The Mockingbirds In To Kill A Mockingbird, By Harper Lee

2683 words - 11 pages

Walt Whitman’s 1859 poem “Out of the Cradle Rocking Endlessly” depicts the mockingbird as a symbol of innocence that chants or sings of fond memories from the past. By contrast, Harper Lee’s famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, written almost a century after Whitman’s poem, portrays the mockingbird as innocent but as a fragile creature with horrific memories – memories of discrimination, isolation, and violence. Harper Lee wrote her novel, which is rooted in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, in the Deep South, during a time of segregation and discrimination, social issues which can be seen not only in the novel but were witnessed by Harper Lee in her own life. While Lee does insert bits and pieces of her own life into the novel, this fictional story is told by the character Jean Louise Finch, better known as “Scout.” She tells a horrific yet heroic story about a time in the 1930’s from a childhood perspective. The title of Lee’s book is not at first as apparent as it would seem. In fact, the only literal reference to the mockingbird appears only once in the novel. The reader, then, must probe deeply into the characters and events of the book to uncover the significance of the mockingbird. After seeing the treatment and the unyielding courage of Tom Robinson, Boo Radley, and Atticus Finch, the reader can easily identify these three as mockingbirds.
To fully appreciate and understand the symbolism in To Kill a Mockingbird, it is important to understand the time period in which Harper grew up as well as the characteristics of the mockingbird. The main character and narrator Scout Finch and Harper Lee are similar in many ways. Born in Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926, to Frances Cunningham Finch Lee and Amasa Coleman Lee, Harper Lee was known my most of her friends and family as Nelle – “her grandmother’s name spelled backward” (Big Read). She was part of a southern family related to the confederate general Robert E. Lee. Her father was a lawyer and newspaper editor. Harper Lee attended Huntington College and then the University of Alabama as well as attended Oxford University as an exchange student for one year (McGovern 2). Lee entered law school briefly but soon left for New York to pursue a writing career. Harper Lee's father, similar to Atticus, Scout’s father, had defended two black men who were accused of killing a white storekeeper; both men, father and son, were later hanged (Big Read). Although the Civil Rights movement had begun and society was making some positive changes such as Brown versus Board of Education (1954) which “held that the racial segregation of children in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” (PBS). While these events were creating positive changes in society and in the government, real-life injustices such as Amasa Lee’s case and the Scottsboro trials still remained. It was events like these which helped to inspire Lee to write a...

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