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To Kill a Mockingbird Critical Essay

A book which I have studied recently in class is “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee. In this essay, I am going to write about how Harper Lee explores the main themes of the novel and which characters illustrate which theme. I will also write about the novel’s central message. To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story of Scout Finch and her brother Jem, in 1930’s Alabama. The summer when Scout was six and Jem was ten, they met Dill. Dill and Jem become obsessed with the idea of making Boo Radley, the neighbourhood recluse, come out of his home. Scout and Jem’s father, Atticus, is a respected lawyer in Maycomb County. When he takes on a case of a young black innocent man, Tom Robinson against two dishonest white people, Atticus knows that he will lose, but he has to defend the man because he feels he is obliged to. The case is the biggest thing to hit Maycomb County in years and it turns the whole town against Atticus. The children have to face insults and slurs against their father.

Tom Robinson is sent to a working prison to await another trial, but before Atticus can get him to court again, Tom is shot for trying to escape the prison. The case is finally over and everything returns to normal until one Halloween night. On the way home from a pageant Bob Ewell attacks Jem and Scout in the dark. Boo Radley rescues Scout and her brother. In order to protect Boo’s privacy, Sheriff Tate decides that Bob Ewell fell on his own knife while he was struggling with Jem. Boo Radley returns home never to be seen again. A recurring theme throughout the novel is the theme of courage. This theme is used as a link throughout the novel. An example of courage in the novel is Mrs. Dubose. “It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

In this quotation, Atticus explains to scout how Mrs. Dubose was a woman with courage. Even though she was going to die, she put herself through pain by not taking the morphine so she could die free. This quotation is a very effective link to Atticus and the Tom Robison trial. It shows Atticus’s courage by taking up the case regardless of the likelihood that he will lose the trial. I think this quotation is very effective because it shows Atticus’s morals. Even though there is a slim chance that he will win the case, he still fights hard to give Tom Robinson a fair and just trial. Scout is the narrator of the novel, and the impressions of all the other characters are filtered through her point of view. All the activities and opinions are therefore expressed through the mind of an innocent child who does not always understand the significance of the event she is narrating.

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“Hey, Mr. Cunningham. How’s your entailment getting’ along?’ Mr. Walter Cunningham’s legal affairs were well known to me; Atticus had once described them at length. The big man blinked and hooked his thumbs in his overall straps. He seemed uncomfortable; he cleared his throat and looked away. My friendly overture had fallen flat.” In this quotation, we can see that Scout does not understand the position that her father is in. Her father is confronted by a mob who are intending to harm him, but she is unaware of that fact. She managed to disarm them with her youth and innocence in the way that she talked to Mr. Cunningham as a friend. The way she tried to strike up a friendly conversation with him reminded him that they were neighbours and friends.

I think this particular part in the book is important because it shows how the innocence of Scout and her actions was able to disarm a mob of angry men and in turn protected Atticus and Tom Robinson from harm. One of the strong outlining themes of the Novel is justice. Atticus represents the “justice” in the community of Maycomb. He is able to defend Tom Robinson solely on the basis of justice and does not allow the colour of Tom’s skin to prejudice him against Tom’s case. Scout asks Atticus why he is defending Tom Robison; “For a number of reasons,’ said Atticus. ‘The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold up my head in town, I couldn’t represent this country in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again.’

In this quotation, we can see that Atticus feels he is obliged to defend Tom Robinson. If he didn’t defend Tom Robinson then he would be breaking all of his moral beliefs. So much so that he feels if he didn’t defend Tom Robinson he would be as bad as every other prejudiced man in Maycomb. I think this quotation is effective in showing how strongly Atticus feels about justice. Despite the fact Tom being a black man Atticus still feels he has to defend him and see that he gets a fair trial. The main theme of the novel is the mockingbird theme. Both Miss Maudie and Atticus feel that it would be a great sin to kill a mockingbird because it only sings beautiful songs and does not harm anyone. “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”

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In this quotation, Atticus is telling the children why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. This is the outlining theme throughout the rest of the novel. It unifies the two plot elements of Tom Robinson and Boo Radley. Both characters are the ‘mockingbirds’ of the novel. Both are harmless members of society and both are innocent people, yet in some way, both are persecuted by society. I think this quotation is important because it helps Scout understand near the end of the book why Boo Radley is like a mockingbird. She realizes that he harms nobody and is an innocent member of society. In conclusion, I feel Harper Lee has been very successful in portraying the main themes of the novel through different characters and their actions. I think that the central message of the novel is that everyone in society should be treated with equal justice and that it is wrong to persecute someone on the basis of their colour of skin or background.

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