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How Effective is Harper Lee’s title of To Kill a Mockingbird?

‘”Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “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.”‘ (p. 96)

From the above quote, we learn that a mockingbird gives only pleasure to people. It does not harm anyone or destroy people’s gardens like other birds might do. Therefore, the book can contain ‘human mockingbirds’ who, each in their way, are persecuted or mistreated through no fault of their own. Probably the two main and most apparent mockingbirds in the novel are Boo Radley and Tom Robinson. These two characters very much contrast each other, but the way they are treated by other persons in the book gives them a mutual bond.

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Both of these characters had to pay for their actions with their lives – Boo Radley being deprived of friendship and the outside world by his own family, and Tom Radley being convicted of a crime he did not commit, which ultimately led to his death. Boo Radley, otherwise known as Arthur Radley, is described by Jem as a monster-type figure: “Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks; he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were blood-stained – if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off.

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There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped, and he drooled most of the time.” (p.19) We know that this is not what Boo Radley looks like, and Jem is giving this description to Scout to tease her. Being as young as she is, she believes this portrayal of Boo. However, though Jem is only laughing, this shows us the image of Boo the children grew up with. The title could be connected because the children are mocking Boo’s life and making fun of it.

I also think that the following words from Jem are essential: ‘” I think I’m beginning to understand why Boo Radley’s stayed shut up in the house all this time … its because he wants to stay inside.”‘ This could also explain why Boo stayed in his house and show how Boo became one of the outsiders and was still a victim of prejudice, as he was different. He didn’t want to see the injustice and unfairness happening all around him.

Tom Robinson is also a significant mockingbird. When Mayella Ewell accuses him of raping her, he is put on trial and found guilty. This is a wrongful decision on behalf of the jury as there is sufficient evidence to suggest it was Bob Ewell, Mayella’s father, who raped her and not Tom; the fact that Tom’s arm was useless and could not be used in a fight, the fact that Bob Ewell was ambidextrous and therefore could lash out at her, among other evidence.

Tom is prejudiced against because he is black, and black is seen here as inferior. Towards the end of the book, the trial’s events become too much for Tom, and he tries to escape from prison. However, he is shot and dies. It is because of discrimination that Tom Robinson is shot. Had it been a white man accused of assaulting Mayella, he would have been let off with a much lesser punishment. I can see four main links between the characters of Boo Radley and Tom Robinson – both show kindness to others in the book. Boo to the children by giving them presents, and eventually by saving their lives.

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Tom shows kindness to Mayella by being her only friend and helping her. Both the characters are innocent – Boo of the evil persona he has been presented with, and Tom of the crime against Mayella. The two are both victims of prejudice. Finally, both are imprisoned and potentially vulnerable: Boo is imprisoned by his father, who wants to punish him and restrict him to stay in the house and Tom is imprisoned and killed due to prejudice.

There are also other mockingbirds in the novel that I believe to be not as important as Tom and Boo. One of these is Mayella Ewell. Although she was partly responsible for the death of Tom Robinson, we have to take into consideration the circumstances that lead to this. We know that she has no mother, and is most probably abused by her father. We know that she has no friends – [Atticus says] ‘”Who are your friends?” The witness frowned as if puzzled. “Friends?… You makin’ fun o’ me again, Mr. Finch?”‘ This suggests to us that Mayella does not have anyone to talk to or to have fun with.

I think this is why she befriended Tom because she knew he would be nice to her. She obviously has had a traumatic life and I think this could be used as evidence enough to suggest she is also a type of mockingbird. Other characters I think could be seen as minor mockingbirds are Dolphus Raymond and his family. He is seen as an outcast because he married a black woman, and his children because they fit in with neither the blacks nor the whites; the whites won’t have anything to do with them because they (the children) are not properly white, nor will the blacks because they are not properly black. Dolphus, therefore, pretends to be hooked on drinks so as to make people think he ‘won’t change his ways’. This is yet another way to how people in the book can’t accept others’ way of life.

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In conclusion, I think the title of the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, is very effective because it makes us think of all the ‘sins’ in the book, i.e. the prejudice characters receive, the way they are treated by others. Harper Lee has an interesting way of communicating to us the torments through which people go through, from the way Tom Robinson is wrongly convicted, to the discrimination Dolphus Raymond receives because of his way of life.

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How Effective is Harper Lee's title of To Kill a Mockingbird?. (2021, Sep 26). Retrieved February 6, 2023, from