In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the symbolism of the “mockingbird” plays a significant role in the story. The mockingbird comes to represent the idea of true goodness and innocence. In the novel, the theme of the symbol is used to exemplify the innocent ones who are injured by the evil of human nature. Tom Robinson and Arthur (Boo) Radley are the examples of that. Atticus tells Scout and Jem, “Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (103).
Because Scout did not understanding this, Miss Maudie explains to her why Atticus is correct, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, they don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us” (103). Mockingbirds never do anyone any harm, and are not pests in any way. Therefore, it is a sin to kill them. The case of Tom Robinson vs. the Ewells is an excellent example of a mockingbird being “killed”. He was obviously innocent, yet was found guilty of a crime he did not commit.
During the Depression era, racism was a fact of life in America, especially in the south. African-Americans were still highly subjected members of society and second class citizens at best. Many people believed that blacks did not have the same rights as whites. Many times black men were stereotyped as lazy, dishonest, and a danger to society and especially white females. The word of a black man against a white man meant very little to nothing, especially if there was a white woman involved.
In the novel, Tom Robinson was convicted of the rape and abuse of Miss Mayella Ewell, whom he was actually trying to help. Atticus made it clear in court that Tom couldn’t have possibly committed the crime but was convicted anyway (232). The evidence is so powerful in Tom’s favor that race is clearly the defining factor in the jury’s decision. Like shooting a mockingbird, Tom was gentle and innocent and his killing was unjustified. Boo Radley is another example of a human mockingbird who was “killed” by the town.
He had spent the entirety of his life as a recluse. As a result of his father’s overzealous punishment for a childhood mistake, Boo observed the world of Maycomb County from inside his house, not interacting with anyone in the community. The town had ridiculed him simply for being a shut in. For example, in the beginning of the story when Scout describes the “malevolent phantom” that she and Jem had never seen, she tells about the rumors that have been spread about Boo. “People said he went out at night when the moon was down and peeped in windows.
When people’s azaleas froze in a cold snap, it was because he had breathed on them” (9). Boo was obviously misunderstood by the community. He quietly had taken on the task of anonymously protecting the Finch children. In a dramatic twist at the end, he saved Jem and Scout from the despicable Bob Ewell, who was trying to kill them as revenge against Atticus (300). To defend the children, Boo was forced to kill Ewell. Sheriff Tate resolved that Ewell’s death was an accident to prevent Boo from facing the awkward hurdles of supporters and the legal system.
However, in Atticus’s mind, not sending Boo to court would by hypocrisy. “I can’t live one way in town and another way in my home” (314). Sheriff Tate and Scout eventually convince Atticus that it would be a greater sin to kill a mockingbird (317). The symbol of the mockingbird represents the innocence and purity of those hurt by the evil of human nature. Tom Robinson was a mockingbird “killed” because all he was only trying to help Mayella Ewell. He did not ask for anything in return, but was doing the chores as a favor to her.
Boo Radley was a mockingbird because he was a kind person, yet was persecuted by society for being shy. The Finch children and even Atticus learn from real world experiences that some things and some people need to be treated like the mockingbird: with gentleness and understanding. Those people and things, like the mockingbird, enhance our lives and make the world a better place. True goodness and innocence represented by the figure is something that should always be protected. To Kill a Mockingbird encourages us all not to hurt the innocent ones, the mockingbirds.