“All things truly wicked start from innocence.” –Ernest Hemingway. The author of To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee, uses the Mockingbird to symbolize innocence and the loss of innocence. To kill a mockingbird is to end innocence; she shows throughout the story that doing so is a sin. The author shows this transition through different life experience of the characters.
Harper begins the book with the characters as mockingbirds, innocent and pure. The story follows the slow end of their innocence as they mature. Scout is a 5 year old tomboy who has never had to experience evil, besides losing her mother at a young age. When Tom Robbinson’s case begins, she and Jem must grow up and learn the evil that plagues the world. As the story comes to a close, Scout shows that even though she has matured she still can see the hope in humanity by saying, ““Well, it’d be sort of like shootin‘ a mockingbird, wouldn’t it?”(147). Scout is agreeing with Mr. Tate that hurting Boo would not be productive in this situation, even if he was the cause for Bob Ewell’s death. Scout is one of the many characters that loses their innocence
Tom Robbinson is another example of a “human mockingbird”. Tom was accused of raping and assaulting Mayella Ewell, when in truth is innocent. The town sins by incorrectly charging him and sentencing him to death. Mr. Underwood disapproves of the punishment, “He likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children,” (128). Atticus tells Scout that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird; Scout was confused on why he would say that so she went to Miss Maudie. Miss Maudie explains, “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,”(49) Tom Robbinson follows that description very easily; there was no reason for him to be sentenced to death as he did not do any harm. Boo Radley is yet another victim of stolen innocence. He had made a mistake in his teen years that resulted in the possibility of being sent to the reformatory; his father instead chose to take over his punishment. Mr. Radley did not want the embarrassment put on the family; instead he chose to keep Boo locked away in the house until his adult years. When Bob Ewell attacks he saves Scout and Jem’s lives’ by killing Bob. When the sheriff comes, he decides to rule Bob’s death as an accident to protect Boo from going on trial, “I may not be much, Mr. Finch, but I’m still sheriff of Maycomb County and Bob Ewell fell on his knife. Good night, sir,” (146) The sheriff does this to save whatever is left of Boo’s innocence. Boo Radley was innocent until Bob Ewell attacks, forcing him to sin and kill a man. In To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, she shows the transition of innocent to maturity using symbolism. Harper shows this change through the characters, some are the “human mockingbirds” that lose their innocence throughout this book. The characters like Boo Radley, Miss Maudie, and scout all experience things that slowly remove their innocence from them. Every character grows up during the story, some more than others, and show that everyone loses their innocence in life but depending on their life experience it will be taken at different times.