Jamaica B. Vizcarra Prof. Ronald Candy Lasaten MAED-LL StudentProfessor
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: THEME ANALYSIS
To Kill a Mockingbird is a modern American literature written by Harper Lee which gained popularity and positive acclaims because of its authenticity and content. This novel is based on the life of the author when she was 10 years old and what transpired in her hometown during that time. Its great impact to the readers is mainly because of the themes manifested throughout the story. Themes play an important role in the novel for it presents the main idea or the underlying meaning of the literary work. In To Kill a Mockingbird, the themes are made to surface through the shared feelings and attitudes of the main characters like Scout, Jem and Atticus Finch. The characters’ thoughts and conversations, especially the ideas which are repeated in several dialogue exchanges and their actions in significant events also develop the novel’s themes. The novel presents the oldest yet timeless conflict between good versus evil. This is evident in most situations and conversations which explored human morality and the innateness of goodness and evilness of people in the society. Atticus Finch represents the moral voice of the novel because he believes that people have aspects of both good and evil, but good will always prevail. He has never lost his faith on the goodness of man amidst the fact that man has also the tendency to do bad things. In the novel, he struggles to defend a black man of false accusation in a racist society but he never gives up and firmly holds on unto the idea that someday the truth and the good will overpower racism in their community. The same theme is manifested through the experiences of Scout and Jem. Atticus, their father, teaches them to believe in the goodness of all people and values and morals guide everyone in their actions but as the story progresses, both children are exposed to the reality that the world isn’t really that perfect. Their innocence is stripped away from them through several incidents that made them think twice of their father’s belief. Scout, in the beginning, is an innocent and good –hearted little girl who has no experience with the evils of the world but as she encounters racial discrimination in their town, she starts to get confused and questions everything around her. Jem, on the other hand, is older and in the midst of entering puberty but the effect of the societal prejudice to a convicted black man is much graver compared to Scout’s. Jem gets frustrated and disappointed to the harsh reality that sometimes justices will not prevail. This leaves him vulnerable and traumatized in an important facet of his life. Harper Lee manages to exhibit children’s transition from innocence to maturity. She intelligently portrayed the fact that at some point in time in a significant event, children will be bound to graduate from their innocence and learn the facts about life and its imperfections. With children as the main characters in the novel, education is but obvious for a theme. In the initial chapters, the novel discusses the difference between institutionalized education and education at home. A conflict emerges as Miss Caroline scolds her for being too advance for their class. Scout gets disappointed for being punished because she is taught well in home by her father and their black servant. Miss Caroline even reminds Scout to tell her father that he shouldn’t teach his child because he doesn’t really know how to. He is in no position to teach for he is not a teacher. This conflict shows criticism to institutionalized education. This presents the conceitedness of teachers and the curriculum in providing education to learners. The system is too strict and traditional in their pedagogies thus resulting to ineffectiveness in developing and molding a child’s intelligence and ability. Clearly, Lee expresses a lack of belief in the institutionalized educational system. Furthermore, this makes one realize that true education is not experienced in school but outside it. Education shouldn’t be limited in the four walls of the classroom; instead it should be brought out to the outside world where reality and life lessons are best learned through experience. The novel also presents moral education in question. Scout believes that she learns moral lessons best in home rather in school. Her teachers appear to be hypocritical as they teach things that are not even true in reality. Scout notices this most obviously when learning about the Holocaust. Miss Gates explains that such oppression of one group of people could never happen in the United States however racial discrimination to black people is very evident in their town. Scout sees conflict with the lesson taught by Miss Gates when she heard her talk about black people and say : "time somebody taught them a lesson, they thought they was getting' way above themselves, an' the next thing they think they can do is marry us." This makes Scout doubt her education and rather listen to her father than to attend school. Hypocrisy is apparent in the system. The teachers breach what they teach thus emphasizing the incompetence and ineffectiveness of instruction provided by the educational institutions. This further implies that moral education and good values are not necessary best taught in school. Sometimes, it is best learned from other places like one’s home.
In a town of Maycomb, Alabama, Lee illustrates the complexities of social hierarchy. The well-off Finches are near the top of the pyramid, the Cunningham family are mere farmers thus stay in the higher bottom above the white-trash Ewell family. These social statuses greatly confuse the children especially the rules that come along with them. Because of the structure, the children are prohibited to mingle with other families who are lesser in standing. This frustrates them most especially Scout because she wants to choose her own friends based on her definition of what makes a good person and not because of family income.
The novel presents the dilemma of social inequality. The story takes place during the Great Depression thus social standing is as important as survival. People battle with society’s rules and structure. Lee exhibits how injustice and partiality divides a community and hinders human interaction thus contributing nothing but negativity to the people and the society as a whole.
Racism, which is closely related to social inequality, is another focus of the novel. Harper Lee creates Maycomb as a town separated by race. Harper Lee shows the bitterness that remains in the whites five decades after the end of slavery. This bitterness is best illustrated by the way that the way blacks are still oppressed, not by force but by fear and suppression. Calpurnia, the Finch's servant is to be exceptionally bright, she even teaches Scout to write in script, but because she is black and a woman she cannot land a better job. The whites belittle and harass the blacks because they firmly believe that they are greater and more superior. This racial tension foreshadows Tom Robinson's case. Right in the beginning, everybody knows that Tom is innocent but because he is a black man, the prejudice jury still convicted him guilty of harassing and raping a white woman. The conclusion of the Tom Robinson's case ends with Tom being shot repeatedly while trying to escape despite his injury. Racism is considered as a social disease. It brings out the evil nature of man as prejudice and discrimination overpowers conscience and moral code. It is through this novel that people are made to understand how nobody can ever benefit from racism. It only causes the creation of walls between people thus hindering relationships and interactions to blossom. Lee shows the significance of human perspective in the processing of events and solving of problems. The character’s outlook in life is deemed important in the development of the story and how each managed to understand the situation. In the novel, Atticus encourages Scout and Jem to be more considerate of other people and understand their situations. The children shouldn’t immediately judge as it is not fair to the others. Atticus urges his children to try to step into other people’s shoes to understand how they see the world: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” This lesson helps Scout gain insight into how other people view life and the world. Moreover, this broadens her moral education and social understanding. This theme was evident when Atticus requires Jem to go to Mrs. Dubose’s house to read to her as punishment for cutting all the flowers in her front yard. Jem didn’t like Mrs. Dubose and claims that she is an awful woman. Atticus tells Jem and Scout to try to understand Mrs. Dubose's point of view. She is an old woman, very set her in ways, and she is entirely alone in the world. Jem and Scout agree to visit her and from that experience, they understood how she felt because they were able to see the world from her perspective. Scout applies her father’s lesson when she meets Boo Radley, a black man who kept himself hidden from the public because of the unjust and prejudice treatment. After she walks him home, Scout stands on Boo’s porch and imagines many of the events of the story (Atticus shooting the mad dog, the children finding Boo’s presents in the oak tree) as they must have looked to Boo. She then last realizes the love and protection that he has silently offered her and Jem all along. Scout’s ability to assume another person’s perspective sympathetically is the culmination of the novel. The final theme and probably the most significant is the mockingbird which represents the idea of innocence. “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “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.”
When Scout and Jem receive airguns for Christmas, Atticus tells them that although he would prefer that they practice their shooting with tin cans, if they must shoot at living things, they must never shoot at mockingbirds. Atticus explains that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird. Clearly, this is the title scene, but the theme continues throughout the book. Miss Maudie explains why Atticus is correct - mockingbirds never do anyone any harm, and are not pests in any way. All they do is sing beautifully and live peacefully. Therefore, it is a sin to kill them. The mockingbird represents true goodness and purity. Tom Robinson is one example of a human "mockingbird". He is accused of raping and beating Mayella Ewell, but is innocent of the charges. The town commits the ultimate sin by convicting him guilty and sentencing him to death. Somehow, they have killed a mockingbird. Boo Radley is another example of a human "mockingbird". He has spent his entire life as a prisoner of his own home. Boo Radley observes the world around him, causing no harm to anyone, and then saves Jem and Scout's lives when Bob Ewell attacks. The sheriff determines that Ewell's death will be ruled an accident to avoid forcing Boo to go to trial, even though Boo killed him to protect the children. Atticus agrees, and wants to make sure Scout understands why this little white lie must be told. She replies saying of course she understands, putting Boo on trial and in the public sphere would be like killing a mockingbird. The mockingbird represents true goodness and innocence that should always be protected. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is an astounding portrayal of American culture and tradition and human dignity, a novel whose themes and lessons transcend time and place. The novel provides lessons which can be carried to eternity.