To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird
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Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird Themes: Prejudice, Racism, Justice and Courage


To Kill a Mockingbird Themes

Since its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee has sold over 30 million copies. Although set in the 1930s in the fictional American town of Maycomb, the central themes and issues of To Kill a Mockingbird are just as relevant to society today. So prevalent are the issues of To Kill a Mockingbird that it was recently cited by the American Library of Congress as being second only to the Bible as the book that had made a difference in people’s lives.

To Kill a Mockingbird Themes
Atticus and Scout in the film adaptation of
To Kill a Mockingbird

Main Characters of To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated from the viewpoint of Scout, a young girl of about six years old who is the daughter of another central character, Atticus Finch. Atticus is the voice of justice and rationalism speaking out in a town full of highly emotional and ignorantly prejudiced people. A lawyer, the courage and integrity of Atticus never wavers throughout To Kill a Mockingbird as we are shown one of the few figures who truly holds justice and moral beliefs above the prejudices of society.

The Mockingbird Theme in To Kill a Mockingbird

The main themes of To Kill a Mockingbird are illustrated through two major subplots running parallel throughout the novel. One of the major themes in the novel is the mockingbird motif. Atticus feels that it is wrong to kill a mockingbird because all they do is sing beautiful songs and never harm anyone. This theme is illustrated through the trial of Tom Robinson.

A black man, Tom Robinson is accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman. In this subplot, the racially prejudice nature of Maycomb is clearly portrayed through such instances as the fact that Atticus is accused by the town of being a "nigger lover" for defending Tom’s case and also through the lynch mob scene outside the jail. It is in the Tom Robinson trial that the greatest example of injustice because of prejudice is seen. Although Atticus actually manages to prove the innocence of Tom Robinson, the white jury still refuses to declare the innocence of a black man over a white resulting in the most blatant testimony to the fact that the town of Maycomb held racial discrimination above justice. Through its decision the town essentially kills a mockingbird. Tom Robinson was a man who did no harm to others but instead actually helped others out of kindness - a mockingbird who becomes victim to a racist society.

The Theme of Another Man's Shoes in To Kill a Mockingbird

The second motif again concerns the nature of prejudice and is illustrated through the subplot of Boo Radley. Atticus tells his children that we never really know a man until we stand in his shoes and walk around in them. This theme is represented through Boo Radley, a man surrounded by mystery and rumours and hence prejudices. It is this prejudice that initially consumes Scout at the beginning of To Kill a Mockingbird as she imagines Boo to be some kind of monster. However, Boo’s kindness towards the children ultimately prevails and he even ends up saving their lives towards the end of the novel. In the end Scout even comes to accept Boo as a friend despite her original prejudice. This goes to show that we have no right to judge others since we cannot fully understand their viewpoint.

Conclusion

To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated entirely through the eyes of Scout who is initially a typically prejudiced Maycomb child who is quick to turn to fighting and force as a solution to conflicts. However, through such scenes as the lynch mob outside the jail where Scout disperses the entire mob simply by talking to them rather than by force and also through the Boo Radley subplot we see her mature and progress to become a rational and wiser character. This progression is essentially brought about by Atticus and shows that views and beliefs are ultimately passed on from parents and so through the right upbringing and teaching, children can overcome the prejudices held by society. And if a child such as Scout living in a 1930s society can learn to overcome such deeply held prejudices and come to understand the individual worth of a person then surely people living in today's society can too.