To Kill a Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee (and sometimes shortened to TKAM), appeared on the shelves of bookstores in 1960, and instantly became a classic of American literature. That’s why writing essays about it is a common task that students of many schools receive.
Below, we will take a look at three major themes (or motifs) that you can explore in your paper. You will also find a Mockingbird essay sample that should give you a clearer idea about this assignment.
On to the Themes in “To Kill a Mockingbird”
Harper Lee’s novel shows us our past and lets us see how the situation has changed since that time. The story is written from the perspective of a child who becomes a witness to a collapse of morals. She sees how human lives are unfairly and thoughtlessly ruined due to set social standards. She lives through it at such a young age but doesn’t lose hope for good to come and change things for the better.
To Kill a Mockingbird explores the darker side of the human being, but as it is narrated by a little girl named Scout, it gives hope for the better. Perhaps this hopeful tone attracts more and more readers and makes it one of the most influential books in American culture.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee demonstrates what it was like to be white and black men in the pre-Civil Rights Movement era. Thus, modern readers can see how American society has revolutionized and changed their opinions and attitude towards those who look differently.
The plot of the book takes place in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the early 1930s, the years of the Great Depression.
The whole story is narrated by a little girl Scout, Jean Louise Finch, who ages from 6 to 9 years old. Her widowed father, Atticus Finch, is a lawyer who also raises Scout’s older brother Jem — Jeremy Finch. Jem, Scout, and their friend Dill Harris are curious about the life of Arthur “Boo” Radley, who lives nearby and never leaves his house. Kids, under the impression of scary stories about Boo, think he is a monster.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the most popular themes that students write about in their TKAM essays.
Racism as the Major Theme
When writing a To Kill a Mockingbird essay, you have plenty of topics to choose from, but racism is one of the most prevailing TKAM themes that is written about.
In her novel, Harper Lee shows a society that is staggeringly unfair towards African Americans. To Kill Mockingbird stereotypes are all about racism and inequality in the American South. In the 1930s, black people were still enslaved. They were not allowed to co-exist with whites on equal footing.
Several characters become victims of racism: Calpurnia, Tom Robinson and his family, and also Scout (the white girl was accused of being a “nigger-lover”).
When Tom Robinson, a black man and one of the Maycomb’s residents, is accused of raping a white girl, Atticus decides to take on his case even despite the Maycomb county community disfavor. Although Tom is innocent and Atticus provides evidence that a young girl named Mayella Ewell was attacked by her father, Bob Ewell, Tom is convicted. The only substantial evidence standing against Tom is the color of his skin, and the jury found him guilty. Later, Tom was killed during the attempt to escape custody.
Harper Lee tells this story to show how prejudice ruins lives and describes his death as “the senseless slaughter of songbirds.”
Racism is expressed in many other ways in the novel. White and black people live in different areas of the town; they are physically separated in the courtroom.
Throughout the novel, Scout reveals that white and black people are not equal. Scout and Jem were not allowed to give a visit to their black cook and housekeeper, Calpurnia, by Aunt Alexandra. Scout and Dill talk to Mr. Raymond, a white man who married a black woman and now pretends to be an alcoholic just to find an excuse for that.
Without any doubt, the To Kill Mockingbird theme of racism in the United States is the backbone of the novel and is discussed in essays the most. However, that might be why you should look for something else to cover.
Analysis of Kids’ Protest Against Social Pressure
The novel is also about the maturation of kids in an adult world and their protest against bias. Jem and Scout Finch take the road from innocence and blind faith in the community norms to knowledge and their own believes through valuable life lessons. Firstly, they judged people trusting communal bias towards people. Later, as they face the harsh realities of life, they change their minds. As Bob Ewell attempted to kill kids with the knife, Boo Radley, the person they thought was a monster, protected them from the assault. In such a way, they realized that he was a pure soul, even though the community had a different point of view.
Also, Harper Lee portrays Scout as a tomboy rather than a “proper Southern lady.” She is outraged by the attempts to alter her behavior to fit the social norms. In the 1930s, women were not given the same rights as men. They had to be graceful and delicate, and that’s precisely what Scout abhors. The girl loves to run around, jump, and play with boys rather than with girls. She often gets into fights and shows no interest in dolls, dresses, and other girlish things. For Scout, to adopt the social norms of being a lady means to replace the things she likes with what others expect her to do. And she is not ready to sacrifice her freedom.
Good and Evil
The conflict between good and evil is also a central theme in the novel that you can cover in your To Kill a Mockingbird essay. Atticus says that all people have these two sides, but usually, good prevails. He teaches it to his children and shares his wisdom with society when he was proving Tom Robinson’s innocence. Although racism is deeply rooted in people’s minds and hearts, he keeps trying to change the way the community treats colored citizens. He believes one day, white and black men will be equal.
As Scout narrates the story, we observe how kids change their minds towards good and evil, judging by the actions of people around them. From the very beginning, they believe all people are inherently good, and they stick to the beliefs of their father. During the trial over Tom Robinson, children are shocked. When the jury convicts an innocent black man, the faith in the good side of all humans shatters. Understanding that the evil is closer than she expected and the disappointment in what she believed to be the universal truth makes her feel great pain. Scout also keeps on thinking about racism, inequality, and unfairness but doesn’t lose hope in humanity’s goodness.
At the end of the novel, Jem and Scout are attacked by real evil, Bob Ewell. But they are saved by goodness, Bob Radley, and their faith has been returned.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel about courage and hope, portraying a society that is weak, unfair, and cruel. Racism and inequality are treated as a norm, and only a few people have the strength to fight against social bias. However, it suggests that you will never really understand a person until you are in their shoes. And doing something small to make the world a better place for everyone, despite race, gender, or any other trait, is worthwhile and deserves respect and admiration.
Symbolism in To Kill a Mockingbird — Essay Sample
Nelle Harper Lee effectively utilizes symbolism to illustrate abstract constructs, in her publication “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Accordingly, she uses the portrayal of typical life situations to suggest the underlying social concerns (“Symbolism”). Innocence, vulnerability, good, evil, and mystical ideas are thus articulated within realistic scenes through the facilitation of various characters that the author introduces to the readers.
The use of a mockingbird in the title is symbolic. Scout, in one of the interactions with Miss Maudie, learns that killing a mockingbird is sinful. The justification for sin, in this case, is that the birds are of value to humanity on account of their hearty singing. The author, therefore, presents a mockingbird as an embodiment of that which is good for humanity. Accordingly, the title of the publication is symbolic of its plot, where there is constant strife as evil forces seek to dominate at the expense of virtue and well-being.
Jem and Scout are depicted within the realm of vulnerability typically associated with children. Such a depiction of these characters is symbolic of innocence and fragility. The uncertainties related to their vulnerability illuminates the manipulative tendencies in a typical society where the least privileged members are prone to further ill-treatment by the powerful (Aderibigbe 1). Jem and Scout’s helplessness in certain situations also symbolizes the aggression and ruthlessness that harmful practices such as racism had fostered in Maycomb, to the disadvantage of a section of its members.
Boo Radley is symbolic of mystic ideas and superstitions harbored by this society. He is depictive of presumptions that people mistakenly embrace, which denies them the opportunity to experience the good in fellow humans and even situations (Thompson). However, in due course, the positive experiences that characterized Boo’s interaction with Scout and Jem yield a different orientation. The new light within which these children start to perceive Boo is symbolic of a transition from childhood innocence to the attainment of a sound, objective, and authentic moral perspective. Accordingly, as these children grow up, their personal experiences shape their sense of reality and their attitudes; hence they gradually discard some of the ideals that had been reinforced in them in early childhood.
Miss Maudie’s attitude is symbolic of strength and resilience in difficult circumstances. Even in the most unfortunate instance where her house is burnt down, she is calm and stable (Lee 39). Miss Maudie also refers to her gender as grounds for intimidation by the foot-washers. As such, she symbolizes the quest for gender equity, where she illustrates that considering women as inferior, in any given front, is a mistaken construct.
The disparity in class and status, coupled with a sense of social inequity, is symbolized by three families depicted by the author. These families are the Finches, Ewells, and Cunninghams. The Cunninghams are lowly within the society, whereas the Finches are rather wealthy. The Ewells, on the other hand, are an average family. The author’s depiction of such a community structure is symbolic of the social hierarchy, which defines the standards of living for each social class. The social hierarchy also influences the dispensation of public goods such as justice and opportunities, where often the systems in place work in favor of the rich while compromising on the good of the poor.
The author indeed elicits a rather vivid and realistic image of a typical society through symbolic illustrations. As such, strategic use of the literary style facilitates a smooth inclusion of subjects that are actually not featured in the publication. Equally, as the plot unfolds, the reader is empowered to deconstruct the associated connotations within this story.
- Aderibigbe, M. O. “Socio-Economic Inequalities, the Less Privileged and the Quest for Social Justice in Africa.” Canadian Social Science, vol. 14, no. 5, 26 May 2018, p. 1.
- Lee, H. (1970). To Kill a Mockingbird. Woodstock, IL: Dramatic Publishing.
- “Symbolism.” Literary Devices, 3 Sept. 2017, literarydevices.net/symbolism/.
- Thompson, Brian. “Wrong Perceptions Are the Cause of All Afflictions — Zen Thinking.” Zen Thinking, 7 Aug. 2016, www.zenthinking.net/blog/wrong-perceptions-are-the-cause-of-all-afflictions.