The significance of the title, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee
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When the author is choosing the title of a novel, they have to make sure it stands out, but is still relevant to the story, it also has to evoke interest in someone who casually looks at the book. It has to hint at what the story is about, but not give it all away. Harper Lee is successful in this, by titling the book, “To Kill A Mockingbird”. The title attracts potential readers, as well the symbolism it infers. The children are told that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird by their father, and a neighbor, Miss Maudie, goes more in depth as to why. The legend of the mockingbird which only sings to please others and subsequently, a sense of sin is associated in “killing” the mockingbird has been woven into the plot. The mockingbird is used to represent the characters, and events surrounding them: Tom Robinson, and discrimination against him, the justice system, racism, prejudice, childish innocence, and Boo Radley.
Tom Robinson is a kind, gentle man who, like the mockingbird, has never hurt anyone and only wanted to help Mayella Ewell because he felt sorry for her, and what she had to go through. But the fact that he was black overshadowed his good character, he was incarcerated, and dead the minute Mayella Ewell cried out, falsely, that he raped her. His arrest, and subsequent death, was likened to killing an innocent animal. “Mr. Underwood simply figured it was a sin to kill cripples, be they standing, sitting, or escaping. He likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children.” (P. 241)
The justice system is like a mockingbird, as well. It is in place to help society – for the citizen’s benefit, however it is possible to be “killed” as it was in Tom Robinson’s case. The jury didn’t give one thought to all the evidence against a white man, Bob Ewell and convicted Tom Robinson just because his skin was a color different than theirs. However, in the southern United States, especially back in the 193O’s, that was something that was expected. If you could blame it on a black person, you do.
Harper Lee deliberately does not restrict the mockingbird metaphor to black society. The mockingbird also represents Boo Radley, who was a white man. It is revealed that Arthur Radley is the one who had killed Bob Ewell while saving the lives of the children. Heck Tate however, refuses to hold him responsible because it was his feeling that it would invite a ton of unnecessary speculation, interest and undue attention to Boo Radley, which he does not wish to happen. Bringing him into the limelight would again, be like killing a mockingbird as Scout would surmise.
Throughout the story, as Jem and Scout become more aware of just how prejudicial society is, their childish innocence is lost. They learn that not everything is how it seems, and you must dig deeper sometimes for the whole truth. Scout comes to the realization that in Tom Robinson’s case, justice had not been served, Tom had not had a fair chance, just because of the color of his skin. Until then, Scout had never realized how prevalent racism, and prejudice really is, when dealing with white vs. black conflict. The “mockingbird” that is childish innocence is killed.
In my experience, there are many mockingbirds in real life. Some people, if they don’t agree with the greater good that those mockingbirds are fighting for, they feel as if they must be stopped in anyway possible. In the world today, there is still the same discrimination as in the book, however backhanded it now is. In today’s society, the mockingbirds we see (ie. Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King JR. etc) are persecuted for wanting to do something for the greater good (MLK, for instance). The mockingbird, usually a victim, has to be strong to survive the constant disagreement with their ideas. Although, if ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ taught us nothing other than you should never judge a man just by the color of his skin, or how he may be perceived by others, then Harper Lee taught a lesson that many other writers have not been able to.