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Comparative Essay-to Kill a Mockingbird and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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“The free bird thinks of another breeze….a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams…” The two literary works “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” can be seen as mockingbirds that have flown over fields of prejudice and repeat what they have seen for all to hear. Jem Finch, a young boy and lawyer’s son from “To Kill a Mockingbird” clearly symbolizes a mockingbird because of his youth and innocence, and because of his innocence he cannot fully understand the racism in the story. Jem also has many similarities to the caged and free birds in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, whether it be Jem’s innocence as a child or his realization of the reality of the world after watching a lawsuit of black versus white he always resembles one of the birds.

Throughout “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” the caged bird is always holding resentment towards something. In “To Kill a Mockingbird” Jem starts to hold resentment after he watches his father’s case of black versus white during the 1930s. “But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage can seldom see through his bars of rage.”(Angelou, 6-9) In this example the caged bird is holding resentment against the free bird, a free bird in the poem, because the free bird never listens to the songs, or cries for help of the caged bird. “It was Jem’s turn to cry. His face was streaked with angry tears as we made our way through the cheering crowd. ‘It ain’t right,’ he muttered, all the way to the corner of the square where we found Atticus waiting.”(Lee, pg. 284) After the case, Jem realizes that some things are not the way they should be in the world. He feels the need to change these things but knows no one will listen to him because he is a boy. Jem then grows out of his innocence and builds a bit of resentment towards the people who have the ability to change the morally wrong ideas, but do not. Since Jem, the young boy holds resentment after stumbling upon reality and the caged bird also holds resentment against the free bird the bridge between the two characters, from different literary works, disappears.

While Jem was a young boy he acted very similar to the free bird in “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. He lived life to its fullest never stopping to think of the racism he was being shielded from. “The free bird thinks of another breeze and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the sky his own.”(Angelou, 14-18) In this stanza of the poem you can infer that the free bird is very happy with life and never thinks of anything upsetting. The upsetting things in this instance would be the racism in the story; the free bird never stops to think about the caged bird. ”As the summer progressed, so did our game.”(Lee, pg. 52) When Jem and his sister Scout meet Dill, a boy in their neighbor’s yard, they get to know him and play with him. They are always thinking of improving their game, living life to its fullest as much as a kid can. When they are playing said game, Jem never stops to think about the racism in the world and is shielded from it by the fun of being a kid. Concluding that they are similar characters because both Jem and the free bird enjoy their lives.

Another reason why the free bird and Jem , the symbol of a mockingbird are similar is they are both able to do what they please. “A free bird leaps on the back of the wind and floats downstream till the current ands and dips his wing in the orange suns rays and dares to claim the sky.”(Angelou, 1-5) In this stanza of the poem the free bird is able to do what he pleases; with certain boundaries of anything a bird is incapable of doing. “The day after Jem’s twelfth birthday his money was burning up his pockets, so we headed for town in the early afternoon.”(Lee, pg. 134) “’Judge, I—this note is from my sister. She says my children are missing, haven’t turned up since noon…I…could you—‘…Mr. Underwood spoke up. ‘They’re right up yonder in the colored balcony—been there since precisely one-eighteen p.m.’” (Lee, pg. 276) From these two quotes the reader can infer that the children are able to move around parts of Maycomb County that a child would be able to, freely. The first quote depicts the children roaming into town without any parental supervision. The second quote tells the reader the kids snuck away from their supervision and by themselves went to the courthouse where his father’s case took place. Since Jem is innocent, like a mockingbird, he doesn’t think of the repercussions of roaming around freely. This reinforces the idea that Jem and the free bird from “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” are similar because it shows they are both free to do what they please.

Overall, Jem, the symbol of a mocking bird from “To Kill a Mockingbird” shares many similarities with both the caged and free birds. Jem is very similar to the caged bird after the case because he grows out of his innocence and reality hits him in the face causing him to build up resentment. Just as the caged bird held resentment against the free bird. He is similar to the free bird because the free bird enjoys his life, never thinking of the caged bird or wrong things in life being that he can do whatever he pleases. Jem is innocent before his father’s case and as a child enjoyed his life very much, being shielded from corruption by fun childhood games. As the story started out Jem was a free bird thinking of another breeze, and by the end he became a caged bird with wings clipped and feet tied opening his throat to sing because he couldn’t do anything about the racism in the world.

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