Symbolism in to Kill a Mockingbird

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The critically acclaimed novel, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, has been praised as one of the best novels of the century. It has made a significant impact on many peoples lives. It challenged and effectively changed the way many white southerners perceived African-Americans. The book, however, has been subject to much controversy over the years. Many people wanted to ban it because they claimed it was “immoral.” (Johnson 13-16). Nonetheless, To Kill a Mockingbird was a huge success. One of the reasons is because of Harper Lee’s effective use of symbolism to illustrate the evils of racism and ideology of whites in the South (Smykowski 52). The Mad Dog as Symbol by Carolyn Jones, Symbolism and Racism in To Kill A Mockingbird by Adam Smykowski, and The Boundaries of Form by Claudia Durst Johnson, all communicate similar ideas on the use of symbolism in To Kill A Mockingbird.

One of the major symbols in the book, comes from its title, To Kill a Mockingbird. It is taken from a scene in the book where Atticus Finch gives his children air rifles for Christmas. He tells them that they are free to shoot other birds, such as bluejays, if they wish, “but remember,” he says, “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Their neighbor, Miss Maudie, co-signs Atticus, saying “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but music for us to enjoy... That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (Lee 103). This may seem meaningless at first, however there is a deeper, symbolic meaning behind it. According to Adam Smykowski, “The bluejays represent the prejudiced ‘bullies’ of Maycomb County, such as, Bob Ewell.” He continues, “Mockingbirds are innocent, and all they do is sing beautiful songs. They would not harm anyone.” There are several ‘mockingbirds’ in the story, the most prominent one being Tom Robinson, and black people in general. They are innocent, meanwhile, the bullies like Bob Ewell (and other racist whites) take advantage of them (Smykowski 56).

Claudia Durst Johnson...
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