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To Kill A Mockingbird revision guide: Themes and Symbols

Updated on September 21, 2016

Contents


This will be a repository of all of the Themes and Symbols used in the To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, including associated characters, key quotes, and other aspects to do with literary techniques:

  • Education (Schooled, Moral education, Life skills)
  • Losing Innocence/ childhood/ growing up
  • Family
  • Bravery
  • The “Mockingbird”
  • Other notes


Education (Schooled, Moral education, Life skills)

  • Pg 19 – “Your father does not know how to teach. You can have a seat now.” This suggests how the people of Maycomb are so small minded and believe that things can only be done in one way as that’s the way they’ve been done for all their lives. This could represent why people in Maycomb are racist towards the black community and why only a few (Atticus, Mr Dolphus Raymond) can accept the black community. But the small minded-ness doesn’t stop with the white community, and continues at Calpurnia’s church, where Lula (Pg 131) tells Calpurnia that the children can’t come to the black church, and they have their own church to go to; blacks are racist towards the whites – disease has spread
  • Pg 36 – The remainder of my school day were no more auspicious than the first. Indeed... I could not help receiving the impression that I was being cheated out of something. Out of what I knew not, yet I did not believe that twelve years of relieved boredom was exactly what the state had I'm mind for me.
  • Pg 65 – The second grade was grim, but Jem assured me that the older I got the better school would be... and asked where we would be today if they hadn’t?
  • Pg 249 – You know something, scout? I've got it all figured out now. I've thought about it a lot lately... and the Negros... The thing about it is, our kind of folks don’t like the Cunninghams...despise the coloured folk... No everybody’s gotta learn, nobody’s born knowing... naw, Jem, I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.
  • Pg 269 – Adolf Hitler, Cecil... how can he do that? ... Democracy... Dictatorship... over ere we don’t believe in persecuting anybody. Persecution comes from people who are prejudice... they contribute to every society they live in, and most of all, they are a deeply religious people... but that ain’t no cause to persecute them. They’re white, ain't they?

Losing Innocence/ childhood/ growing up

  • Pg 3 – “Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged” – at this early point, he doesn’t care about anything else, just as long as he can play football. However, we learn later that he will learn that he physically does and metaphorically loses his innocence.
  • Pg 35 – Jem to spend the following Saturday aloft in the tree house. – This shows the point at which Jem starts to separate him, becoming a teenager and wanting independence from the world. It can also be likened to Maycomb as he is separated from the rest of the world.
  • Pg 62-3 – maybe so, but... it was then, I suppose, that Jem and I first began to Part Company... beyond me. This is the first time Jem realises something wrong and openly tells scout of his feelings.
  • Pg 127 – Jem was twelve. He was difficult to live with, inconsistent, moody... I burst into tears and fled to Calpurnia.
  • Pg 152 – it's different with grown folks, we -... you antagonise aunty and ill- ill spank you
  • Pg 155 – dill's eyes flickered at Jem and Jem looked at the floor. Then he rose and broke the remaining code of our childhood. He went out of the room and down the hall.
  • Pg 219 – Well, Mr. Finch didn’t act that way to Mayella and old man Ewell when he... every time he answered –
  • Pg 285 – Jem was becoming almost as good as Atticus at making you feel right when things went wrong.

Family

  • Because of the static nature of the Macomb population, the same families have lived in the area for nearly tow hundred years. As a result, some people feel that each family seems to inherit particular characterises. They can say that a Cunningham is always to be trusted or an Ewell is always dishonest. This leads to a social division: every family is categorised on a particular scale and it is important to mix with the ‘right’ family. Aunt Alexandra is particularly prone to this kind of snobbery. She tries to prevent the children playing with the Cunninghams because they lack ‘background’. Atticus is against this kind of social classification, preferring to judge a person on individual merit.
  • The Cunningham’s are a family of very poor farmers who live in Old Sarum in the north of the county, their roles in the book are varied but significant: they act mainly as a contrast to the Ewell family. The Cunningham’s never borrow what they cannot return and they pay their bills promptly, even if they have to pay in vegetables rather than money. They are quite independent of the State. The Cunningham’s; son, Walter, is poorly educated and has bad manners but scout eventually recognises (unlike her aunt) that these things are not important. Walter is essentially a good child, whose circumstances have prevented from learning to behave any differently.
  • It’s thanks to a Cunningham that the lynch mob disperses at the jail. Scout recognises Mr. Cunningham and then by talking to him about family matters, she makes him think like an individual again and not like a member of a mob (pg 169). Finally, thanks to another Cunningham, the jury is delayed in returning their verdict. This delay gives both Atticus and Miss Maudie grounds for optimism for the future of theirs society.
  • End of book contrasts with the Ewell, Dill’s and the Radley family – Dill runs away

Bravery

  • We can recognise several kinds of courage in the book. There is the basic courage required to overcome the childish fears, such as running past the Radley place or returning there to fetch trousers that Jem caught on the fence. Atticus shows the same kind of physical courage in facing the mad dog, even though he has a gun in his hand. A more difficult form of courage is the moral courage that Scout has to find in order to not retaliate when her friends call her father names. It’s not easy to be made to look like a coward. The most difficult form or courage to possess is the courage to take on and carry through a task which is certain to end in failure. Atticus has to do this when he defends Tom Robinson. Mrs Dubose also chooses to do this when she attempts to rid herself of drug addiction even though she knows she is dying and, in that sense, there is no point to her battle. She wins her fight and Atticus calls her “the bravest person” he knows. Atticus wants the children to realise that courage is not “a man with a gun in his hand”
  • Bob Ewell is a man totally without courage. Instead of facing Atticus alone, Bob Ewell tries to take revenge on his children, and even then does not have the courage to face them in daylight, but strikes in the darkness. (pg 296)

The “Mockingbird”

  • Pg 99-100 – “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”… 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”
  • This is where the book first introduces for the first time, source of the name of the title. The “Mockingbird” metaphor suggests that good and innocent people can and are easily killed by mean people. Tom is openly likened to a mockingbird throughout the last parts of the book, when Mr Underwood speaks of Tom’s death, says “the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children”. Scout also tells Atticus that hurting Boo would be “sort of like shootin’ a mockingbird”. Boo can be likened to a “Mockingbird”, as he doesn’t harm anyone, but just gives presents, keeps scout warm with the blanket, and saves them at the end. However, he is hurt by his father who locks him away. Boo is used as a symbol of prejudice and is a literary construct.
  • Another time the mockingbird applies, is when scout sees a “roly-poly” under her cot and was just about to “mash” him before Jem stops her. This he says “because they don’t bother you” just like the mockingbird does nothing wrong. (pg 262)
  • The last time the mockingbird theme is explored in the book, is when Jem is acquitted by Heck and Atticus is finding it hard to believe. Scout likens Atticus’s worry to a mockingbird saying that “heck is right, as Jem hasn’t done anything, so shouldn’t be killed” (pg 304)

Other notes


  • Foot washing Baptist – (Pg 49) “foot-washers believe anything that’s pleasure is a sin.”
  • In Maycomb, if one went for a walk with no definite purpose in mind, it was correct to believe one’s mind is incapable of definite purpose (pg 164)
  • Mr. Tate blinked again, as if something had suddenly been made plain to him, then he turned his head and looked around at Tom Robinson. As if by instinct, tom Robinson raised him head. (pg 185)
  • ‘You’re left-handed, Mr. Ewell,’... ‘Are you ambidextrous, Mr. Ewell?’ ‘I most positively am not...’ (pg 196)
  • Mayella had finally seen the light (pg 206)
  • If you had been on that jury, son, and eleven other boys like you, Tom would be a free man... They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life (Pg 243)
  • In spite of Atticus’s shortcomings as a parent, people were cont to re-elect him to the state legislature that year, as usual, without opposition. (pg 268)
  • Mr. Ewell Attacks the children (288)


To fully understand the book, we need to do as Atticus instructs, and climb into the characters skin and walk about, then we can see the likeness to our own world and see the prejudice and mockingbirds in our own communities.

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