addiction by using Jem as a distraction as well as teaching him a valuable lesson. She wanted to die "beholden to nothing and nobody"
  • Fighting against evil and prejudice - understanding others is sometimes not enough; an act of bravery is demanded to try to prevent evil taking place and to override prejudice. 
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The Mockingbird symbol

The mockinbird is the most significant symbol in the novel. The repeated image of an innocent creature makes it a strong motif. The mockingbird first appears when Atticus tells the children "Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird" Scout is surprised to hear Non-judjemental atticus call anything a sin. Miss maudie explains how they are neither harmful or destructive they only make nice music for people to enjoy. 

The mockingbird symbol is reffered to:

  • After the mad dog incident (chap. 10 pg. 104)
  • When waiting for the jury's verdict (chap. 21 pg. 216)
  • In Mr Underwood's article about Tom's Death (chap. 25 pg. 247)

At tense moments, even the mockingbirds are silent

H.L invites the reader to consider the word 'mockingbird' and all it's associations:The children mock Boo's life ; Mayella accuses Atticus of mocking her ; the trial is a mockery of justice ; Tom Robinson is clearly associated with the symbol.

The connection with Boo and the mockinbird is not made till the end when Scout recognizes that bringing Boo into the public gaze would sorta be like shooting a mockinbird. 

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⚠️ ɢһȏṡṭċȏԀє ⚠️

It's okay, but "Maycomb is clearly divided into two groups. The bl"....? What?


Excellent Notes, exactly what i required. Thanks

Paul Dutton

A great set of cards for the text. Good notes on the main characters.

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