The most important responsibility people have is to protect the innocent regardless of the situation. In the world as we know it the strong prosper and the weak suffer, but what about the innocent? Who provides, cares, and protects them? It’s not only a responsibility but a moral and ethical obligation.
Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird is significant because it gives many examples of individuals protecting the innocent. Jem, Scout, Tom Robinson, and Boo Radley are characters in the book that are examples of “innocents” who were in need of protection. In this story, the mockingbird is symbolic of the innocents. All of these characters in some way are like mockingbirds. For the purpose of this essay, I’ve chosen the two most symbolic characters Tom Robinson and Boo Radley.
The book’s most obvious example of an innocent in need of protection is Tom Robinson. As an uneducated black man in the south during the 1930’s, he is left vulnerable to racism and prejudice by not just individuals but also within the court system. Tom’s protection comes from Atticus Finch, the town’s most prestigious lawyer, who agrees to defend him against the false charge of raping a white girl and the predictable racist outcome. Some supportive quotes are when Atticus asks the jury to put aside their prejudices, follow the obvious evidence and acquit the innocent Tom Robinson. Atticus says, “But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal – there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court […] our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.” He sums it up by stating, “I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system – that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working, reality. Gentleman, a court is not better than each man of you sitting before me on this jury. A court is only as sound as it’s jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up. I am confident that you gentlemen will review without passion the evidence that you have heard, come to a decision, and restore this defendant to his family. In the name of God, do your duty.”
The second more subtle example of a mockingbird is the extremely shy, somewhat simple, recluse named Boo Radley. He’s an innocent who due to his father cruelty has become so shy and introverted, that he has completely withdrawn from society. Boo’s protection comes from the character Sheriff Heck Tate. Sheriff Tate by not telling the community the absolute truth of how Boo saved the Finch children spares Boo from being dragged into the spotlight of public attention. In a conversation between Heck and Atticus, Heck’s determination to protect Boo’s innocence is made evident in the following passage, “I never heard tell that it’s against the law for a citizen to do his utmost to prevent a crime from being committed, which is exactly what he did, but maybe you’ll say it’s my duty to tell the town all about it and not hush it up. Know what’d happen then? All the ladies in Maycomb includin’ my wife’d be knocking on his door bringing angel food cakes. To my way of thinkin’, Mr. Finch, taking the one man who’s done you and this town a great service an’ draggin’ him with his shy ways into the limelight – to me, that’s a sin. It’s a sin and I’m not about to have it on my head. If it was any other man, it’d be different. But not this man, Mr. Finch.”
We’ve already stated that the Mockingbird is symbolic of the innocent. Miss Maudie, a neighbor of the Finches, and Atticus are similar in thought when it comes to killing a mockingbird. Scout was curious about a conversation that she heard between Atticus and Jem, “Atticus said to Jem one day, ‘I’d rather you shoot at tin cans in the back yard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird’ so she 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.”
The protection of the innocent is our societal obligation. Our two main characters, Boo Radley and Tom Robinson represent a Mockingbird because neither has caused harm, and have only the purest of hearts. In this story, the innocents are destroyed by evil. Thankfully today, our court and justice system is far more unbiased. Decisions are based on evidence, not prejudices. We try to protect the innocent regardless of the ethnicity of the defendant. All men are created equal in the eyes of the law.