Symbolism of Prejudice in to Kill a Mockingbird

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Analyse how symbolism was used to convey an interesting idea in an extended written text

Prejudice, in the 1930s, was an extremely relevant issue regarding the racism that was present throughout society – particularly in the south of the United States, which is where the novel To Kill A Mockingbird is set. Through the course of the novel, Harper Lee conveys the idea of prejudice to the reader in a variety of forms – mostly by use of symbolism. The most powerful examples of this symbolism are the use of the term ‘mockingbird’ - which is used to symbolise someone who does no wrong in the world, Boo Radley – who is a symbol of how communities and individuals can promote and maintain prejudice, and lastly the Snowman created by Jem – which develops into a symbol of equality, therefore being its own symbol of what the opposite of prejudice is, and teaches the young children to be accepting of racial diversity, as on the inside we are all the same. The symbol of the mockingbird is important all through the novel, which is primarily obvious as the title of the novel makes a reference to an important conversation between the major-complex character, Scout, and her father, Atticus. Within the novel, the mockingbird represents something which only does good for the world, which is why it is said to be a sin to kill one – because of this; the mockingbird conveys the idea of prejudice well when it is used to describe Tom Robinson. This idea of prejudice is conveyed as even though Tom Robinson has not done anything wrong, he is still prosecuted and ultimately killed despite his innocence, merely due to the colour of his skin. This racial prejudice is referred to in the novel as “Maycomb’s disease”. Atticus tries to install a sense of acceptance within Scout from an early age; an example of this is the conversation where he lets Scout know that “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”. After this conversation, Scout then seeks a deeper explanation from her mother-figure, Miss Maudie, who then goes on to tell the young girl that “mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird”. The reader is shown that it is this explanation that gives Scout the deeper meaning of what it is to be a ‘mockingbird’ and what it represents, through her link between Tom Robinson and the mockingbird later on in the novel. Harper Lee also uses characters other than Scout through which to use the mockingbird as a symbol to convey the interesting idea of prejudice. One of these characters was Mr Underwood. Mr Underwood is another person who portrays the link between a mockingbird and Tom Robinson, as he explains that “[they] likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters.” This shows us that not only was Tom considered a mockingbird to other people; it was also thought that the way in which he died was similar to a hunter mindlessly killing his targets. This conveys prejudice in that not only is the mockingbird (Tom Robinson) innocent in that it is merely the prey of hunters (the racial prejudice), but also that the killing of such innocence is done without any logical thought regarding morals or justice. Baring in mind that the main plot to the storyline of To Kill A Mockingbird is the trial and sentencing of Tom Robinson, the mockingbird creates a great description of the idea of prejudice throughout the novel as there is an obvious and easy to understand link between the symbol of the mockingbird and one of the novel’s main focuses.

A way which prejudice can be spread through a culture, group or community is by ways of idle gossip. Boo Radley is a symbol of this kind of prejudice, as it is him that nearly all Maycomb horror stories are based around. Scout’s first images of Boo were that he was “about six-and-a-half feet tall…he dined on raw squirrels and any cats he could catch.” As such a gothic and horrifying image is painted, especially of how...
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