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Legal Themes in To Kill A Mocking Bird

This is an essay about To Kill A Mocking Bird. Throughout the course of history, there have always been men and women who have preyed on the innocent. They do this not because it is easy, nor because it is hard, but rather because they can. They are the aftermath of poverty and poor upbringings. These universal troublemakers are present in every form of society. They believe that the ends always justify the means as long as the fate of their mischief is bestowed upon someone else. At times like this, those who fall victim to their folly are the innocent.

This is the reoccurring theme in the classic American novel written by Harper Lee, To Kill A Mockingbird, published in 1960. In the world, there are “mockingbirds” of society. They never cause any harm, and in fact, they usually have good intents. Like the true mockingbirds of the wild, they bless others while they sing their pleasant songs. Yet, even though they only raise their joyous song for pleasure, they are hunted because they can be preyed upon. As a metaphor for true life, people like this, the innocent “mockingbirds”, are constantly being harassed and prosecuted for all the wrong reasons. “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 the corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.

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That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”(90) It is wrong to harm them because they never did anything to deserve their punishment. Yet even though this may be true, there is no such thing as a perfect world, and unjust treatment will never stop. The innocents at times do pay for the crimes of the guilty. Harper Lee illustrates this in her writings of this novel. I believe that the theme of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was a message to her readers, which was shown through several of the characters as “mockingbird” figures, who were wrongfully destroyed by the ignorance and hatred of those guilty.

Tom Robinson was the appointed victim of the novel, and therefore, the most dominant “mockingbird” in the story. Throughout his trial in the later chapters of the novel, it became obvious that he was not guilty of the crime he was accused of. His trial attracted so much attention that it became a public spectacle, and drew people from all over town. The muggy courthouse was so congested that Scout, Jem, and Dill sat with Reverend Sykes from Calpurnia’s church in the African American section. Even before the trial had begun, the majority of Maycomb believed Tom was guilty just because he was black.

However, Atticus still defended Tom with all his ability up until the verdict. The evidence proving Tom’s innocence was incredible. He points out that there was no physical examination done by the doctor, and second if Bob Ewell were so concerned for Mayella’s welfare, he should have called a doctor to treat her injuries. Mr Ewell also described all of Mayella’s bruises were on the right side of her face, so logically it would have been caused by a left-handed person. However, Tom’s left hand was shrivelled and completely useless. After proving his point, Atticus in fact makes Ewell appear to be a liar. With all the evidence on Tom’s side, he’s still convicted for rape after the attorney, Mr Gilmer, tricked him into making disparaging statements about a Mayella.

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Tom Robinson was shot dead for a crime he didn’t do. He never took advantage of Mayella; in fact, it was actually the other way around. Mayella had planned the day for a long time. She saved money for a year so she could send her siblings out to town for ice cream, in order to get them out of the way so they would not see what happened next. That day on November twenty-first, Tom walked by and Mayella invited him to come inside to help her.

Once he entered she slammed the door shut and proceeded to make advances on him. He tried to resist her, but then her enraged father saw them through the window and Tom ran for his life. It was really Mr Ewell that beat up Mayella, but rather than face the shame, plus the horror that she wanted to make love with an African-American, they framed Tom Robinson for rape. He only wanted to help Mayella, but in the end, it resulted in his death. People wanted to see him dead merely because he was black.

Tom was a mockingbird figure in many respects. Tom never did any harm to anyone. He was a harmless, hard working man. When he was condemned by the prejudice of the town, he did not have a chance, and was eventually killed. He died because he was black and accused for an unthinkable crime. For most people at that time, that was all that was needed for him to be sentenced to his death.

At various other points in the story, other characters assumed the role of the “mockingbird”. Atticus did not request Tom Robinson’s case, however he was still assigned it. Before his trial had even begun, the county already condemned Tom. The reason for that was the unjust hatred and prejudice in Maycomb for African Americans. They were tolerated, but the members of the county underestimated their essential value to the community, and they lashed out at the blacks with their naïve prejudice whenever the chance came about. The chance for such actions came about with the trial of Tom Robinson. There was no chance of him coming out of that courtroom innocent, yet Atticus still defended him justly until the end. He knew of the negative effects that would result from him willingly making an effort in the case, however he still did what he believed was right even if it did arise dangers for himself. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he didn’t. He said, “…if I didn’t, I couldn’t hold my head up in this town, I couldn’t represent this country in the legislature, and I couldn’t tell you [Scout] and Jem not to do something again.”(75) If he didn’t take the case, he would never be able to ask Jem and Scout to mind him ever again. This case affected him personally. It tested his moral beliefs against the county, which thought it was right. Horrible rumors were spread about him and men cursed his name under their breath. Atticus was helplessly trapped. He was forced to take this extremely controversial case, and at the same time he felt forced to do what was right. He still tried to defend Tom to the best of his abilities, for if he didn’t, he would shatter everything he stood for by representing the legislature, and ultimately undermine the morals that bound him throughout his life. Atticus was, essentially, shot down like a defenseless mockingbird as the case destroyed for the most part, his life, reputation, and
family’s safety to a point.
Due to Mr. Ewell’s desire for revenge, Scout and Jem became “mockingbird” figures as well. “…Mr. Bob Ewell stopped Atticus on the post office corner, spat in his face, and told him he’d get even with him if it took the rest of his life.”(217) He was enraged by what happened in the courtroom during Tom Robinson’s trial. Ewell lifestyle was exposed to the public eye, and Atticus made him look like a liar in front of everyone at the courthouse. The true horror of Bob Ewell was that he chose to achieve his revenge by the attempted murder of Atticus’s children. Even though they had not done anything to him, he tried to take their life. The same was true for Jem, who was also attacked by Mr. Ewell that same night. Both children got badly injured, but Jem sustained the worst with a badly broken arm. The evil he tried to commit was unthinkable; yet in the end he became the victim of his own folly and died that night due to a kitchen knife stabbed into his ribs.

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Another, less obvious “mockingbird” was Boo Radley. He was a mysterious character in the novel. He played a very small role in the entire book, yet he was one of the most significant characters. Although he never did anything to anyone in the town and only stayed locked up in his room, he fell victim to many rumors and stories by people of the town. “According to Miss Stephanie, Boo was sitting in the livingroom cutting some items from The Maycomb Tribune to past in his scrap book. His father entered the room. As Mr. Radley passed by, Boo drove the scissors into his parent’s leg, wiped them on his pants, and resumed his activities.”(11) This was one of the many horror stories that plagued the poor man. “Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo: Boo was about six-and-a-half feet tall, judging from his tracks, he dined only on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch, that’s why his hands were bloodstained- if you ate an animal raw, you could never wash the blood off. There was a long jagged scar that ran across his face; what teeth he had were yellow and rotten; his eyes popped out, and he drooled most of the time.” (13) As we find out later in the novel, Arthur’s true appearance is quite different from this fanciful version. He was a normal kind man in real life. He chooses to stay inside because he didn’t like the world he saw outside, and for that reason, he was condemned and mercilessly taunted by the town with unthinkable rumours and gossip.

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I believe that the theme of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was a message to her readers, which was shown through several of the characters as “mockingbird” figures, who were wrongfully destroyed by the ignorance and hatred of those guilty. None of these “mockingbird” figures ever did anything wrong. They were kind of caring people, who only wanted to help others. Tom Robinson came to Mayella with good intents of helping her, however, the events that followed killed him for a crime he didn’t commit. Members of the community verbally attacked Atticus because he was merely trying to do his job. Jem and Scout were attacked by Bob Ewell in a twisted form of revenge upon Atticus, yet they were only innocent children. Boo Radley chose to live his life as he saw fit.

However, the town ridiculed him because his indoor lifestyle was not seen fit by the community. For one reason or another, these “mockingbirds” were hunted just like those in the wild. No one can explain why those who do good have to suffer in the end, but Harper Lee vividly exposes her readers to the lives and fates of several of these “mockingbird” figures. By doing so, she enlightens those with her message. That message is that it is a sin to kill a mocking bird. In a world of prejudice and ignorance, that message can never be honoured, but with her novel as a reminder, the world can become what we want to make of it, and the “mockingbirds” may someday be able to fly free.

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Legal Themes in To Kill A Mocking Bird. (2021, Mar 06). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from