To Kill A Mockingbird

Brief Notes on themes in To Kill A Mockingbird, 

Quotes and Characters

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Prejudice

Prejudice fills the Maycomb society. Almost every character is either prejudiced against others, or the victim of prejudice. There is racial prejudice, class prejudice and prejudice against individuals who don't fit in.

Examples; 

Boo Radley; doesn't fit into society. Local gossip portrays him as a malevolent phantom.Miss Maudie remembers him when he was a boy who always spoke nicely; and Atticus tries to make the children understand him and not torment him.

Scout Finch-her teacher is prejudiced towards her and does not treat her the same as others because of the fact that Atticus teaches her at home how to read and Scout is better educated than most children in her age group.

Ewells; deemed as white trash as they are uneducated and poor. Since the abolition of slavery the boundaries between the blacks and the Ewells are unclear and this is the reason for large feeling of hatred. 

Cunninghams; try and work and are respectful, they work and trade food for money. They were poor farmers badly affected by the Depression. (Mr Cunningham is racist but not to the extent of Ewell).

Aunt Alexandra; obsessed with the superiority of the Finch family as part of the white aristocracy. She only allows Scout to play with those deemed acceptable and not in a lower class. 

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Racism

Examples;

Tom Robinson-a victim of racial prejudice, found guilty in a crime that all the evidence suggested that he did not do, due to his race.

 The Sherrif; after Boo Radley killed Bob Ewell he didnt arrast him or "hadn't the heart to put him in the jail alongside Negroes".

Mrs Dubose; when the children were walking past her house at the time of the trial she shouted after them "Your father's no better than the ******* and trash he works for!"

Aunt Alexandra refers to Calpurnia and other negroes as "in front of Calpurnia and them"., not even issuing them a name. Also Scouts cousin Francis repeats his mothers words that Atticus is '' ruining the family'' by taking on Tom Robinsons case. 

Mr Ewell; takes Tom Robinson to court on the account of ****** his daughter as he could not stand the fact that Mayella Ewell had accepted help from him while allowing him in the house and also feeling an attraction to him.

Mr Dolphus Raymond was against racism and was with a black woman but because the community would be non understanding of this he constantly pretended to be drunk to give them a reason. Yet he confided in the children when revealing that his alcoholic beverage was just cola.  

 

 


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Understanding

Understanding is essential to counter prejudice.

Scout Finch; learns much from Atticus, Calpurnia, Miss Maudie and the experiences of the three years. At the beginning of the novel she is childish and believes stories and isn't very understanding of many things such as prejudice. By the end she accepts that not all stories are true (Boo Radley) and she sits in the black section of the court with Jem and Dill as she isnt judgemental towards 'The Blacks' 

Jem Finch; As he matures physically - he is proud of the hair on his chest - he grows away from Scout and gains adult values. He is the most affected by the result of the trial and realises that Maycomb is in a cocoon of prejudice.

The whole town of Maycomb; begins to learn as a result of the trial. Miss Maudie describes this change as "a baby-step towards fair-mindedness".

Atticus is the example to everyone. He knows that the only way to break down prejudice and misunderstanding is to see things from another's viewpoint - "to climb into his skin and walk around in it". This is the main message of the novel.

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Loneliness

In the novel there are a few characters isolated from the Maycomb community and throughout the novel we are urged to sympathise with them and watch how they find a way to deal with their loneliness. 

All these people are lonely either because of prejudice against them; or because they are not loved enough, which is perhaps another way of saying the same thing!

Boo Radley-Turned into a recluse by his cruel father, he has become the subject of local legend. He watches Maycomb life from his window, especially the Finch children. He sends them items through a knothole and also protects them at times such as the fire where he provides them with blankets, sews Jems trousers when they were torn on a wire fence and kills Bob Ewell to prevent him from harming the Finch children more. 

Dill Rejected by his parents, he is passed around from relation to relation. Playing with Jem and Scout gives him a sense of being part of a family.

Mayella Ewell Left to bring up her siblings virtually unaided, Mayella has no friends of her own age and no one to love her. She grows pretty flowers to add colour to her life, helped by Tom. Perhaps after her father's death she will grow stronger.

Tom Robinson He is imprisoned when Mayella accused him of ****. The black community supports Tom and his family, and he is helped too by Atticus and his children.

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Courage

 

  • Jem goes back to the Radley property to collect his trousers.
  • Atticus shoots a mad dog in one shot.
  • Mrs Dubose battles against morphine addiction.
  • Dill escapes from his new stepfather to return to Maycomb.
  • Atticus represents Tom Robinson, knowing the prejudice in the town.
  • Tom tries to escape from prison.
  • Boo saves the children from Mr Ewell.                                                                                                                                                                                                     In most cases the courage that people demonstrate consists in standing up against prejudice, or in overcoming their own loneliness and fear. When Mr Cunningham disperses the lynch mob at the jail - and when another Cunningham jury member holds out against the others because he believes Tom Robinson is innocent - these actions take real courage.Only courage like this, the novel is suggesting, empowers a person to achieve understanding.
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Innocence

"Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em. But remember, it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."-Atticus

Miss Maudie helps Scout interpret his words: "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."

Mockingbirds are grey-brown finch-like birds, maybe the significance for Atticus' surname being Finch? He too is innocent? 

Tom Robinson was innocent did nothing wrong, but was found guilty. After Tom died when trying to escape from prison, Mr Underwood writes an editorial in the Maycombe Tribune which emphasises the symbolism: He likened Tom's death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children.

Boo Radley is another innocent, good person who is in jeopardy. When he kills Mr Ewell to protect the children, he should have been brought before a court, but Heck Tate decides to report that Mr Ewell fell on his knife in order to spare Boo. Scout understands this: "bringing Boo to court would be sort of like shootin' a mockingbird, wouldn't it?"

Killing a Mockingbird is a metaphor for human justice.

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