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Destabilizing Innocence: Lee Harper's To Kill A Mockingbird

1248 words - 5 pages

To Kill a Mockingbird, was published by Harper Lee in 1960, during the Civil Rights Movement. It takes place in Maycomb, Alabama in 1936 and is narrated by Jean Louise “Scout” Finch, as she recollects her childhood. The book holds many different messages, the main one centering around southern life and racial injustice. In the book, many of the characters, are affected by racial injustice, as it leads to a loss of innocence and an examination of southern life.
The mockingbird is used to symbolize innocence. A mockingbird is a harmless bird whose main goal is to make the world more pleasant by copying the music of other birds. In chapter 10, Atticus tells Jem,”I'd rather you shoot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you'll go after birds. Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.” (pg. 119) In that same chapter, Miss Maudie elaborates by saying “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.” (pg. 119) In To Kill a Mockingbird, the mockingbird can be used to symbolize Tom Robinson, Boo Radley, and even Jem. Each of them are affected by their society and act accordingly. Just like the mockingbird, they copy what they see and what they hear, and are judged by people because of that.
Tom Robinson was a black man, who was falsely accused of raping a white woman, named Mayella Violet Ewell. Due to the pigmentation of his skin, most of the people in Maycomb, automatically assumed he was guilty, even though it was later proven otherwise. When Atticus was closing his case, he mentioned that the main reason people would assume that Tom Robinson was guilty, would be because of an assumption. He said that the Ewells were, “...confident that you gentlemen would go along with them on the assumption-the evil assumption-that all Negroes lie, that all Negroes are basically immoral beings, that all Negro men, are not to be trusted around our women,an assumption one associates with minds of their caliber.” (pg. 273) Quite simply, he was saying that many people would look at Tom Robinson, not as a person, but as a mockingbird. They would look at him, and see all the Negro men who have hurt them, or their families, they would punish him, because of what others have done.
In the case of southern life, we look at Arthur “Boo” Radley. Due to the fact that he was different, people automatically stereotyped him. They assumed that he was a troublemaker and unfit for their society. They inadvertently ostracized him, by telling tales about him, which led to the children being afraid of him, before they even knew him. After Bob Ewell attacked Jem and Scout, and Boo Radley saved them, Scout told Atticus, while he was putting her to sleep, "An' they chased him 'n' never could catch him 'cause they didn't know what he looked like, an'...

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