This essay describes what Atticus meant when he told Scout that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird.
A mockingbird is a harmless bird that makes the world more pleasant. In To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the mockingbird symbolizes Boo Radley and Tom Robinson, who were both peaceful people who never did any harm. To kill or harm them would be a sin. Scout’s father, Atticus, tells Scout and Jem, “I’d rather you shoot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”(p.69) The mockingbird symbolizes these two characters because it does not have its own song.
Whereas the blue jay is loud and obnoxious, the mockingbird only sings other birds’ songs. Therefore, the mockingbird is seen through the other birds. The people of Maycomb only knew Boo Radley and Tom Robinson by what others said about them. Both of these characters do not really have their own “song” in a sense, and therefore, are characterized by other people’s viewpoints.
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Boo Radley went through his life never wanting to hurt a fly. He left gum, pennies, and wax dolls for Scout and Jem. He sewed Jem’s pants and left them on the fence so he could get them easily. He also saved Scout’s and Jem’s lives while risking his own. Boo was a fragile and gentle person. Throughout the novel, Scout, Jem, and Dill are curious about the “mysterious” Boo Radley because he never comes outside from his house or associates with anyone in the neighbourhood. The children are afraid of him because of all the stories they hear about him from the people in Maycomb. For example, Miss Stephanie tells the children that while Boo was sitting in the living room cutting a magazine, he “drove the scissors into his parent’s leg, pulled them out, wiped them on his pants, and resumed his activities.” (p.11) After hearing stories like these, the children consider him to be evil.
Gradually they assume more about Boo because he never plays outside or with anyone, and therefore, the children are not convinced otherwise. Boo Radley becomes a game for the children and they act out Boo Radley scenarios that they believed to be true. These stories were based on the gossip that trails through their neighbourhood. In reality, no one knew anything about Boo Radley. He stayed inside his house and remained reclusive in Maycomb County. At the end of the book, Scout finally meets Boo Radley after he helps her and Jem escape Mr Ewell. She finds that her beliefs about him are not true. Essentially, she finds the songs that the neighbours were “putting into his mouth” were not true.
Chopping wood and doing whatever he could for Mayella Ewell was Tom Robinson’s only crime. Just like Boo Radley, Tom never harmed a soul. He risked his own safety by helping Mayella, and he did it because someone needed him. It was like a mockingbird being shot down when Robinson was accused of raping Mayella. To the people of Maycomb County, Tom Robinson is just a “sorry negro”, who committed an unthinkable crime. Tom represents the black race in American society at that time and was a victim of racism.
Like Boo Radley, Tom Robinson is characterized by what the people of Maycomb County say about him. After being accused of rape, most people see him as an evil beast. During the trial, while Bob Ewell testifies, he points to Tom Robinson and says, “I seen that black negro yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella.” (p.73) According to Mr Ewell, Tom Robinson is an animal who tormented and violated his daughter. Throughout the trial, Tom is portrayed in this manner because of the racist mentality of the people in Maycomb. Even though there is a sufficient amount of proof that shows he did not commit the crime, Tom is a black man who will be denied justice. Atticus reinforces this idea when he tells Jem, “in our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins.” (p.220) Generally, this was the mentality of most Americans at the time.
Black people did not have their own song, other people sang their songs based on beliefs about them. Like Boo Radley, people only knew Tom Robinson through what others said about him. In the book, Boo Radley is a micro version of Tom Robinson. Boo is the outcast of the neighbourhood, but at the time, Tom was the outcast of society. Throughout the trial, Scout and Jem believe in Tom Robinson’s innocence. They see him for who they believe he is and do not know enough about racism to be part of it. They did not believe the trial was fair because they believed there was evidence in Tom Robinson’s favour. At the end of the book, however, Scout realizes the same about Boo Radley. When she finally meets him, she sees how unfair she had been to him. In actuality, Boo contradicts everything that the children believed about him. The fact that no one realized the unfair treatment of Tom Robinson made his death that much more tragic.
Harper Lee uses the mockingbird to symbolize Tom and Boo. When Atticus tells Jem and Scout that it is a sin to kill the mockingbird, this refers to the actions directed toward Tom and Boo. It was a sin to dislike Tom and Boo based on what others say about them. They were punished by the people in Maycomb because they did not have their own voice. There are many people without their own voice in our society. As it is a sin to kill a mockingbird, it is a sin to kill those without a voice. Scout realized that it was wrong to assume evil things about Boo Radley. It was unfortunate that the people of Maycomb did not realize their unfair treatment of Tom Robinson. A mockingbird was shot and that truly was a sin.
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