Themes in to Kill a Mockingbird

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To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, may appear to be a simple story about childhood and life in a Southern town, but upon close examination it is a complex novel dealing with themes of education, moral courage, and tolerance. Through the eyes of Scout Finch, the young protagonist, novelist Harper Lee educates the reader about the importance of a moral education, as opposed to a formal education, the difference between traditional bravery and moral courage, and prejudice vs. tolerance.

In the early chapters of the novel, Scout Finch joins her brother Jem at school. School is something that the precocious Scout has been looking forward to attending. Her first day proves to be a disappointment when Jem (Scout's primary playmate at home) tells Scout that they are not to play with each other, and when Scout gets into trouble for educating her teacher about a fellow student, Walter Cunningham, who belongs to a family that doesn't take charity. Her worst disappointment of all is when her teacher, Miss Caroline, tells Scout that Atticus has been teaching her the wrong way. Instead of feeling pride for her reading skills, Scout is made to feel ashamed. She tells her father that she will not return to school, but he compromises with her and tells her if she goes to school that they will continue reading just as they always have. Through their talks on the porch and at night, Atticus teaches Scout more than she will ever learn at school. The most important lesson he teaches her is how to treat people. The moral education Scout receives from Atticus is juxtaposed by Lee in the novel with formal education, which is depicted mostly as rigid, narrow-minded, and not very useful.

In addition to the theme of moral education, Lee explores the notion of bravery vs. moral courage. Scout, Jem, and their friend Dill tend to define bravery by the risks people are willng to take. To these children, accepting a dare is the truest test of one's bravery. Jem accepts...
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